Friday, May 13, 2022

Eddi Reader at The Queen’s Hall

Edinburgh, Scotland. Saturday 23-April-2022.

I bought the 12 inch single of Perfect way back in 1988 that helped launch Fairground Attraction on their pop career. Little did I think that I would be seeing the lead singer, Eddi Reader, 34 years later not once but twice once with Steve Harley and now this concert.

We were trying to rustle up interest amongst our friends to see Eddi in concert and by the time results were in Glasgow was sold out and so we ended up booking tickets for the Edinburgh gig. It was just Mary and I and our friend Nigel. We booked ourselves a hotel and were ready for the off when Nigel had to cancel due to catching Covid so it was just the two of us.

We were going to go by train but there were weekend engineering works and the bus replacement service was all the way from Carlisle to Edinburgh doubling the journey time. So we decided to drive instead which wasn’t too painful.

We checked into a boutique hotel with a massive room in the vicinity of the venue. 

We went for a supper in 56 North, a gin bar, distillery and kitchen found by Mary surfing for nearby eating places. Given my predilection for this beverage it turned out to be an excellent choice as it had 400 gins to choose from. Food was also delicious and the ambience lively and friendly with a mixture of groups, couples, across a wide range of ages, some eating, some just having a drink.

Then off to the gig where we were able to get a refund on Nigel‘s ticket. His hotel booking was nonrefundable but this at least helped soften the blow.

The support act was Ultan Conlan who we had seen once before at a Mary Coughlan concert outside Dublin. As well as being a fine singer he was an exemplar of the benefits of seeing a live performance giving us some chat and background to the inspiration for the songs. Eddi came on during Ultan's set and sang one song with him.

Eddi did a fine set with her band including, naturally, Perfect. Every successful artist has that one song that everyone expects to hear whether they want to perform it or not. When we saw James Taylor he quipped that the first time he heard "You’ve got a friend" little did he realise that he was going to be singing it every day for the rest of his life! Similarly in an interview with Pam Ayres she remarked that everyone wants to hear the poem “I wish I looked after my teeth “and she tries to make it sound fresh every time. So it is with Eddi and Perfect. It sounded as fresh and beautifully sung as when I bought that single so many years ago.

After the concert we went in search of a nightcap and ended up in the local Cask and Barrel pub where they had some excellent beers on draft.

The next day it seemed only sensible to play the tourist as who knows when we would be in Edinburgh again.  Since we were in Newington practically at the foot of Arthur's Seat, a volcanic stump on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Foolishly we decided to go up to the top for the great views over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. It was sunny and very windy but luckily we were dressed for East Coast weather.

On the way back to the car we peered into the Innocent Railway, the oldest railway tunnel in Scotland. We lunched at Southpour and then headed home having an an excellent trip.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Brunswick Road 12 - Kitchen Installation Continued

Penrith, Cumbria. April-2022.

The end is nigh! 

The units are now installed in the kitchen and utility / shower room bar four drawer fronts and the door for the dishwasher that are on back order. That means all the kitchen pots, pans, utensils, cleaning materials, etc. can be moved into the cupboards from various locations. 

The knock on effect through the rest of the house has been enormous as items from the pantry, dresser and shed went into their rightful places in the kitchen and utility room. Boxes were brought down from the top bedrooms and the temporary cooking arrangements went out into the shed. The lock-up has been emptied of its remaining contents and given up, saving us the ongoing rental. 

Luckily our friend Nigel was starting to pack up his house so was a very happy recipient of all our empty boxes, bubble wrap and lock-up storage unit.

The dishwasher is plumbed in so no more washing dishes in the bathroom sink! The utility room is now fully functional with shower and washing machine so more trips to the Coach House Laundry with Ikea bags full of washing.

The dining room is now fully operational. Following last month's plastering I painted the two untouched walls so we could move the dresser back in from the hallway. This month, once the plaster was dry, I painted the two remaining walls and the white above the picture rail. The cook book shelves are up and pictures hung.

The ceiling is still to be fitted but as this was more complicated than first thought, and would clash with the kitchen installation, we have delayed this until later in the year.

