Monday, June 22, 2015

Cleaning the Wandle June 2015

Watermeads Nature Reserve, Poulter Park. Sunday 14-Jun-2015

Last time Mary and I walked this stretch the Watermeads Nature Reserve was not open so we had to walk along the railings looking wistfully at the river bank. Now the reserve it open to the public so the Wandle Trust were able to gain access for the first ever clear up on this stretch.

"Watermeads, a National Trust nature reserve along the River Wandle, opened to the public in May 2015 having been hidden behind locked gates for 100 years. National Trust founder Octavia Hill and her sister Miranda personally started the appeal to save Watermeads. The 11 acre site has recently had new paths, bridges and a sluice, to improve the wetlands habitat for wildlife and public access. " Watermeads nature reserve in South London

Despite being inaccessible to the public there was the inevitable shopping trolley but generally there was not much rubbish compared to other stretches. The guys in the water must have been newbies because they starting working downstream. That means you are working in your own stirred up silt and it is impossible to see the debris in the water, you have to work by feel. I gave up and switched to wheelbarrow duty; less glamorous but still an essential part of the teamwork.

None of the wheelbarrows are Ninja-silent but "Sean" is the worst culprit. However today, after several years, I finally remembered to bring a can of bicycle oil and give all the barrows' axles a good squirt. At long last peace reigns!

A major theme of the day was invasive species, this time not Himalyan balsam but Floating pennywort: "Floating pennywort can grow up to 20 centimetres a day, blocking out light and reducing the oxygen for other plants and animals". There is a pond as part of the reserve which was completely covered in the stuff.

Part of the team did a major piece of aquatic weeding.

A lovely day out!

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Errol Linton's Blues Band at Green Note

Camden Town, London. Saturday 12-Jun-2015.

Congratulations to Green Note voted Londoners’ Favourite Music Venue in the London Music Awards sponsored by The Mayor's Music Fund in association with Time Out.  Well deserved.

I had a couple of colleagues from overseas who were in London over the weekend so I organised an evening of music at this fine venue. We got there early and snagged the front table closest to the minuscule stage. The stage is so small they could only squeeze four of the band on the stage, the guitarist had to stand off the edge.

As luck would have it Errol Linton was on and Blues is Delton's favourite music. Excellent Chicago blues with a seasoning of reggae beat in the mix. Brilliant music played with energy. When you are that close you really get a feel for the personality of the individual band members because you can see every smile and grimace, every fleeting expression. They played two sets, nearly two hours of live music and all for the bargain price of £9 a ticket. Amazing!

As Mary said Green Note punches above its weight. For a small venue it has excellent acts night after night. Every time I have been there it has been a musical treat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Late May Bank Holiday in Puglia

A visit to Italy with our friend Andrea in search of a designer "Mother of the Groom" outfit. Her son Daniel is getting married and there are a number of outlet shops in the area that we hoped would provide a bargain outfit not available in the UK.

It was a festival for the local Saint so the illuminations were up in Cisternino.

Transforming Via Roma into a classier version of Blackpool illuminations and on a more modest scale.

Saturday we dined once again at the excellent Osteria la Valle and I had the starter special of the day linguine with crab - delicious.

Mary's main course squid was equally fresh and tasty.

Back at Trullo Azzurro the previous guests had the water pump cut out on them and a simple press of the reset button sufficed. While we were there it played up repeatedly so our local managing agent and general useful guy, Graham, came and had a look. He took the pump (shiny lump at the bottom) and controller (blue lump at the top) away for servicing. It was the controller at fault, apparently, and all was back in place that afternoon with absolutely no problems since.

After Andrea had left we went over for a meal with our new friends Ceri and David in Alberobello - plus a sleep over as much wine was consumed. The next morning they revealed that they had a spare, second-hand, above ground pool that they had acquired but never used. This solved the debate of whether we should invest in a pool. We could *ahem* put our toe in the water by trying this one out and see how it goes in terms of generating extra bookings.

It turned out there were a couple of parts missing which we have ordered and will take out with us next trip. That means some guests will get a pleasant surprise when they arrive - not expecting a pool and finding one. At 18ft x 9ft x 52in (5.5m x 2.7m x 1.3m) this makes for decent size pool; let's hope our prospective guests agree.

Another planned social event was to meet up with Patrizia, the artist who painted our recent artwork purchase. It was lovely to meet her in person and show her how well the painting looked in it's new home.

All in all another most excellent visit.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Friday, June 12, 2015

Al Stewart at the Royal Albert Hall

Saturday 16-May-2015.

