Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Who at Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium, London. Saturday 06-July-2019.

My sister-in-law won two tickets to see The Who, et al. in London. Since she lives in Glasgow she offered the tickets to Mary and I. Mary was also up in Scotland visiting their Mum so I was due to go on my own until a friend stepped in at the last minute to keep me company (thank you Anne).

We got there about the time the first act (The Conor Selby Band) was due to finish. The bag policy was strict on size but not on content however Anne hadn't spotted the no alcohol clause. The plastic bottle of wine was not allowed in so we sat on a bench just outside, like a couple of wino's, having a pre-gig swig of some very nice Malbec. Bottle emptied, we went inside.

I usually look for a review in the broadsheets to quote from but my friend Gordon described the event so well that I am quoting his review in its entirety with my photos interleaved:

"Well last nights Who gig at Wembley was overall a decent night out, but I have to say that it was quite a bizarre evening and it had a kinda weird and unusual feel about it.

The first act were The Conor Selby Band, an unknown entity but not bad at all. Old style blues rock in the mould of Free/ Bad Company etc. A decent start to proceedings.

Next up was Irish singer Imelda May, again unknown to many, and again a very decent set, so far, so good.

The Kaiser Chiefs did a high octane set and were ok, not of my generation, but elicited a few screams from younger females around me, something quite new to me, that doesn’t usually happen at gigs I go to. But it was ok.

Things for me, started to fall apart at Eddie Vedder, I love much of Pearl Jam’s stuff without knowing too much about the band themselves. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I found the set to be dreary and boring and not the powerhouse I hoped for. From where I sat, his set seemed to polarise the audience, as about half of them seemed as bored as me and yet as many people seemed to love it and gave him a great reception. The Marmite Of rock and roll, you either love him or hate him. He was not for me.

[Eddie Vedder joined by Simon Townshend.]

[Note. Big screen, actual people can be seen at bottom of photo.]

The Who’s set had a really strange atmosphere to it. It was in turn, stunning, self indulgent, overpowering and at times a bit bizarre. But the strange thing was the audience seemed totally disinterested and disconnected for much of the set. In my opinion the offbeat setlist seemed to lose the audience quite early on.

About half an hour into the show there seemed to be a sudden exodus of much of the audience, whether this was Kaiser Chiefs fans who had seen enough or general disapproval I’m not sure, in fact, at one point I thought there was a fire, so many people were leaving and it did nothing for the already emotionless atmosphere. It also made an already rather poor attendance look very sparse.

For the rest of the inconsistent set, there was a constant steady move to the exits so by 20 minutes from the end of the show, the place was looking rather bare, with what looked like many more empty seats than full ones. This was a kinda shame really because The Who finished with The Rock, Love Reign O’er Me and Baba O’Reilly, which after so much very average fare, was amazing. So a brilliant end to a less than brilliant evening.

I have never been in the midst of so many disinterested people, who paid a lot of money, carrying out so many very loud conversations, I have to wonder why they were there at all, it certainly wasn’t for the music. And by the end of the night, most of them weren’t there any more.

The Who are rock legends, but last night wasn’t legendary, far from it, for many reasons, some I can’t even put my finger on, because I’d never been to a gig with such unusual audience behaviour and reaction. Odd really. Here’s a video of Baba O’Reilly, one of the few shining diamonds on last nights beach of stones."

[Note. Photo, not Video.]

[End Quote]

We reckon the clash with Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie, who sold out Hyde Park, may have something to do with the poor ticket numbers.

The Who were scheduled to play for two and a half hours so when they started with the overture from Tommy and then a couple of other Tommy tracks I wondered if they were going to play the whole album. But no, they veered off to other songs [Set list].

Stevie Chick of the Guardian gives it 4 stars: "The Who review: teenage zeal undimmed by passing of years. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey deploy full orchestra to electrifying effect." Full review....

I will leave the last words to Pete Townshend's exit line, "Our glamour is gone, our youth is gone but the music still sounds fucking brilliant."

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Benson Row - 03

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 29-June-2019.

The user requirements are simple:
  1. Fit a downstairs loo. 
  2. Level off the landing. 
Benson row is a three bedroomed house and has one bathroom upstairs. To have a downstairs toilet would avoid contention, enable Mary’s mum to visit, and make the property more lettable on Airbnb.

Currently to get from our bedroom to the bathroom means going along the landing which goes down five steps and up six steps. Not good in the middle of the night or not entirely sober. This curious arrangement is the result of the history of the building.