There were some bits of paint touch up in the kitchen where socket and switches had to be moved and around the edges in the utility room. Basically it is done apart from some painting of new skirting boards and doors - hurrah!

It will be lovely when it is finished!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Knepp Safari 2022

Knepp Wildland Safaris, West Sussex, UK. Wednesday / Thursday 27/28-April-2022.  

This was our third visit to Knepp and it was as good as ever. We booked way back in September 2021 as soon as they released the dates. Mary was keen to do a Nightingale Safari and stay in one of the glamping options, preferably one of the yurts, The Turtle Dove, which has a fantastic position and outlook. Mary pounced as soon as the dates were opened up and this was the only date where a safari and accommodation (unfortunately only one of the bell tents) were available so we snapped them up. This pushed back our original planned date for returning to Italy for the summer.

It was a bit of a road trip; we drove all the way down from Penrith on the Wednesday, stayed two nights, and then drove all the way back up to Penrith on the bank holiday Friday.

Our tent was set in beautiful bluebell woods.

The tent itself was a permanent structure on a raised platform.

The interior had a proper double bed with a heavyweight duvet, sofa and chairs and a wood burning stove.

It was cold when we arrived but was soon lovely and warm thanks to the stove.

Wednesday night we had an excellent meal in the nearby Crown Inn and an early night because the first of two safaris was at dawn the next morning. On the walk to the pub we passed a small herd of red deer.

They were seemingly unperturbed by our presence.

Next morning the alarm went off at 5 o’clock for a 5:15 assemble with our guide. It was basically a gentle ramble round the estate with an introduction to the history of the whole re-wilding project, which we knew having been before and read the book. 

The dawn chorus was in full voice. Our guide kept pointing out nightingale song but we struggled to distinguish it from all the other birdsong.

We saw a variety of habitat, some deer and a longhorn cow with newborn calf.

After the walk I had a Hatha Yoga class in the Yoga Garden - a yurt like structure in the grounds. 

After we got back we discovered that the lid of one of our tea and coffee mugs had fallen out of my pocket. So we retraced our route, found it at the farthest point and continued to repeat most of the morning’s route. On the way round we came across a field with longhorn cattle, several Tamworth sows and a whole bunch of cute piglets all leaping about with youthful enthusiasm.

Got back from this second walk to discover that Mary‘s photos of the piglets had not come out because she had failed to press the button on her camera firmly enough so we went out again after lunch for the third time! This time we came across the same piglets without the cattle and got some excellent photos. We hid behind a clump of brambles but the piglets saw us and came inquisitively trotting over to have a look at us. 

Piglets charge!

Piglets regroup.

That was fine until mum turned and started to amble towards us so we thought it best to beat a retreat.

Signs of pig rootling – they are nature’s rotavators and plough up the ground which is good for margin loving plants and in turn the insect and birds that are specific to those habitats.

Stork reintroduction is the latest success story at Knepp with 37 eggs across nine nests this year. 

On our way back to the tent we passed several herds of fallow deer.

The evenings excursion was the much anticipated Nightingale Safari. They are a rare bird but making a comeback at this estate. They are also one of the few birds that sing at night. Apparently they migrate at night and it is the males in the trees, having selected a territory, that are singing to attract a female down from out of the sky.

Included in the safari was supper cooked by one of the staff. Vegetarian (or possibly even vegan)  it was based on a middle eastern theme: chickpea salad, couscous, spicy vegetable dish, green salad, a glass of wine and pudding. 

We then set off on the Safari armed with torches and spent another couple of hours walking round the estate pausing at various points to listen to the nightingales' long and complex repertoire of song. By the time we got back at midnight we were ready for our bed.

Nightingale song:

All in all it was a magical experience.

Epilogue: Next morning it was breakfast and the long trek home. What with holiday weekend traffic, road works and accidents it took about seven and a half hours. That made us decide to book the train down to Gatwick for our return to Italy the following week.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Inforem Infocus June 88 Issue 1

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 16-April-2022.

Zooming with ex-colleagues and reminiscing about the "good old days" I was reminded that in my archives I had this old in-house magazine featuring many familiar names. I promised them a scan so here it is: 

Inforem Infocus Issue 01 [pdf, opens in new window].