Another coup for SingKick. As soon as I got the alert I went online to buy tickets but the concert was not even up on the RAH website. So I rang the box office and they confirmed the concert was on and I could buy tickets. Being so quick off the mark, I was able to get front row seats right in the middle of the row. Result!

Don't miss Night #2 of the Royal Albert Hall in London, when Al will perform the albums Past Present Future and Year of...
Posted by Al Stewart OFFICIAL on Wednesday, 20 May 2015

It was not the usual "greatest hits" approach of many established artists. Instead it was two albums in their entirety. First he played "Past Present and Future" track for track. Then an interval. Then "Year of the Cat". After that the encore was "Carol" and the wonderful "Time Passages" as the final song.

Hearing the songs live is very different to the albums I was used to but in a good way as he was supported by a full band. The band were great but two musicians stood out for me. Tim Renwick in particular made playing superb guitar look so effortless. You could hear echoes of the man who played with Pink Floyd. Dave Nachmanoff is a long time collaborator with Al Stewart and key to the concert we enjoyed so much.

At the end we could see a photographer up behind the choir and blow me if they didn't publish the picture on Facebook - that's me in the brown jacket and Mary Galashan in the floral dress.

Photo by Anne Burghard
Posted by Al Stewart OFFICIAL on Sunday, 17 May 2015

A brilliant concert. Superb band. Two classic albums. Time Passages for an encore. AND the best seats in the house. It doesn't get much better than that. My eyes may have leaked. Thanks to Al Stewart and all the musicians for a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Lee Konitz and Dave Douglas Quintet at Ronnie Scott's

Monday 04-May-2015.

Our friends, Bron and Maggie's, first visit to Ronnie Scott's. The front desk very kindly put us in a corner table in the premier seating pit. The advantage of that table is that we could shuffle round and all see the stage without imitating the swivelling head of an owl.

Jazz Journal preview: "Cool-school maestro Lee Konitz, in his 88th year, leads a group with trumpeter Dave Douglas at Ronnie Scott's in May. Konitz is, with Sonny Rollins, the last major representative of early modern jazz who's still active." Full preview...

We ate, we drank, we listened to great jazz.

Jazz Journal Review: "Andy Hamilton finds veteran saxophonist Lee Konitz in remarkable form, alongside the supportive trumpeter Dave Douglas and a fine band at Ronnie Scott's. [...] Konitz at 87 still conveys a sense of mischievous spontaneity, keeping audience and band wondering what he will do next. It's true that in the 1990s he returned full-time to the standards repertoire, and no longer plays original compositions by former partners such as Frank Wunsch, Kenny Wheeler or Harold Danko. But his work remains as unpredictable and unclich├ęd as ever. Full review...

Well that seemed to go OK!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rodriguez at The Royal Albert Hall

Thursday 07-May-2015

Alerted to this gig by the SongKick app, I bagged four tickets knowing that we would be able to find people to take the other two especially as Mary is working for a South African company - Sixto Rodriguez is a cultural phenomenon in that country.

We had drinks and bar snacks (you couldn't call it a meal) in the Berry Bros. & Rudd No 3 Bar. An atmospheric subterranean feel, comfy sofas and subdued lighting with a decent wine list including the handy 375 ml carafe option but don't order the cocktails if you are in a hurry.

We got to our seats in time to see the whole of the support act. Something I like to do partly because I've paid for it and and partly because I like to be surprised by some unknown performer that I might really like. In this case it was Charlie Cunningham a solo guitarist. He was good, playing songs off his forthcoming EP one of which had a real tang of classical Spanish guitar. He was a little in awe both of playing in the Royal Albert Hall and of supporting Rodriguez.

Then the main man came on to tumultuous applause, helped on by a couple of assistants. He was well wrapped up and over the course of the first few tracks stripped off three layers until he was down to a black singlet which caused no little excitement amongst some members of the audience. You could tell much of his life was spent doing manual work, he had the biceps to prove it.

He mostly sang songs from Cold Fact including "I Wonder" and "Sugar Man", What surprised me was him doing several cover versions including "Somebody to Love" by Jefferson Airplane. Hopefully someone will put up the full set list on As often I didn't take a camera but fortunately the RAH posted some good quality photos on their blog.

The crowd were in adoring mood with many shouts of "We love you!" Upon hearing calls proclaiming him a 'legend', Sixto modestly responded: "I want everyone here tonight to know that I want to be treated like an ordinary legend".

