Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Puglia August 2014 - Pizza Oven

The highlight of our last visit to Trullo Azzurro was having a pizza chef come round and cook at our place. We invited a number of friends round - we were eleven in total - and hired Angelo to fire up the oven.  He came with all the ingredients and balls of dough ready to go.

It is a proper forno a legno - it took a couple of hours for the oven to get up to full white heat. You know the oven is ready when the roof is glowing white - like with barbecue charcoal. Then the embers are spread over the floor of the oven to warm that. They are then pushed to one side when the floor is warmed - and thereafter the heat is topped up by burning logs off to one side.

Of course part of the entertainment is having a go at making our own pizzas. It is definitely not as easy as Angelo made it look. First Elaine and Andrea had a go, then some of the other guests.

Naturally we had a go as well although ours were not as circular nor as even in thickness as the professional's.

And in they go.

The assembled article in the oven.

Angelo soon had a steady stream of hot pizzas coming out of the oven over the next hour or so. He allows one and a half pizza per person so, even with these thin crust pizzas, we did not go hungry.

At the end of the evening, as it cooled down, some sat in the warmth of the antechamber to extend the evening.

A great evening's entertainment, definitely to be repeated next year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blues brothers at Ronnie Scott's

Ronnie Scott's, London. Friday 22-August-2014.

We are greatly enamoured of The Blues Brothers movie and, many years ago, went to a "Heroes and Villains" fancy dress party as Jake and Elwood although we leave it to you to decide which category they fell under.

Waiting in the Members Only queue at Ronnie Scotts I couldn't but help feeling a little smug. We had tickets and, looking at the long queue of hopefuls awaiting for returns, I consider us very lucky get be at Ronnie's yet again and watching another classic band.

The London Jazz Review writes, "... the current crew showcases two original and significant members: guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and tenor saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini." It made many positive comments about many of the songs but seemed lukewarm overall, "It was a perfectly respectable show by any standards, but one could have wished for a few rougher edges, a slightly less sanitised portrayal of the seamier side of life." Full review...

Personally we had a great time. They had a couple of guys (Tommy McDonnell and Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi) come in dressed as Jake and Elwood to do the vocals for all the old favourites. That's what we came for and that's what we got. A rollicking good time.

Friday, September 26, 2014

BBC Prom 45, Laura Mvula

Royal Albert Hall, London. Tuesday 19-August-2014.

Our first late night Prom and a fine concert it was too. Having heard absolutely nothing of Laura's music I had no choice but to go with an open mind. It was brilliant.

Picture from Laura Mvula on FB.

I was particularly taken by Sing to the Moon.

BachTrack gives it 5 stars:
"This was a concert truly like no other. Mvula has a very honest approach to performing - it all comes from the heart, and, for all her glamorous exterior, she remains thoroughly grounded as she sings. Someone once described her songs as a 'sonic breath'; they were absolutely right. The orchestrations worked in a most unique way, and I hope that Laura Mvula pens many more orchestratable songs." Full review...

Really wonderful, a very special concert.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Battersea Foodies' Festival 2014

Battersea Park, London. Sunday 17-August-2014.

What better way to recover from our annual BBQ the day before than a wander round the Battersea Foodies Festival in the sunshine thanks to a complementary tickets from those nice people at South West London TV.

Lots of food stalls, obviously, featuring everything from one person entrepreneurs to large corporations and all manner of food and drinks.

One woman tied to tempt us to into buying extra virgin olive oil by declaring that it was organic and that they pick and press the olives themselves - "So do we!" rejoined Mary.

Live music...

... and a novel mobile bar.

South West London TV is an internet only TV channel and here is their report on the day:

Definitely worth a repeat visit next year.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Annual BBQ 2014

Wandsworth, London. Saturday 16-August-2014.

Our seventh annual BBQ and wine cellar emptying event was back after a year's gap.

All set up ready for influx of hungry and thirsty guests...

Around forty people turned up over the course of the afternoon. We were ably assisted by our burger flipper Zoe which freed us up to mingle with our guests.

Some turned up late afternoon so we lit another barbecue bag and started a second tranche of cooking. We started at one in the afternoon and finished at one in the morning when the last visitors toddled off.

The next morning it was a trip to the recycling bank at the local tip to dispose of the evidence of a most successful party.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BBC Prom 38, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Albert Hall, London. Wednesday, 06-August-2104

Picnic in a box - doing classical music in style.

A team outing to the RAH; we booked a box and smuggled a picnic in. One ticket had already gone when Mary booked the remaining seven tickets in the box. We had two spare tickets which nearly went to waste but a colleague and partner stepped in at the very last minute.