The front page mentions Inforem being signed up by Bradford and Bingley. I was assigned to that project just after I had adopted a kitten so relocated up north for the duration to avoid having to transport 8 week old Cleopatra back and forth every week. It was a workaholic environment with people working 12-hour days but I was immune to peer pressure. I would leave at 5pm prompt saying "You wouldn't want the kitten to starve!"

I lived in a rented house in Cottingley, home to the Cottingley Fairies. It was being posted up there that led me to buy my first ever pair of walking boots (see My Life in ... Shoes).

Shortly after I joined the company relocated from urban Ealing to leafy Weybridge. Here the "gang of four", our directors, are standing in front of our shiny new offices: Sohail Amer, Athar Shareef, Mojtaba Ghassemian, and Ali Athar. The editor of this newsletter was Michael Gray who joined Inforem around the same time I did.

PC based retail systems contributed to a fair amount of Inforem's business using PAGE which was able to handle exotic peripherals like tills and petrol pumps. Becoming an IBM Systems Centre meant that Inforem could sell the hardware to run the systems on as well. The warehouse shifted a lot of boxes.

It was my knowledge of structured methods for systems development that got me head hunted into inforem by Chris Collins with whom I had worked as BIS (Applied Systems). Anything you want to know about data modelling I'm yer man!

Jon Yerrell lead a small team of full time trainers but a number of us consultants also presented the courses.  The first course I did jointly with Chris Collins, the second I was left to present the whole 4-day course on my own. Very much a baptism of fire - thanks Chris!

PAGE was later to evolve into CASEwise Corporate Modeller and contributed to much of my later career. 

There was a short lived and ill fated foray into expert systems.

The Texas retail systems rollout included a substantial amount of new hardware being shipped out of the warehouse to stores all over the country. Some of my colleagues were doing more mileage in a month than I did in a year.

My. boss, Bob Carlsen, and I lifted this magnificent trophy the size of an egg-cup for beating a team from Coutts & Co. at Trivial Pursuit.

Ah! Those were the days my friend!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Low-Intervention Wines from Europe

WASP (Wine Appreciation Society, Penrith), Roundthorn Country House Hotel, Penrith. Thursday 31-March-2020.

Our first proper tutored wine tasting for several years. The wines were presented by Sam Jary of Black Hand Wine which is literally up our street.

We learnt about WASP by chance at the Christmas meal for the U3A Italian conversation group. Chatting to Peter who is actively involved in both groups, he told us about the group and we signed up straight away. This was our first opportunity to go to one of their tastings. 

You never know what to expect with a new group. There were more people than I was expecting, it was a fair sized crowd of 41 people. We hadn’t got the message about bringing our own tasting glasses (presumably a hangover from Covid) but the hotel rustled up a couple of glasses for us.

Sam is a trained professional oenologist and viticulturist specialising in organic wines. As always quality costs a little more but in this case is worth it to try some interesting and unusual wines. 

Sam talked a fair bit about the biodynamic principles so my very sketchy knowledge of this approach was greatly improved starting with Biodynamic Preparation 500 which involves burying a cow horn full of manure over winter to create a soil enhancer.

He presented eight wines, four white, four red:

Wine 1: Ciù Ciù Falerio Oris Bianco 2020, Marche, Italy - 13% - £14

  • Location: East Coast, Marche. 
  • Vinification: Organic. Fermented in stainless steel.
  • Grapes: Trebbiano, pecorino, passerina.
  • Tasting: Acidity, light floral, good finish.

Wine 2: Cuvée TRADITION Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2020 - 13.5% - £17

  • Location: Rhone.
  • Vinification: Sur lee / autolysis, biodynamic.
  • Grapes: Grenache blanc, viognier, clairette, bourboulenc.
  • Tasting: Strong aroma, aromatic, appley / spicy. Unctuous, peach kernel?, Well balanced, good length.

Wine 3: Chapuis Fréres Bourgogne Chardonnay 2020 - 13% - £22

  • Location: Savigny-le-Beaune.
  • Vinification: 20% new oak. 2020 a good year.
  • Grapes: Chardonnay.
  • Tasting: Buttery, vanilla (aroma and flavour), very well balanced, good length, fresh acidity on finish.