Originally Benson Row was three dwellings. Three one-up, one-down properties in a back-to-back-to-back arrangement at right angles to the rest of the terrace. Each with its own door and staircase. They shared a communal loo in the yard and shared a wash house with the rest of the terrace. At some point the rear two properties were knocked into one by opening up a doorway between the downstairs rooms and again between the upstairs rooms.

Then in 1975 the previous owner’s father converted the front property and the back two into one large house. They took out all three staircases and put in the current arrangement of one Y-shaped staircase (or T-shaped if you’re looking plan view) that goes up to halfway landing and then splits left and right to access the front and back halves of the property. The middle room upstairs was the bathroom. He later split the front bedroom 1 into a smaller bedroom and bathroom and turned the previous bathroom into bedroom.

There is not enough headroom under the halfway landing to fit in a downstairs toilet. The original idea was that we could kill two birds with one stone by rearranging the staircase to raise the headroom underneath enough to get a toilet in and level off the landing.

Working with a building surveyor we went through dozens of permutations of spiral, U-shaped and Z-shaped staircases. Ideally using the existing, or previous stairwells. We were trying to avoid breaking through the stone wall that divides the properties. We could not come up with a design that would conform to current regulations regarding treads, risers, angles and headroom.

When we relented on the idea of not breaking through the wall we finally thought we could create an arrangement that would work. Then we realised that would impede the headroom down into the cellar and that idea crashed at the last minute.

Other solutions meant stealing space from the dining room.

Following our first dinner party on the Saturday we realised that it would make the dining room too narrow to be practicable. So any arrangement that stole from the dining room was out. Back to the drawing board.

In discussions with our kitchen designer and building surveyor we hit on a compromise solution that would actually work. The kitchen is large enough that we could steal space from the back wall and fit a toilet where the back door is. To do that we would have to block up the kitchen door, replace it by window and reopen one of the doors that was blocked up in 1975. It would actually work. The compromise is that we give up on levelling the landing. And here is the plan.

We could fit in the washing machine as well making a mini-utility room.

The new kitchen design is not fundamentally different from the one we had already agreed.

Apart from moving the washing machine behind the false wall and putting the dishwasher in it's place, everything else is pretty much like-for-like with the first design.

We had a couple of builders round to quote for the door blocking up and reopening. The second one had a more radical suggestion: knock down the wall between the dining room in the kitchen by putting in a huge steel beam that would allow the dining room to expand backwards and compensate for the space stolen by the stairs in the previously abandoned plan.

Mary had always liked the idea of an open plan kitchen-diner. I have reluctantly agreed to this. It does however allow us to achieve both of the original objectives: a downstairs loo, a level landing and, with a fair wind, possibly even a downstairs shower which would be a bonus.

The builder is going in to start ripping out the stud walls to see exactly how the new staircase can be installed. We will be getting a structural engineer to do calculations on the size of beam required to hold up the upstairs when we take out that wall.

Watch this space...

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Knepp Safari

West Sussex, UK. Wednesday/Friday 26/28-June-2019

We were already intending to be in the UK for the end of June and beginning of July which happened to include the weekend of Glastonbury festival. We pre-registered and then Mary forgot to go online when the tickets went on sale. By the time we realised they had sold out. Not to be put out we went glamping anyway.

We had read about Knepp through an article in the papers and were intrigued enough to pre-order Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm which turned out to be a fascinating read. Then our friends Grant and Helen went glamping there and highly recommended it. So Glastonbury Plan B was a couple of days walking in the West Sussex countryside.

Charlie Burrell inherited the Knepp Estate and was unable to make it commercially viable using intensive agricultural techniques. In the end he sold off the cattle and the equipment and let nature take its course. Assisted by gradually releasing various larger mammals: Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and various species of deer. The end result is a huge explosion of the entire food chain from fungi, insects, butterflies, birds and small mammals. Many previously not seen species appeared or returned. Read more on their Rewilding site.

They make their money from, amongst other things, selling prime organic beef, hosting events and eco-tourism (glamping, camping and wildlife safaris). Unfortunately the butterfly safari was the only one scheduled during our stay and was booked out so we made our own entertainment by going on various walks using the map that Knepp provided. Our tip for anyone thinking of going would be: plan well ahead around the availability of safaris.

Entrance to the campsite made out of old antlers.

Main building incorporating farm shop, showers, and do-it-yourself porterage using wheel barrows to carry your luggage to the huts.

