Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Boxing Day: the 9th Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll

Bring down your new Christmas musical instruments, hats, jumpers, roller skates, and any leftover Christmas day nosh and grog for a traditional boxing day promenade along Bottle Alley. Expect a medley of summer songs from a tired and emotional Santa!

Late again. Brought flasks of tea and coffee, thinking that there's enough drinking at this time of year without me adding to the pressure.
People were already there. New faces, and new ukuleles, a few Christmas presents. People played in the late afternoon sunlight, and, in a modest way, there was a carnival atmosphere.
There were a lot of people I didn't know at all, as well as old friends who haven't done the stroll before. After an inspection of the new ukes and the usual extended tune up, we led off with a rousing version of House of The Rising Sun. We then promenaded along to Drunken Sailor, as there were so many new ukuleleists. There was some great kazoo playing and singing and we stopped for drinks at the first bay.

Fortunately enough people had had the good sense to bring hip flasks and alcopops along to supplement my teetotalism. There was a nice buzz as people chatted and drank for 10/15 minutes until 3 of us had a little go at YMCA. So often a small group will start a song privately, reminding each other of the chords and then spreads very quickly through the group until everybody is joining in. It's a nice feeling, and a good sound. We started it again and set off along the Alley to it. People joined in with the actions and kazoo'd along the wall.

 It didn't take us all the way to the end so we finished off the last few yards with Iko Iko. A bracing rendition of 500 Miles in the dimly lit final bay brought Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Number 9 to an end.
The remarkable thing about this stroll was that not only did I not know a lot of people; I didn't know how they knew about it. And it didn't matter. It felt natural. Everybody behaved as though the Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll on a dark December night was a perfectly lovely thing to do, nobody asked what it was all about. Or even mentioned it as a thing that needed to have come from an idea, so in a literal sense, it didn't feel contrived. I didn't have to worry about what to do. Even I didn't question what it was all about. It's taken on a life of it's own.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Bottle Alley Stroll 19/12/10

The weather always favours our strolls. After a week of bitter cold winds blowing sleet into the Pier Shop the sky cleared this afternoon and the clouds put on a display, parting to let the setting sun shoot the sort of columns of red light that I remember from my illustrated bible. The only thing missing was some gothic lettering telling us to go to Ninevah!
And for once I was prepared, I had closed the shop at two so I'd had time to fill two big flasks with hot mulled wine.

And it was a great family event, Lizz and Alex and Catherine helped with the tea trolleys and mince pies, Elaine and Neil, down from Whitley Bay brought ukulele and mince pies. The Ukulele Strollers came illuminated and everyone brought some form of festive cheer.

The Bottle Alley Elves had dressed the middle bay with tea lights, a wonderful surprise. We sang Oh I do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor, Merry Christmas Everyone (the Shaking Stevens hit) and the Mexican Carol: Feliz Navidad. We even bumped into friends who were heading back from work and who joined in the stroll. A great Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Stroll #7 12/12/10

I must be getting used to this now. The tide is high and the sea is very calm. I shut up shop with minutes to spare and head down with my ukuleles.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

6 Essential Bottle Alley Links

Strolls 4, 5 and 6: A Sentimental Journey from St Leonards to Hastings

I should have started blogging from the outset. The need to record this has become more apparent as events hav unfolded. With repetition comes a certain disorientation of memory, the strolls run into one another, like childhood holidays, or dreams. This one should ring me up to date.

The 4th celebration Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll. Come along, bring a ukulele or anything you can hit, blow and strum. It may just be me and you and a half mile of concrete, glass and seaside. Or it could be a festival of seaside fun. It is guaranteed to disappoint and excite in equal measure.

I'm keen to lower expectations now. I fear the look of Why Have I Left My Cosy Home On Sunday Afternoon For This. If you come along, you only have yourself to blame. As I rush down Bottle Alley I keep thinking that this may be the first one I do alone. I suppose I'm almost looking forward to having put that behind me. Then it does become a personal oddy-sea and no-one will feel that they have to attend.

I should mention the light and the waves and the tide and the birds on the beach. As I rush down Bottle Alley I take great pleasure in the sight and sound of the sea. On the Stroll back I'm hardly aware of the sea, or of anything outside of the alley, but hurrying west the alley seems to look out more.

I'd adapted, in the usual sentimental doggeral, The Tide Is High to be about Hastings Pier. The tide is very low actually, but no matter. We sing it and the other Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Anthems. Perhaps I should put them into a little Bottle Alley Song Book.

I decide after this not to put each Sunday as an event to invite people to.

28th November: It was a cold brisk Bottle Alley Stroll Number 5: The One Where I Forgot To Bring My Ukulele. Thanks Bev.

Can you believe that I would leave my Ukulele at home? It had been a frenetic weekend. I got to the car and realised I'd left the Ukulele at home. I borrowed Bev's and as there were only two ukuleleists there Andy and I did a little two man show. That was different.

5th December: Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Number 6.