Wine 4: Vincent Gaudry 2017 Sancerre Le Tournebride - 12.5% - £26

  • Location: Loire.
  • Vinification: Biodynamic, wild yeast, unfined, unfiltered.
  • Grapes: Sauvignon blanc.
  • Tasting: Rich, smoky, perfumed, depth on nose. Unctuous, great body, well balanced, great length, complex.

Wine 5: Ciù Ciù Piceno DOP Bacchus 2016 - 13.5% - £14

  • Location: East Coast, Marche. 
  • Vinification: New oak, six months in stainless steel, three months in bottle.
  • Grapes: Montepulciano, sangiovese
  • Tasting: Purple / plum colour. Tasty, balanced, soft fruit, nice acidity, length.

Wine 6: NATURE Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2020 -13.5% - £17

  • Location: Rhone.
  • Vinification: No added sulfites, no oak, vinified in concrete.
  • Grapes: Grenache, syrah.
  • Tasting: good fruit, earthy, deep, herby. Deep, tannic, dark fruit, velvety.

Wine 7: Velvet Gerard Pittnauer NV, Austria - 12.5% - £17.50

  • Location: Burgenland, by massive lake which moderates the climate.
  • Vinification: Organic, biodynamic, wild yeast. Aged in neutral barrels
  • Grapes: Zweigelt, blaufrankisch. 
  • Tasting: Herbaceous, fresh acidity on nose. Good fruit flavours.

Wine 8: Chapuis Fréres Coteaux Bourguignon 2020 - 14.5% - £21

  • Location: Cru Beaujolais.
  • Vinification: No added sulfites, unfined, unfiltered. 4 months in barrel.
  • Grapes: Gamay. 
  • Tasting: uncharacteristically big, high alcohol. Fruity, good body, some tannin.

At the end of the tasting anyone who wanted to could help polish off the leftovers.

We had eaten beforehand not realising there was a buffet afterwards but I think we would have eaten anyway to line our stomachs.

One of the attendees recognised me as a neighbour from my hand delivering a misdirected Christmas card last year. We ended up having an excellent chat till gone 11pm when we all staggered back down the hill to home.

Even after decades of wine tasting we always learn something new from a good presenter and it was an excellent social evening.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Brunswick Road 11 - dining room plastering, kitchen installation

Penrith, Cumbria. March-2022.

Finally some real progress. Between Allen, our kitchen fitter, and Barry the builder, the month of March has seen great leaps forward. 

Allen did what he could in the utility room while we were waiting for delivery of the kitchen units. First he installed the loo and shower base. We have missed having two loos. I joked that we should now call the house “Lautrec”.

Next the shower boards went in and then had to be left for the filler foam to go off.

Once Allen had done what he could Barry’s lads came in to strip and re-plaster the back wall and chimney breast. The back wall was re-plastered using insulated boards to help improve the thermal efficiency a little.

We had hoped that the chimney breast would be lovely stone like in Benson Row but sadly not. Although the top part was stone it would seem that the lintel had been lowered from its original position and the infill was unappealing brickwork so we plastered it back over. 

The left hand alcove, where the boiler had been, was opened out then boxed in to hide all the pipe work to the new boiler and make it symmetrical with the other side.

Once the plastering was done we could move the dresser back into the dining room from the hallway where it had been constricting the passageway. It meant we could now move freely and also unbox the glasses, etc which had been in storage crates cluttering up the rest of the house.

The kitchen fitter returned with the carcasses for the units and positioned them in the correct places.

Because of the wiring still needed for the hob and oven he made a start on the utility room - the first units are now fitted. They will eventually have the same work top as the kitchen with a countertop sink above the washing machine.

The flying sink has gone so we are back to washing up in the bathroom sink but not for long; next month should see the work complete.

"It will be lovely when it's finished!"

Sunday, March 20, 2022

My Life in ... Chocolate

The fifteenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

A story of The Dark Side. 

I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff." - Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Bob Dylan. 

They say confession is good for the soul so here goes, sometimes you just have to spill the beans (cocoa beans that is).