Another great evening and made all the more enjoyable by knowing his back story courtesy of the award winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pasqua in Puglia 2015

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Sunday 30-March-2015

A good trip to open up for the season with several highlights. The first was the weather which exceeded the forecast pretty much every day. We were able to drag the mattresses out into the courtyard for their spring toasting to drive off the winter damp.

We are switching from umbrellas to a shade sail on the advice of our local agent. Parasols generally do not last as long and fall over in the wind. A quality shade sail lasts longer, provides higher UV protection and covers a larger area. We avoided the Ikea sails and went for a high quality Australian make called Kookaburra.

My top priority on this visit was to drill holes and install eyebolts to take the fittings; two are static (with tension adjusters) and the third has a pulley for raising and lowering. All went remarkably smoothly and we now have cover for lunch in the courtyard. We will retain at least one parasol for the courtyard round the back but I expect the sail to be the main protection from the sun.

Back in Cisternino old town the alleys are too narrow for vehicles of any size and especially for a dustcart (aka garbage truck). Instead of weekly rubbish collection you leave a plastic carrier bag out every night for daily collection. These little vehicles navigate the cobbled streets every day collecting the bags from people's doorsteps.

In our apartment the large white wall has been crying out for a painting. Last year we looked at paintings by local artist Patrizia Pareo who, coincidentally, has her studio directly across from our apartment. We didn't feel able to afford the one we wanted then but this time we upped the budget and bought "Bianco nello spazio".

It must be one of Patrizia favourites as she used it on the cover of her catalogue. And now it's our favourite too. It looks splendid on our wall and is the perfect finishing touch to the apartment.

It was a quite the cultural visit. we went to book at table at Osteria la Valle. At eight o'clock they hadn't event started laying the tables so we went to Bar TrentaDue for a drink for an hour. There was a band setting up and doing a sound check. So after our meal we went back to listen to the band. The bar was heaving with trendy cool dudes. The first set finished at midnight. I was deemed an old fogey for wanting to go home to bed so we stayed for the second set and staggered home some time after one am.

We had hired a large estate car so we could go shopping to patio furniture for the terrace. After visits to Ikea, Conforama, and "our man in the country" we ended up back at Conforama and bought a table and L-shaped sofa.

It only just fitted in the boot with a bit of shoving and is now up on the roof ready for some serious relaxing next trip.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Peaches - a celebration

Cats Protection, Haywards Heath 14-Feb-2010 to Wandsworth 19-Feb-2015

This is Blue and Peaches the very first time was met them at the Cats Protection National Cat Centre in Haywards Heath. We had gone to view kittens but did a last minute swerve to the pen next door where we were told Blue and Peaches were 12 and 14 respectively.

When we decided to adopt two older cats the deal was to give them a peaceful retirement knowing we would not have them as long as kittens. We were resolved from the start that when their time came there would be no heroic measures to prolong their lives unnecessarily. As long as they were happy and comfortable it was quality of life that counted.

When we first took them home they hid in dark corners and cupboards for the best part of a week. It was another week before we let them out into the garden. The picture below is Peaches' first exploration of the garden. It has to be said the she was never much of a one for going out. She could work the cat flap but, like most cats, preferred her humans to open the door for her.

Every cat is different. Peaches was never a lap cat. She was incredibly timid at first and we are quite convinced she had been mistreated in a previous life; for the first couple of years she flinched when you put your hand out to stroke her and would scurry away.

All our friends remarked how much less timid she became as she relaxed and got used to her safe new home.  We learned to approach her slowly from the front so as to not startle her and let her sniff your hand to get used to you.

Although she was not overtly friendly the moment we walked into the room she would start purring, a really deep rumble, like a furry diesel engine. The closest she ever came to us voluntarily was sitting on the back of the sofa however she was very happy to be picked up.

Being an elderly cat she didn't hunt, she didn't jump into cardboard boxes, she treated cat toys with indifference. What she did do was what cats do best - sleep and eat.

What she also did not do was meow, she was a completely silent cat. Well almost: once I accidentally trod on her tail and she yelped; once in the middle of the night she made a wailing noise (I suspect intruder fox). But that was it - in five years, never a squawk or shout or a chirrup.

Cats have favourite sleeping places: back of the sofa, under the breakfast table, on the dining room chairs and of course on the stairs where Peaches was a regular health and safety hazard.

Occasionally Peaches would get creative. She mostly ignored her pillow but a nice warm basket of laundry made a more than acceptable alternative. Classic cat!

Peaches was hard to photograph because she always looked down. She never looked at the camera, always at the floor. This is one of my all time favourite pictures of Peaches. Not staged, we had set the table for supper and up she jumped as if to say "Where's my food?"