Two of us parade through the concrete tunnel. Penny has a new ukulele so we have a strolling ukulele lesson in 3 chords. First section C. Second, F, Third G. No Songs. People creep in and out through the stairs to the alley and there's so much water on the floor that we have to keep single file for stretches. It's a fine cold evening on the beach the tide is low the air is crisp but that doesn't infiltrate bottle alley. the alley is much darker than outside and feels dark, sinister and dirty. We joke and we're grateful for each other's company but I'm glad when the stroll's over and we can get out of Bottle Alley.

We're up to date now.

Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Numbers 2 and 3

The second Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll. This time we had mulled wine. And fairy cakes. A special mention must go to Isabella's fairy cakes.

We followed roughly the same pattern as the 1st one. We all meet up at Warrior Square end of Bottle Alley. Those with ukes tune up and try and agree the chords to a song. On the first Stroll we had Hastings Pier Is Burning Down, with uplifting lyrics contributed by Members Of The Stroll, and Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside.

This time we had The Sun Has Got His Hat On: a request from one of the younger strollers at Stroll 1. We stop in each of the three bays for refreshments and a change of song. At the third bay members of HUSS: the Hastings Ukulele Sunday School, play a few of the songs that we know: mainly YMCA and The Monster Mash.

Whether this is how they will all go I don't know. It will be hard to sustain. Mixing endurance and tenacity with fun will not always work. And I am concerned that nobody should feel obligated to join in something this foolish and repetitive.

On this occasion there is a Hastings Ukulele Sunday School session down the road so some of us continue down there.

Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Number 3.

Starting from the Warrior Square end of Bottle Alley the third half mile of my 52 week 26 mile Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll takes place at 4pm on Sunday 14th November. This week there will be performances and poetry, recitations and light.

The strolls start at 4, which is a bit stupid really as I have to shut the shop up and get to the start of the stroll in no minutes at all. I can't remember why I didn't schedule them for 4:30. Anyway, the result is that I'm always racing time, as usual amd I'm never as prepared; musically, psychologically, sartorially or in any other way as I would like.

I'm surprised and pleased that anyone has turned up; Lucinda with 2 friends. This one's swifter, no stops for tea, we just march on through Bottle Alley till we get to the other end, where we chat before parting.
My facebook post:

A wonderful afternoon and an intimate low key Bottle Alley Ukulele stroll. One and a half miles done. Only 48 strolls left to complete.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Numbers 1 to 2

This is my account of my year long weekly stroll with a ukulele down Bottle Alley. It starts with an idea. Well, it starts before that. It starts with the shock of redundancy. I stop doing what I've done for 20 years and I begin to work in the Pier Shop,

I'm the Shop Manager and the sole employee of the Hastings and White Rock Pier Trust. All this summer and autumn I listen to young families asking me where to find seaside fun in Hastings and to older people telling me about when Bottle Alley and The Pier were fine and fun places to be.
Then there's the fire.
So one night I get this idea. I play the ukulele, I'm here every day. I should do what I know to bring a focus back to the seafront here.
I post a simple manifesto on my facebook site to see how it sounds:

Active Simplicity and Repetition; my expression of hope and regret. Every Sunday afternoon at 4 I hope to celebrate and reclaim Bottle Alley from apathy, neglect and piss for an hour. Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll is as repetitive and monotonous as broken glass set in half a mile of concrete. Sometimes it might shine. And if it means nothing else at least we can sing and play music, drink tea and eat cake.

Well, it seems like a good idea, so I make an appointment:

Sunday will be Number 1 in a series of 52 weekly Bottle Alley Ukulele Strolls.
Bottle Alley is half a mile long.
Over the year the Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll will cover 26 miles.
On Sunday those of you taking part will complete the first half mile in a year long Ukulele Marathon.

I shut the shop early. I'm quite nervous now. I have no idea how it will turn out. Lou lou comes to the shop. We have tea trolleys and people dressed up and loud hailers of paper mache. I walk through Bottle Alley wondering what I have done. There are about 30 people. We sing, we stroll, we play ukulele. It's quite chaotic, but, that's what I expected. It's done and it's there. All I need to do is 51 more.

This is my facebook post:

Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll Number 1: The First Half Mile.
Oh it was lovely. Thanks everyone for coming along and joining in and being so patient and singing and pushing tea trolleys.
We will have more fun, more songs and more kazoos and swanee whistles next week. And mulled wine, we need some mulled wine.

Now I just need to organise the next one:

The Second Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll will take place on Sunday 7th November at 4pm. This is the second half mile in a year long 26 mile Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll. This is where we begin to feel the burn!
The Bottle Alley Ukulele Stroll is a weekly event aimed at reclaiming and celebrating this concrete and glass monument to the Hastings and St Leonards Seafront.
Bring Ukuleles, kazoos, swanee whistles, spoons, and any instruments you want. Dress up fancy and I will provide biscuits, cakes and mulled wine.