Wagon Wheel (Kenilworth 1960's). As a child growing up I didn't eat a lot of chocolate. Pocket money was carefully rationed and I was more likely to buy a Jamboree BagFlying Saucers or Sherbert Fountain. If I bought chocolate it was more biscuity fare like Wagon Wheel or Kit-Kat. 

Cadbury's Dairy Milk (Kenilworth, 1971). When I got offered a place at Hertford College, Oxford my mum splashed out and bought me a family size bar of CDM. "A pint and a half in very glass" was their slogan, now retired as it contravenes European regulations by being not metric!

Terry's All Gold. (Oxford 1975). For me it all started at college when my girlfriend at the time introduced me to Terry's All Gold. It was the first time I had ever come across a box of chocolates that was all plain, and truffle fillings. I could never look at a box of Cadbury's Roses again, milk chocolate and fondant cream fillings, yech - except maybe the purple ones with the caramel centres.

Thornton's Continental Selection (Oxford, 1977). So that was me for the next few years until the Sheffield posse started expanding their territory down south. Yes, Thornton's Chocolate Cabins opened a branch in Oxford. Well that was it, Terry's were history after I discovered Thornton's Continental Selection. At Thornton's I could pick my own mixture! "A quarter of plain, dark chocolate truffles, just start at the left and work along until the bag is full". And then I would have another quarter of all plain truffles. 

I had to have separate bags even if I bought a full pound, because opening that next bag slowed me down (a little). I realised I had it bad when I knew that you got eight truffles to the quarter, and if one was a little light they would give you a crystallised ginger stick to make up the weight.

Sainsbury's (London, 1979). Peak chocolate consumption. I spent a year working in Sainbury's head office off Stamford Street. More out of boredom and as a way of time structuring I would have a tea break every day at 10:30 and 15:30. I would pop down to the newsagents below the office and buy a bar of chocolate to go with my cuppa. The usual mass production chocolate - Kit Kat, Crunchie, Munchies, etc. not Mars Bars (too sweet), not Bounty Bar (coconut gets between my teeth). 

I read Alan Carr's EasyWay to Stop Smoking, not because I smoked (never have) but because I wanted some insight into managing addictive behaviour. An interesting read but what changed my chocolate consumption was changing jobs.

Bendick's Sporting and Military (London 1982). After I moved to London I no longer had access to my regular dealer - there was no Thornton's branch in London. So I went cruising the wild West End and there behind Oxford Street I found Bendick's. Now I knew they did after dinner mints but what I did not know (boy was I naive) was that they also did "Sporting And Military" chocolate. OK, it was not a truffle, it was a solid bar but it was 70% cocoa solids. This was the hard stuff! You could not chomp this you just had to let it rest on your tongue and slowly dissolve. Oh that bittersweet taste.

I should mention Green and Black's chocolate bar here. It too was 70% cocoa solids but it just wasn't the same.

Charbonnel et Walkers (London 1983). Then I moved to work in the City - the heart of London's financial district. Well, you have heard about these high-rolling dealers. It's true. There behind the Stock Exchange was 'Charbonnel et Walkers'. Do you remember Carlsberg's very successful advertising campaign with the slogan "Probably the best lager in the world"? No such modesty for C et W. The window display simply declared "The BEST chocolate in the World". And it probably was. Although I have to say that Thornton's fillings have the edge. 

You could tell what kind of shop it was - there were no prices in the window, always a worrying sign. And the boxes on display. Heart shaped and all pink, Laura Ashley; these looked like the kind of chocolates you bought your mistress! So in I went, into a positively Dickensian interior, deserted but for the sound of the tinkling bell my entrance had set off. From a back room appeared an immaculately dressed youth in a pinstripe suit and white gloves. I made my request for a quarter of plain truffles and back came the response I shall never forget, "Certainly, sir, with or without nuts?".

Hotel Chocolat (London 1993 - 2020). Next to Mary's hairdressers in the Strand was a branch of Hotel Chocolat so every time she had her hair done I got a goodie bag of truffles. The three for a tenner offer was particularly good as were the dessert themed flavours: Raspberry Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, Eton Mess, Carrot Cake, Rhubarb and Custard, etc.