The end, when it came, was not too protracted. An infection lead to a several night stay at the animal hospital and further tests which revealed cancer of the liver (and possibly lungs). She had lost weight, was not eating and was having to be fed by tube.

We brought her home for one night and Mary, having been away on business, was able to give Peaches one last cuddle. The decision to have her put to sleep was clear and unanimous. We woke the duty vet up early the next morning and drove her straight over. We both were present and stroking her at the end.

We had her cremated and still have her ashes which we will plant under the rose where Cleo's ashes were also buried.

I feel happy that we have kept our side of the bargain with Peaches and she in return provided us with her own unique feline company for five years and five days.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Who Hits 50 at The O2

Monday 23-March-2015

This will be the third time I have seen The Who. Last time was in 1996 in Hyde Park when they played the whole of Quadraphenia. The first time was in 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival when they played the whole of Tommy! I still have the original vinyl double gatefold album with the price sticker 85/- That is 85 shillings or four and a quarter of your English pounds.

This concert was the rescheduled from last year due to Roger Daltry's voice problems. Here he was on good form as he belted out the greatest hits for two and a quarter hours - not bad for a 71-year old. Pete Townsend was also irrepressible and very sweary. They did their signature moves - microphone swinging and arm windmilling respectively.

We went for the "Hot ticket package" so we had better seats, closer to the stage, worth it especially as I will probably never see them again. We also got "merchandising" - a Mod-style backpack, official souvenir brochure and laminate plus lanyard.

The Evening Standard writes: "[...] as you might expect from men of their vintage, things were a little flabby around the middle. By Townshend’s own admission, a lacklustre Slip Kid “sounded better in the sound check” while A Quick One, While He’s Away was The Who in self-parody. Thankfully, the frenetic strumming of Pinball Wizard jolted things back into life. When this was followed by the evergreen Won’t Get Fooled Again, a triumphant show was given its crowning moment. Townshend has suggested this will be the band’s final tour; if that’s the case, they’re going out on a high." Full review...

I would second that. The concert delivered exactly what it said on the tin: all the iconic hits including My Generation - how ironic to hear a pensioner sing "I hope I die before I get old". Unfortunately Mary had to leave at 10pm to get up to Stansted so I watched the last 40 mins on my own. That last segment included an excellent medley of tracks from Tommy. Superb!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dr John at Ronnie Scott's

Saturday 14-March-2105

Another outing to Ronnie Scott's to see the legendary Dr. John. Last time we saw him was at the small venue that is Under the Bridge. This time it is the smaller and more intimate Ronnie Scott's and a chance to get a close up performance from the man.

As often with well known musicians the band are unknown, to me anyway, but excellent. I always assume that an artist of his calibre can pick and choose his sidesmen. I was particularly taken by the incongruity of the lady on the keyboards who dressed more like a schoolteacher rather than a rock goddess but then it's talent not fashion that counts here.

And before anyone accuses me of sexism I have been to see bands who dressed in grey suits and look more like accountants. I suppose I expect performers to be more flamboyant in dress code than the audience as a visual component of the entertainment.

I bought Dr John's debut album "Gris Gris" (1968) shortly after it came out and consequently it is one of those albums that is grooved into my brain. I'm happy to report that he sang "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" - part of the soundtrack of my life by the original artist. Epic.

London Jazz News writes: "There was a small standing ovation as Dr John made his short trip off the bandstand into the dark. No-one really expected an encore, and we didn’t get one. The performance was highly formulaic, certainly, but it was very well played and a great deal of fun." Full review...

Normally there are two shows on a Saturday but for Dr. John there was only one which meant a support act and a longer set from the main man which is good for us.

Time to eat starter and main course and relax with a glass or two. I like that Ronnie's keep the menu short and reasonably priced given they have a captive audience they have resisted the temptation to jack up the prices. So all in all makes it fair value.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dad's 90th Birthday Celebration

Reigate 14-March-2015

Dad's actual birthday is 10th March so this was the next available weekend option for a family gathering down at my sister and brother-in-law's. This is the most complete gathering of the McLellan-Hutchinson-Snape clan ever: Dad and Mum, their three children and partners, six grandsons, five of their partners and a second cousin.

Mum and Dad started from a very small family. When they married Dad was an only child, Mum had one unmarried brother, three of their parents had died before they married and what elderly cousins there were had been lost contact with. They were almost an Adam and Eve family. Fast forward 65 years and they have a veritable tribe and what a lovely lot they are. An epic photo.

A McLellan gathering always involves lots of conversation; there are at least six separate discussions going on here. We chatted, raised a glass of champagne to Dad, ate sandwiches and nibbles and then had a slice of lovely cake from Paul's Patisserie.

