Sunday, October 09, 2016

Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon 2016

London, England. Sunday 09-October-2016.

Having stopped work I was no longer cycling to work so I'd thought I'd try this running malarkey.

I thought "How hard can it be to run a marathon. Tens of thousands of people do it every year. I could do that!" Mary wisely counseled to try running a half marathon and see how that goes.

I have friends who used an app to get from Couch to 5k over several months. I went for my first run in February and did 2 miles. Two days later, for my second run, I did 5k. Feeling smug I then did ten more 5k runs over the next six weeks.

Encouraged I decided I would give the half marathon a go. I googled and found the Royal Parks Half Marathon in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, signed up and downloaded the training plan. Kept quiet about it for a couple of months until I had done some longer distances and decided that I might actually be able to do it. Only then did I go public. Raising money for Prostate Cancer UK via my fund raising page:

Some people are motivated by pursuit of pleasure, some by avoidance of pain; you're a stick person or a carrot person. Some people relish a challenge, that's for gung-ho "pursuit of pleasure" types. To me "Challenge" means pain, discomfort, danger. Why would anyone actively seek out a "Challenge"? I am the "avoidance of pain" type. In this case the pain of public shame and humiliation if I failed to to complete the course. That is why I waited until late August when I was up to 12.9km before admitting to FaceBook about my half marathon and fear provided the spur for training.

I followed the training plan in spirit rather than to the letter. Two runs per week, one short, one long. Every couple of weeks extending the long run by another circuit of Wandsworth Common. Each additional circuit adds another 2.7km including the little dimple round the duck pond that is Bolingbroke Stock Pond. By the end I was going six times round the common. In total I did 49 training runs over 8 months totalling 360km.

In all those runs my speed did not improve, although my stamina did. My pace in September was no faster than it was at the start back in February. This consistency enabled me to predict a race time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 50 seconds. The plot of time vs distance is a pretty good straight line.

The training runs I did in Italy were generally shorter and harder work. The country lanes were like an M C Escher staircase - they were uphill all the way round. How is that even possible?

The Royals Parks Foundation offered a training workshop which I found very useful. Sessions on nutrition and hydration, and pacing followed by a yoga class. It was there I learned about the existance of pace runners - being as this is my first ever charity run I was unaware of this support. Given my pace consistency this was greatly reassuring - I would find the 2:15 guy and stick with him. On the day that is exactly what I did.

Off we went and I plodded round with Mr 2:15. He had dozens of followers at the start. By the end we were down to a handful although I'm not sure if they ran ahead or dropped behind - I'm guessing the latter.

Running down Serpentine Road with Wellington Arch in the background.

Down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace with Admiralty Arch behind me.

Still smiling.

This is me at the 8.5 mile mark passing the Prostate Cancer UK cheering station and feeling fine.

Crossing the finishing line.

Map My Ride gave my time as 02:14:52 which matches the official chip time. So close to my predicted time that I laughed out loud and felt very smug indeed.

Looking at the splits I am a human metronome, less than a minute between average and actual all the way through except the first. The only reason the first one is fast is because I had to catch up to the 2:15 pace runner who had worked his way forward in the queue while we were waiting to start.


They don't publish the age-related positions so I cannot tell how I did against my peers. Not that it matters, my only plan was to cross the finish line before they started to dismantle it. I ran all the way and felt absolutely fine at the end. All the training clearly paid off. No after effects to speak of.


What I have learned is that I don't enjoy running. I just don't get it, cannot see the attraction. It's like being a hamster in a cage. Part of it, I think, is that I do not get a runners' rush or endorphin high. For the first five minutes after a run my breathing and heart rate subside to normal. Then I spontaneously combust and for the next five minutes sweat pours out of every pore, salt water stings my eyes. After that I feel calm which I have attributed to relief that the run is over. Certainly doesn't feel like a natural high and if that is it then it is so imperceptible as to not be worth the effort.

All that is irrelevant as it was about raising money for Prostate Cancer UK via my fund raising page: Please join my generous friends and sponsor me.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Other Place 02 - The Building

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy.

The new apartment building forms one corner of the old town walls which dates it to some time in the 1600's is a best guess from our builder. It is on the corner of Corso Umberto I which is L-shaped, one half of which is pedestrianised.

It is clear looking from the outside that it spans three separate buildings. That explains the different ceilings, the different roofs and the low doors that must have been hacked through from one building to the next.