Lily O'Brien's (Dublin c. 2004). Mary worked in Dublin on and off for three years and as she passed through the airport on the way home she would pick up a present for me of Lily O'Brien's chocolates. Pretty tasty they are too. We became aware that the Irish go mad for chocolate. In the run up to Easter the supermarket shelves are bulging with crazy quantities of Easter Eggs.

Lindt Chocolate Museum (Switzerland 2008). Mary and I went a Rhine cruise with Mary's mum. One of the stops included a side trip to the Lindt factory and museum. The shop featured chocolates not seen in their retail outlets - slabs of chocolate poured into trays to cool in a variety of interesting flavours; the dark chocolate with pink peppercorn was a first for me and excellent to boot.

Chocolab Easter Egg (Cisternino 2017). One difference between London and Cisternino is that there you actually know the name of the person who made your Easter egg - Antonietta Pinto founder of Chocolab. We've met her and she is part of the family who run Bar Fod across the piazza. Buona Pasqua.

Green and Black's (Penrith 2020 - present). Alas Penrith does not run to a specialist chocolatier but I live in hope. In the meantime we tend to go with whatever is on special offer in Booths supermarket which is usually either Green and Black's or Lindt.

Monday, March 14, 2022

My Life In ... Music Festivals

The fourteenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

As I was enjoying the bands at Solfest 2021 I thought to myself it is a very long time since I stood on grass in the open air listening to live music. 10 years ago I went to Cropredy and before that it would’ve been the Isle of Wight in 1970. But then I thought to myself this is a very strict definition of a music festival. They don’t all have to be a long weekend with multiple bands and accommodation in tents (unless you so choose) or even in the open air (although many are).

Thinking back I have stood in many a grassy venue under the open sky listening to a variety of bands, acts and orchestras. Some were part of a festival with a series of dates spread over several weeks, some were one off events. When I started to recall them I was amazed at how many festivals I’ve been to. These are the ones I can remember (thanks mainly to my blogging (click on the year for relevant post). 

Isle of Wight, 1970: my first and, in terms of artists, greatest ever music festival. Alas I can remember very little of it as I have written elsewhere on this blog.

Mayfly Festival, 1973 / 1974: this one I had almost forgotten about. It was a small two or three day concert in Oxpens Meadows in Oxford. I have no memorabilia but I believe I must have attended in 1974 because one of my college mates was a huge fan of Gong, Hatfield & the North and Henry Cow. and one of the acts was the Virgin All Stars comprised of members from all three bands.  

It was a lovely sunny day is about all I can remember. I also remember one of the performers saying that he rehearsed and rehearsed so that what you heard when you saw him live was as close as he could make it to the studio album. I am convinced that it was Kevin Ayers but I can find no evidence on the Internet of his performing there so perhaps I imagined it was him. Or it may have been some other artist.

Crystal Palace Bowl, 1983 / 1984 / 1985: I think of the 80s and 90s as the golden age of rock festivals, the likes of Reading and Glastonbury. I was never into those kind of events but I did attend several classical music concert series at the Crystal Palace bowl. A whole crowd of us used to go together armed with splendid picnics with different people tasked to bring different courses. Then a concert of popular classics with the last being accompanied by fireworks. Halcyon days!

Henry Wood Promenade concerts, 1972 / 1991 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016: Too many individual concerts to list. We usually booked a box for 8 and smuggled in a picnic to enjoy with friends. 

French Quarter Festival, 1998 / 2001 / 2009this festival is a small and delightful festival held in the French Quarter, the historic heart of New Orleans. We combined this with the jazz and heritage festival in those years were the two were contiguous. Many of the acts performed on street corners in the town itself but some were in various city parks. 

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 1998 / 2001 / 2009some years Jazz Fest followed straight on from the French Quarter festival. Jazz Fest is held on the grassy interior of the race track and one of the best festivals ever. Through this we have discovered many fine acts such as Keb Mo, John Mooney, The Radiators, Anders Osbourne and the unique Mike West as well as better known headliners like James Taylor, Dr John and Van Morrison.