This was my first experience of glamping. The shepherd's hut that we booked turned out to be more like a cross between a shed and a tin hut. Bijoux and compact it certainly was. The bed extended the width of one end of the hut, at the other end space for a small stove and a couple of chairs.

The "bedroom".

The "living room".

Catering was in a communal glamping kitchen where our fellow glampers would meet whilst making their morning tea and coffee and having breakfast.

The recycling bins had rocks on them to keep out the overly bold squirrels.

There was a shower block if the weather was bad but we took advantage of the good weather to use the outdoor bath and showers. Open to the sky but the water was plenty hot enough.

The first day immediately we dumped our stuff we went for a walk and saw Longhorn cattle, one of the ponds, an eel trap, and a small herd of deer. Our route took us past the ruins of the old Knepp castle, the current castle, a well preserved windmill and down some lovely country lanes. There is the River Adur and a couple of large ponds to add to the variety of habitats.

An excellent supper and great service in the nearby Crown pub at Dial Post.

Longhorn Cattle.


The ruins.

Close up of the ruins.

Hammer Pond.

Eel trap.

The next day we did a morning walk to a local pub for lunch. I got to see the third category of the large mammals, the pig!

We also saw bonkers amounts of butterflies: loads of Meadow Browns, some Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Commas and Marbled Whites.

After lunch at the George and Dragon at Shipley it was a leisurely loop back for a bit of a siesta.

Mill pond.


Supper was estate-produced venison sausages and lovely, fresh veg from the Sussex Produce Company barbecued on a grill made out of an old Tractor wheel.

A great couple of days adventure. As they say in the reviews, "We will be back".

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

London Marathon 2019 - Epilogue

My experience of running a marathon seems to be very different to many others. A triumph of common sense over pride and ego is what finally got me over the finish line. That and Jeffing it.

If I had one piece of advice to give to others it would be: run your own race, at your own pace. Forget targets, forget PB’s, ignore what others are doing, ignore the pace runners. Run what works for you. It’s about the distance not the time.

This is my journey to the VLM 2019 finish line:

22 January 2016. Age 63.  Couch to 5K. Inspired by some friends doing Couch to 5K I went for my first run in about 30 years and managed 2 miles. Two days later I went for a 5K run. Well that was easy! “How hard can it be to run a marathon?” I asked. "Hundreds of thousands of people do it every year." “Try a half”, my wife advised.

9 October 2016. Age 64. Royal Parks Half Marathon. Based on my training runs I predicted a time of 2:14:50 (I plotted all my runs in Excel and drew a best fit line). I went with the 2:15 pace runner and trotted over the finish line at 2:14:52. Easy, peasy.

7 April 2017. Brighton Full Marathon. Based on my training runs I predicted a time of 4:40. Went with the 4:30 pace runner planning to ease off a little towards the end and hit my target time. It was the hottest ever Brighton marathon! They run out of water and I ran out of steam. Collapsed at 22 miles and, after a long rest, walked to the finish line in 5:45:39. Technically I finished but morally I was unhappy with it.

22 April 2018. Age 65. London Marathon. More training than last year. Eased back on the updated predicted time to 4:55 and went with the 5:00 pace runner. Guess what? Hottest London Marathon ever!! Plus the pace runner set off too fast and I didn’t have the nous to drop back and run my own pace. Result: I collapsed at 18 miles, threw up my isotonic gels and retired from the race - never even made it to the finish line.

28 April 2019. Age 66. London Marathon (again). This time I abandoned all targets and predictions. Decided to completely ignore the pace runners. Decided that it was not important to run continuously all the way. Decided to Jeff it. Walked for 45 seconds every kilometre, rinse and repeat 42 times. Kept up a steady pace and crossed the finish line on my third marathon attempt. The time was a passable 5:16:05. No hitting the wall, no collapsing, no aches and pains. Two weeks later I ran my second fastest ever Parkrun.

Many people say how much they enjoyed the day and how fantastic the crowds were. For me it was just a very tedious 26.2 mile slog and I suppose the crowds provided some distraction from the boredom and discomfort of working my way round. I am clearly a grumpy old man.

We all learn something from running a marathon. I have learnt that I have a level of self discipline and determination that I would not have believed. You really need that to do the training.

That’s me done with marathons. I just don’t see the attraction of running. It’s back down to parkrun on a Saturday for me. If I ever even think about doing another then I’ll take myself outside and slap myself round the head.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Captain Corelli's Mandolin at the Rose Theatre

Kingston. Tuesday 07-May-2019.