The stairs from the street come up in the middle of the apartment. The first (left hand) part is the living room and bedroom, above an apartment which is above a seamstress. The room immediately to the right is the kitchen / dining room above the another part of the first floor apartment which is above an archway into the old town. The far right hand part is the subdivided room with a terrazzo and will be another bedroom.

The aerial view makes it clear with the grey roof on the corner covering the rooms on the left side, then first red tiled roof and then the red one next to it wth terrace. The grey roof is currently undulating because of the barrel-vaulted ceilings below but we are getting part of that levelled for a roof top terrace.

The roof has a stunning 360 degree view over the town roofscape to the Itria valley and the sea beyond.

This is the view from the top of Via Regina Margherita showing our neighbour's balcony below. You can see the exterior will need some work - re-pointing and whitewashing.

This is the view of the back showing the old town gate with our kitchen-diner above, again some repointing and repainting is in order. To the left of that is the terrazzo that adjoins the bedroom and overlooks the alley.

Next up we demolish the recently added internal walls in the bedroom and work out how to make best use of the space...

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

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Other Place 01 - The Back Story

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 01-October-2016.

It is exactly one month to the day that we exchanged on the purchase of our latest home. We have not yet given it a name so its working title is "The Other Place" until we can think of a more appropriate moniker.

Our current apartment in Cisternino is small but perfectly formed. It is a one room apartment with limited storage which is fine when we spend six weeks a year here but with the plan to spend six months here we need more living space.

We have a takeaway pizza place on the ground floor directly under our feet providing unwanted underfloor heating through the summer. The dream was to buy the place and convert it into a bedroom with en-suite bathroom and kitchen corner. For that dream to come true three things would have had to happen. The pizza place had to go out of business, the owner had to be prepared to sell and he had to ask a sensible price.

On our visit in July the first happened, we bumped into the pizza guy working in the nearest bar as the business had folded. We put out discrete feelers to discover that the owner would rather rent for the income. Then later that he might sell for a price that was 50% above the going rate. Had he sussed that we were the interested parties? Anyway we were not prepared to be ripped off so decided to let him stew.

In the meantime we started to investigate alternatives in the old town, either for ourselves or for our friends Grant and Helen who loved our apartment and could be tempted to buy a holiday home in Cisternino if one like ours came up.

After several interesting viewings in the old town we saw "The Other Place" a four room apartment on the second floor in the old town. Three times the size of Sotto-Le-Stelle and not much more expensive. We gave Grant and Helen the details but they passed. It was too good a bargain to pass up. In the end we made an offer which was declined, we split the difference and sealed the deal.

This is what will be the kitchen and dining room with a star vaulted stone ceiling under the plaster.

The living room with barrel vaulted ceiling.

The view from one of the bedrooms down Via Regina Margherita.

The plan of the building as it is today. The room at the top of the plan has been subdivided with internal walls. They will be the first to go.

We came back a month later to complete the purchase and pick up the keys. We originally thought of it as a buy-to-let investment but then realised that the extra space made it an idea home for us. So we decided to move and in future Sotto-Le-Stelle will be let as a holiday apartment.

More about the place in the next post...

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cleaning the Wandle September 2016

South Wimbledon. Sunday 11-September-2016.

A second month of half day volunteering, this time I left at lunchtime because there were so many volunteers - 74 in fact! That must be a record. I was somewhat surplus to requirements.

First up the safety briefing from Polly. A bit like the aircraft safety demonstration, I've heard it enough times I could probably recite it verbatim, "please check as the nearest exit may be behind you."

In the morning I let the newbies go on ahead in the water and have the fun and excitement of finding stuff to haul out. I've been there, done that and it is good to let others have the thrill and possibly want to come back again.

One of the contributions to the large number of volunteers was a team effort from ZipVan office in Wimbledon. Well done guys for lending a hand.

Lunchtime we hit a hitch in the form of a wasps' nest that put a stop to our downstream progress. Theo Pike was an early casualty of the waspish impediment, here applying Wasp-Eze.

When Mary and I downsized we no longer had a garden nor a need for a wheelbarrow so I donated ours to the trust, nice to see it in action.

Unlike last month, the water level was lower and the flow more modest which made for a pleasant wade in the water.

The usual rubbish haul at lunchtime as I bailed out and left the rest to it.

And there's more: part of the clean-up was captured by filmmaker Jeremiah Quinn and featuring a voiceover by Theo Pike, chairman of the board of trustees. This short (3:44) film provide an great overview of the River Wandle and why I like it so.

A lovely day.