Salisbury festival, 2004 / 2006: when we lived in Ringwood Salisbury was just up the road and we only discovered this festival on the very day in 2004. We bought tickets and rushed up the road to where the festival was being held in the cathedral grounds. It is there that we were greatly entertained by Blazing Fiddles, a band comprised of Scottish and Irish Fiddlers playing some very up-tempo dances and reels.  I also had a run in with a waiter's friend which resulted in a trip to the St John’s ambulance tent to get a plaster for my sliced finger. The second visit was much less eventful!

Jazz at the Tower, 2005 / 2006: in this case the venue was the moat of the Tower of London!  The first year we saw Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and the second year we saw Al Jarreau amongst others. They had a picnic area where you could bring in your own pre-concert repast and then move round the moat to the stage. The MC was a beefeater in full uniform and it is slightly surreal to see one of them enthusiastically saying “let’s give it up for…”. Sadly this concert series appears to have been discontinued.

Hampton Court Festival, 2008 / 2009 / 2014 (twice) / 2016 / 2017: while the concerts (Bryan Ferry, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, George Benson, Curtis Stigers, Cleo Lane and John Dankworth) were on flagstones in the courtyard many of these involved a pre-concert picnic on the well manicured lawn of the palace.

Hyde Park, 19962009: Legendary line-ups:

1996 - Bob Dylan, The Who, Eric Clapton. Eric played the blues, The Who played Quadrophenia, Bob murdered All Along the Watchtower with a croaky, dire rendition of one of my favourite songs.

2009 - Neil Young, Seasick Steve. We enjoyed Neil Young and were impressed by Seasick Steve who we knew nothing about. One clear memory was that it rained and Mary had to buy a plastic poncho to protect our jug of Pimm's!

London Jazz Festival (aka EFG Jazz Festival), 2007 / 2016 / 2019: Some great musicians including  John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek (three times), the latter introducing us to the extraordinary percussionist Trilok Gurtu.

Cannizaro Park Festival, 2010: just up the road from where we lived at the time in South Wimbledon. We went to see the 60s All-Stars comprising of a number of veteran musicians from various one-hit wonder bands back in the 60s. As experienced musicians they put on a fine show.

Cropredy, 2011: now back to a real pop festival in leafy Oxfordshire near Banbury: multi day, multi artist, camping available and in a real field of grass. We were drawn to this by the appearance of Seasick Steve and discovered many fine bands all unknown to me (apart from Seasick Steve, obviously) headlined by Fairport Convention. One uniquely British tradition was a burst of seated Morris dancing lead by Richard Digance.

BluesFest London, 20132014 / 2016: This was mostly held at the Royal Albert Hall but has since moved to The O2 Arena. It falls around our wedding anniversary so for several years we made it part of our celebrations. Artists seen include: Robert Cray, Marcus Bonfanti, Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman (plus many legendary guests).

Locus festival, 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019: This is a mostly free festival in Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy over several weekends in the main square. Every year there are some payable events at outlying venues, we saw: Kamasi Washington at Mavu Masseria, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at Masseria Ferragnano, and Lauryn Hill in the local football stadium. Through Locus we discovered two avant-garde jazz bands that have joined our regular play list: Go-Go Penguin and Mammal Hands

Chicago Blues Festival, 2016: this was in a local park and included a fine lineup of artists foremost of which was the brilliant Shemekia Copeland. The whole of the concert on the Sunday evening on the main stage was a tribute to Otis Rush.

Great British Rock and Blues Festival, 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020: Held at Butlins, in Skegness, in January it can get a bit chilly but the music is excellent. The GBR&B Festival has turned into a regular event where we discovered all manner of talented performers, some new, some old-timers: Catfish, Rebecca Downes, Elles Bailey, Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues, Mud Morganfield, Climax Blues Band, Lucky Peterson, the list goes goes on...

Solfest, 2021: Just up the road from our new home in Cumbria, near the Solway Firth. That brings this right up to date and the festival that started this reminiscence. For us the best band was Dutty Moonshine Big Band featuring my nephew, Chris Hutchinson-Mogg, on drums. 

Music - better than a Madeleine dipped in tea.