We squeezed in a trip to the theatre between trips to Penrith, Scotland and doing some decorating in one of our buy-to-let flats.

I was wondering how they would manage to cram an entire book into the timeframe of a play but they did a cracking job.

Arif Akbar writes in the Guardian: 4 * "Captain Corelli's Mandolin review – wartime weepy is shocking and wondrous"
"Director Melly Still manages to both stay faithful to the original and inject it with freshness, while Rona Munro’s adaptation distils key themes, especially the question of whether the “enemy-occupier” in a war is ever free to show love or compassion to the occupied."  Full Review...

Ann Treneman in The Times also gives it 4 * "The 2001 film adaptation of this novel may have been a turkey, yet this true-to-the-story stage adaptation is anything but"
"There are some nice touches. The idea that animals provide a way to the human heart is explored in a playful way: Luisa Guerreiro makes a really rather fantastic goat and Elizabeth Mary Williams will have endeared herself to pine martens everywhere. There is also an excellent performance from Joseph Long, as Pelagia’s father, the philosophical doctor. Bravo, too, to the sheer theatrical nature of it all, the attention to detail and the emphasis on surprise and spectacle, bound together by some moving musical moments. War is hell, of that we are sure, but there is a bit of heaven here too." Full review...
And I agree with The Times, Luisa Guerreiro as the goat was brilliant!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

London Marathon 2019

London. Sunday 28-April-2019.


I finally completed a marathon on my third attempt. Now it really is never again!!

The remarkable thing is not that I completed a marathon but that I was so determined, stubborn even. After two failures (I include Brighton here even if I did walk over the finish line) I might think this was nature's way of saying "give it a rest" yet I persisted.

I do not know why it was so important for me do this but something made me put in untold hours of training. Possibly pride, maybe vanity, even fear of the Grim Reaper, who knows? For this marathon alone 76 training runs since last August totalling 823 km (511 miles).

When you add in the other two marathons and the half marathon it is a total of 221 runs covering 2340 km. I only started running in January 2016 with the distant goal of a marathon and I still can't tell you why but I know I can stop now. Parkrun is enough for me from now on.

I crossed the finish line in 5:16:05 and I'm happy with that; pretty much my expected time based on the training. My splits were consistent, I maintained a steady pace throughout, no hitting the wall. I drank 500 ml of Lucozade sport and ate two Nakd fruit bars.

I was number 33231 across the line out of 42439 finishers. More importantly for me, I was 210 out of 291 in my age bracket of 65-69 which I was pleased with seeing as how many above me were members of running clubs.

For many people the big milestones on the route are the Cutty Sark or crossing London Bridge. For me the first was passing the spot where I collapsed last year and I was feeling OK. The second was passing the 35 km mark which was where I collapsed in the Brighton marathon and I was still feeling OK. Only 7km to go at that point - just a parkrun and a half - and I was feeling fairly confident I would make it but there was certainly not going to be any sprint finish!

Afterwards no aches or pains in joints or muscles, a blister on one big toe but that was it. Last year I lost the two middle toenails which dropped off a few weeks afterwards, this year all are looking good.

I have to thank Blue Cross animal charity whose Gold Bond allocated places made it possible for me to run in both London Marathons. You can support them by sponsoring me if you so wish:

Run/Walk and pacing.

Last year in the 2018 London Marathon I collapsed at 18 miles and withdrew, caught out by the heat and the pace at the start (the latter an error of judgement on my part). I said never again. I lied! This year I planned a less optimistic target of 5:30 and trying the run/walk technique.

Quite late in the training regimen this time I learned about run/walk. Gave it a try and it worked for me so I switched for the last month of training. That included my first ever 35km training run equalling my previous longest ever run (the failed 2017 Brighton Marathon) and feeling fine at the end. I started with a ratio of Run 1 km / Walk 1 min then tweaked that to walk 0.1 km every km when the watch beeped and then run the rest.

Pace runners can be a good way to avoid the beginner's mistake of starting out too fast. In my naivety I didn't know such people existed before I did my half-marathon. For that and for my first marathon they were metronomic and helped me keep a steady pace.

Last year the slowest pace runner was 5:00 with a run/walk pacer at 5:30. This year they went all the way to 7:00. I cannot but help think this is a response to lessons learned from last year's hottest ever VMLM. A good thing for us slower runners.