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:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kamasi Washington at Mavu

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 27-August-2016

Kamasi was appearing as part of the Locus Festival 2016. This was our first visit to the atmospheric venue that is Mavu although our friend Kath has been several times before. It is a masseria (country house) approached down a winding, candle-lit country lane.

We got there early to ensure we could grab some of the limited seating - cushions on hay bales.

The main courtyard is surrounded by trulli where the food and drink concessions followed the Italian system of queue to pay the cashier for a chit, then queue again to get your food, and queue again to get your drinks.

The concert started towards 11pm and went on till gone 1 am. The first piece was not to my taste at all with some self indulgent trombone soloing but the rest of the set mellowed into more melodic jazz funk.

There were two drummers who did an excellent extended duet or "conversation" was how Kamasi introduced it. The bass player, Miles Mosley, was particularly talented musician whose solo was a virtuoso display of musicianship.

At the end Kamasi took a selfie with the crowd, the moment captured by another photographer, and you can see Mary in the white cardi with me, blue jumper, and Kath next to us.

A unique evening of jazz in a wonderful setting.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prom 47 2016: Ulster Orchestra and Rafael Payare

Royal Albert Hall. Sunday 21-August-2016

Another Prom, another box for four plus one, a different set of friends and three more pieces of music. This time we didn't try to bring in a bottle of champagne and this time they didn't do a bag search so we could have got away with it! But we did bring in some nibbles to munch in the box and bought bottles of wine from the bar.

Cristina, Kate, Sheila, Mary

Review extracts from Dominic Lowe on BachTrack:
  • The concert opened with the world première of Belfast-based Piers Hellawell’s Wild Flow, a five-movement work around 20 minutes long; the key piece is its central slow movement, cocooned and contrasted by the surrounding four. Hellawell’s writing creates a soundscape of stalagmites: sharp and initially independent of each other with no natural growth and development. Easily the most striking thing about the piece is its percussion, exceptionally well-played here [...] This is a piece worth hearing again.
  • Narek Hakhnazaryan, a BBC New Generation Artist, took to the stage for Haydn’s Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major, that masterpiece composed for Joseph Franz Weigl in the early 1760s which was lost for centuries. [...] The cellist’s approach was individual enough to risk division; he showed technical ability that was a delight to watch, but his approach was rather less classical than the orchestra’s which brought moments of conflict, particularly in the Allegro. He encored with Sollima’s Lamentatio, a signature piece of his which calls a raw cry from the cellist as well as rapid, extremely deft bowing.
  • Payare opted for a strong final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor. The conductor has apparently played the horn solo himself during his time as a player. His intimate knowledge of the work was visible, not just from his conducting of the symphony from memory, but from the multi-faceted, textured account he drew from the orchestra. [...] Payare throughout was an energetic influence on the pit, and the Ulster Orchestra responded with technically brilliant playing. Belfast is lucky to still have this talented group.
  • Full review ...
We all agreed the Hellawell was not entirely to our taste but we loved the Hayden and the Tchaikovsky. As it was still early, being an afternoon concert, we went a quick drink with Kate afterwards at the nearby Queens Arms and then home for supper.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cleaning The Wandle August 2016

King George's Park. Wandsworth. Sunday 14-August-2016.

A half day of volunteering as we had friends round for Sunday lunch. Not that this was a problem as we have been in this stretch several times over the last few years and there wasn't so much rubbish. In fact this is an annual event: January 2012, April 2013, October 2014, I must have missed 2015, and now this year.

New yellow gloves. Hurrah! Some of the old ones were getting a bit tatty. And some new litter pickers.

In the water the level was really high despite recent good weather. The reason, apparently, is that most of the water comes not from the springs at the source of the river but Beddington Sewage Treatment Works. Thank goodness for EU urban waste water directive which means it's OK to go in the river..

Back in January 2012 we hauled out 14 shopping trolleys. Thanks to the annual visits there was a lot less hardware and more general litter; the lunchtime haul:

Given the good turnout and the level of rubbish I left at half time with a clear conscience.

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, August 11, 2016

Prom 35 2016: Bartok, Malcolm Hayes and Dvorak

Royal Albert Hall, London. Thursday, 11-August-2016.

The first of only two trips to the Proms this year. Both in tier 2 boxes which seat 4 plus 1. Our friends Christine and Paul joined us for this their first ever Proms concert.

Since one cannot take photos of the performance - indeed, one should be listening to the music - I took a shot of the auditorium; a wonderful Grade I listed edifice.

I enjoyed the Bartok, the Violin Concerto by Malcolm Hayes was very atmospheric in a film soundtrack kind of way, and you can't go wrong with Dvorak.