Then there was the opening of the presents and cards so Dad went away with a pile of goodies.  It being Mothering Sunday (in the UK) the next day we made sure we had a card and flowers for Mum as well.

I hope I live as long and as healthy as Dad.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cleaning the Wandle March 2015

Poulter Park, Sutton. Sunday 08-March-2015

The weather forecast was for temperatures in the range 5-8 deg C so I bundled up with thermal long Johns in expectation of a chilly wade in the water. As it turned out the water was only up to our knees and the Spring sun was blazing so in pretty short order I was roasting. It was a glorious Spring day.

Fairly early on we hit a major load of tyres; they were coming out of the river thick and fast.

As well as tyres we had the usual assortment of car parts and general rubbish. Plus several items of plate from some sports club. Someone thought it might be a snooker club. Whatever, some clueless burglar had obviously stolen a load of low value trophies realised they were not solid silver (Duh!) and dumped them.

Meanwhile the tyres kept on coming and coming. I switched to the less glamorous wheelbarrow duty because the in-water crew were pulling them out faster than the bank-side crew could haul them away to the rubbish collection point.

By the end there were around 200 tyres - this was illegal dumping on an industrial scale. A heroic effort by the Wandle Trust volunteers.

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Arcadia at The New Victoria Theatre

Woking. Friday 27-February-2015


Mary's very generous colleagues on a previous project gave her a theatre voucher as a leaving present. Spending it at West End prices and availability was a challenge but The New Victoria Theatre in Woking, where Mary works, was in the same theatre chain. So we booked seats to see what is often described as "Tom Stoppard's masterpiece".

I trained down to Woking to join Mary for an after work drink. The advantage of working for a brewery is that they have a free bar between 5 and 7 every evening! The selection is naturally limited but given that they are a global company there was still plenty of choice.

The foyer features a map of the world in beer:

After a quick beer we went for a bite to eat then on to the theatre - which was buried deep in a shopping and took some finding.

The play was fine and full of Stoppardian cultural pyrotechnics but you do have to pay attention:

BritishTheatre.Com (3 stars): "It is all fascinating and engaging material which, in other hands, might be as dry as dust, but Stoppard’s sparkling dialogue and deft, idiosyncratic characters enliven the whole affair. The elements fuse into theatrical alchemy – about as close to pure joy as it comes in modern writing." Full review...

I was lucky enough to have seen the original 1993 National Theatre production starring Felicity Kendall - a play which The Telegraph thinks may be "the greatest play of our age".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Howard Jones - Engage at indigo at The O2

London. Friday 20-February-2015

This is the second time of seeing Engage. Last time was at Shepherds Bush Empire as an unplanned last minute outing - Howard Jones 30th Celebration. I was so knocked out by it that when this performance was announced I snapped up two VIP tickets.

Mary was not interested in going, not really her kind of music, so our friend Nigel took the spare ticket. We met up beforehand for a quick bite and in for the VIP pre-concert show. Last time Howard did an acoustic set. This time he did just one song but he talked through his 'rig' - how he had set up his keyboard for various effects and then performed the song to illustrate the effects.

Many concerts I have been to all you can see are the glow worm screens of smart phones. I do take a few photos but spend most of the time attending to the concert.

When I saw Kate Bush she appealed to her audience to be there in the moment: "It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows. I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras. " A sentiment I can agree with.

Howard has taken the opposite approach of "If you can't beat them, join them." He commissioned an app so that the phone becomes part of the show. Images synced to the show are broadcast to all the phones in the audience. And if you are using the phone to watch images you are not using it to take photos or record the show.

The first half of the concert proper was a performance of Engage. It features a see-through screen on which various images are projected and you could still see the performers through the screen.

In general the images broadcast to the iPhones matched the projection on the screen.

I also have the DVD of Engage for which Howard went the crowdfunding route at Options included everything from a signed copy of the DVD, through a set of hand-written lyrics, to a day in the studio with Howard and even his actual Roland keyboard.

After the interval it was the greatest hits with all the songs we know and love.

Part of the deal with the VIP tickets was a free glass of sparkling wine in the "exclusive" after show party (that is me and 299 other VIP ticket holders). The big surprise was Howard popping to do short jam with an accompanying guitarist. He sang for about 20 minutes a fairly random medley some of which were suggested by the audience.

My suggestion to Howard would be to include a VIP mosh pit option. Last time I was on the floor and really close up which was a much more Engage-ing experience.

All-in-all well worth the VIP ticket price