In 2018 my chosen pacer set off too fast. She did the first 5 km at 6:41min/km, equivalent to a 4:42 marathon time. Eighteen minutes faster than the target. Same again for the second 5 km that included a couple of individual 6:16 minute kilometres which is a 4:25 marathon - way too fast for me and the heat of the day. I gave them feedback!

So this year I ran as my own pacer with the aid of my trusty Garmin VivoActive. I set it to beep every km and give me a pace so I could adjust my speed accordingly.


From the official photographers, Blue Cross and snagged off the BBC iPlayer:
At the start.

Run/Walk - running 0.92 km every km.

Run/Walk - walking 0.08 km every km.

The Blue Cross cheering point at 30 km.

Running with the crowd as seen on the BBC.

Approaching the end - on the red carpet.

At the finish - crossing the timing mats.

At the finish - and we're done!

Results and places.

My pace was very consistent, slowing down a little as the race went on but really not by much, a pretty good straight line. The final official results show my average pace as 07:27 mins/km with a narrow range from 07:12 to 07:51. Sometimes I impress myself!

Well back in the overall field but I don't care, I finished.

Given the typical gender difference I was further back in the Male category, no surprise.

But the best result was in the age category which is a source of some satisfaction. Better than the above two percentages.

In preparation for last year's marathon I attended a half day seminar which included a session on pacing. The speaker described how many start off too fast and it is like the tide. In the first half you see your fellow runners rushing away from you but by the halfway mark the tide turns as they tire and they all flow back past you. The stats provided really bring this home.

Even in the first half, because I was with the 5:30 plus crowd, I overtook more than I was overtaken.

In the second half the impact of my steady plodding to conserve energy becomes pretty dramatic. I started overtaking many of my fellow runners and very few had the energy to pass me. I love this graphic!

Many rivers to run.

There are only so many times I can run round Wandsworth Common before I start feeling like a hamster in a wheel. So I’ve taken to running out and back along rivers. They are level and it’s difficult to get lost!

Last year I mostly ran the River Wandle down to Beddington Park and back.

This year I switched to the Thames Path.

Even on holiday the training must continue. Last spring I was in New Orleans with our friends Tim and Sarah so I ran along the mighty Mississippi, following the New Orleans half marathon course. Such was my fitness at that time, and thanks to the time shift, I was able to leap out of bed and run a half marathon before breakfast!

This year in February I was in Rome for a three week language course so I ran alongside the River Tiber.

In Puglia there are no rivers (true fact) so I’ve had to improvise. There is a cycle path along the Aquedotto Pugliese which does go up and down but not too badly.

In the long run.

The last long run of the training plan was two weeks before the big day and I was pleased with how it went. Previously I’ve really struggled to get past 25K. This time I ran/walked my way to 35K. My longest *ever* training run including my two previous marathon attempts. So this technique seems to work for me.

Drove to the Pineta Ulmo, parked up and then a run/walk to Locorotondo and back.

Through typical Val D'Itria countryside dotted with trulli.

The nature of out and back is that you get a very symmetrical elevation profile. Although overall it was uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back as aqueducts naturally flow gently down hill but they can cheat by tunnelling through hills while I have to go up and over. As you can see there were some hills which were hard work.


Parkrun is an integral part of the training regimen. As a spin-off from the marathon training I achieved a Personal Best (PB) not once but nine times.

The Salento Parkrun of 06-April-19 was showing support for Autism awareness by asking participants to shave something or wear something blue. A perfect opportunity to wear my Blue Cross running vest (last year’s as the new one was back in the UK). All this marathon training has clearly helped. Not only was it my 50th parkrun, with cake and candles, but I demolished my PB by an astonishing 60 seconds: 25:36, previously 26:36. Not just for Salento but for all locations. I’ve earned that 50 T-shirt.

The Salentino Parkrun is set in a large nature reserve and is a lovely flat course.

My fellow runners on this milestone run.

Running for Cats.

I ran in memory of all my furry companions: Blue, Peaches, Cleo, Oscar, Oliver, Cristal and Spielberg, and on behalf of Blue Cross.

Blue Cross animal hospitals and pet care clinics provide free veterinary treatment to sick and injured pets when their owners can’t afford private veterinary fees. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/veterinary.

I have been lucky enough to be able to afford to go to the vets. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to give away your pet or have it put down because you cannot afford the care needed. Too horrible to contemplate.

Please donate to Blue Cross by sponsoring me if you so wish:

Thank you for reading this far. A bit of a marathon post *groan*.

That's all folks.