Extracts from review by David Truelove on BachTrack:
  • This Prom opened with Bartók’s Dance Suite which, despite the indifference shown at its 1923 première, is one of his most colourful works, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of uniting the cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda into Budapest. Its folk-derived material (Arab, Hungarian and Romanian influences) gives rhythmic and melodic impetus to its six movements that also have harmonic echoes of Debussy.
  • Inspiration of a different kind fuelled the Violin Concerto by Malcolm Hayes that followed. [...]. While casting aside the conventional combative relationship between orchestra and soloist, it presents an intriguing single-movement soundscape (evoking the endless skies of Harris) with traces of more traditional concerto models – Beethoven, Sibelius and Vaughan Williams readily spring to mind. [...]  Playing from an iPad, soloist Tai Murray (a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist) gave a persuasive rendition, bringing to its near-ceaseless flow a real sense of commitment, poise and flawless intonation
  • Dvořák’s Symphony no. 7 in D minor [...] This account, on Thursday, was admirable in many ways – not least in the momentum achieved in the opening Allegro maestoso and the drama initiating the reprise. Variety of pace and dynamic contributed much to a nuanced slow movement; its ebb and flow were nicely caught. Dvořák’s melodic charm found outlet in a well-judged Scherzo and in the Finale, Søndergård sustained a tight control over its stormy narrative through to its defiantly major key close. 
  • Full review...

We normally take in something to eat and drink in the interval but this time they did a bag search and made us check our champagne into the cloakroom. So we decided to have a post-concert drink thanks to the cool bag and our plastic picnic glasses.

All in all wonderful evening.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Alexander McKay, Lucy Zirins, Will Shackleton Band at The Green Note

Camden, London. Wednesday 08-August-2016.

Once again The Green Note provides quality music at a bargain basement price. Seriously, £8 for three excellent acts. The venue is so small you are literally only feet away from the performers. The stage is tiny; it is amazing how much kit they cram onto a postage stamp sized stage. Being so close make the whole experience of live music very special.

I am not one for detailed reviews but there is an excellent, in-depth review by Plunger Music: An evening to leave you grinning like an idiot (via Lucy Zirins) so I shall quote liberally from that.

First up was Alexander McKay who did a fine set of his own compositions.

Plunger: "Alexander McKay’s solo acoustic set combined Young-style harp-and-finger-picking in Moving On with Close To The Edge’s hazy, trippy vibe and dark Southern-shoegaze-meets-R&B-ballad in Another Man..."

The second act was the charming Lucy Zirins who seemed somewhat in awe of the size of the audience - little does she know this is a small audience. She is from Burnley, Lancashire with an accent to match and yet when she sings you are suddenly transported to Tennessee.

Plunger: "Lucy Zirins is always entrancing: from her clear limpid vocal on the loping Laurel Canyon folk of What’s In Front Of Me to the impassioned but defiant country blues waltz of Tearing Me Down while the airy americana of Falling To Pieces displayed an ethereal tremulous-yet-strong vocal and The Fall conjured a laid-back Ronstadt vibe."

And here is a live recording of my favourite track from this very show:

The third set in the excellent trilogy of acts was the Will Shackleton Band.

Plunger: "... a set mixing sophisticated West Coast Jackson Browneisms with relaxed country and even a Steely Dan-meets-Dr.-Hook wry look at Anglo-Italian romance..."

Definitely an evening to leave you grinning.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Ninth Annual BBQ and Drink Our Excess Cellar

And the first in our new home. This event started off ten years ago to drink up our burgundy that was ageing prematurely and would go down the sink if we did not drink up soon!

Now that is all gone, the wine is fine, but still more in the cellar than we can drink alone. So first up was a trip to the rented wine storage to collect wine for this year's event.

We set up the gazebos on the green out the front with all the tables and chairs dragged out as well.

The new quick lighting bags of charcoal are a bit over-entheusiastic.

This gives you a good view of the Victorian terrace that was described in the old censuses as "officers quarters" - accommodation for the prison guards.

This year we hired a couple of burger flippers and general helpers called Max and Maddy who did a great job allowing Mary and I to talk to our guests. In fact so busy talking that I forgot to take any pictures until the event was starting to wind down and only the hard core guests were left.

The combination of Mary's peach up-side down cake and my ice-creams proved a winner.

A smaller turnout than previous years meant we only got through 30 bottles of wine.

As usual we will be dining on leftovers for few days (apart from what goes in the freezer) but that is not a problem as it was all delicious.