We set up the impromptu buffet and were just sipping our first glass of wine when the bloke in seat number one arrived. I felt a bit sorry for the him; the usherette showed him into the box with a cheery "these are your new friends" - he looked a bit startled, declined our offer of a drink and scuttled off to his seat.

Mixed reviews from the broadsheets but they all liked Sibelius 2. We also all agreed Sib 2 was much the better half of the programme. Another great night out.

The Guardian gave it 3 stars:
"John Storgårds delivers a thrilling finale to compatriot Sibelius's Second Symphony, rounding out his Proms appearance with solid performances of Peter Maxwell Davies and Frank Bridge [...] John Storgårds's Prom with the BBC Philharmonic flanked two lesser-known British works (Peter Maxwell Davies's Fifth Symphony, Frank Bridge's Oration) with two of Sibelius's most popular pieces, Finlandia and the Second Symphony. Sibelius is often regarded as Storgårds's calling card, though his interpretations of his Finnish compatriot's music divide opinion and there are times when you can see why. Full review…

The Telegraph was more enthused and gave it 5 stars:
'truly overwhelming' This was an amazingly energised performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's chamber pieces, says Ivan Hewett  [...] The other was Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony. It’s a piece where every beguiling or puzzling move is part of a long journey, which leads with iron logic to the final triumphal blaze of D major at the end. It’s easy to lose sight of that final destination, but conductor John Storgards never did. That vision, combined with the impassioned playing of the BBC Philharmonic, made for something truly overwhelming. Full review…

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Open Air Cinema at Battersea Power Station

Sunday 10-August-2014

A chance to see classic cinema in the grounds of a cultural icon courtesy of Everyman Cinema's Summer of Power.

We only discovered this series because a colleague of Mary's had been. We booked to see Breathless - a French New wave classic - on a Sunday afternoon.

We wasted half hour circumnavigating Battersea Power Station looking for the entrance. Some signage would have been good FFS. The nice security guard at Gate 1 had a stack of pre-printed google map directions to the entrance right at the other end by Chelsea Bridge - clearly we were not the first.

Once inside there were usual sort of food stalls and bars. We thought we would treat ourselves to a Perrier-Jouet at the champagne tent but they sold out so we went down scale to prosecco. And then when in our seats we ordered red wine and they'd sold out of that so we had to drink rose.

We went for a 'pod' which was like our own private box with comfy seats and a roof in case it rained. We had headphones and waiter service for food and drinks.

The film itself, Breathless (1960) was entertaining and a classic - so I read later - of French New Wave cinema. Read more on IMDB...

As we left the old derricks silhouetted against the sky were an atmospheric reminder of the power station's coal burning past.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Average White Band at Ronnie Scott's

Thursday 31-Jul-2014

AWB are part of the soundtrack to Mary's life. Not so for me - or so I thought until I heard them play - so many incredibly familiar songs.

To quote Frith Street Post:
"When a band opens with the classic “Pick Up The Pieces” and closes with “Let’s Go Round Again” then you know you’re in the presence of greatness. [...] I had arrived at the gig hoping to see a legendary band deliver a workmanlike performance – after a poor Ginger Baker outing last year, I have been a little wary – but was mesmerised by the energy, tight professionalism and deep, deep catalogue."
Full review...

Photo courtesy of Frith Street  Post

So many people consider themselves lucky to go to Ronnie Scott's even once (see Trip Advisor reviews) but we get to go regularly (Gullible's Travels - Ronnie Scott's). And this was a brilliant evening with friends Grant and Helen, and some of the best music going - epic!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tipsy Night at The Alma

The Alma, Wandsworth Town, London. Thursday 23-July-2014

An entertaining variation on matching food and wine - a quiz to guess the alcoholic ingredients: four courses each of which had two boozy ingredients that we had to guess.

We were given clues (typically country and style) and a heap of possible answers on slips of paper. So it was part taste buds and part informed guesswork.

Each course also had a matching wine which was introduced by the Alma's wine supplier, she also announced the answers. Sad to report we got a several wrong so were not amongst the winning team.

Even without a win, it was an entertaining evening, well done to the staff, chefs and organisers. I would do that again.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Monty Python Live (Mostly) at the O2 Arena

Saturday 19-July-2014.

The first time I saw the Pythons live was w-a-a-y back on Sunday 31-Jan-1971 at the Lanchester Polytechnic Arts Festival in Coventry.

I went to the "Mixed Media" show to see Ivor Cutler, Adrian Henri and Curved Air feat. Sonja Kristina. Then, en masse, the audience decamped down the road to the Belgrade Theatre for the midnight show by Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The crowd were chanting "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey-ey Goodbye" as we made the short journey between venues. Many wore knotted handkerchiefs on their head declaiming "My brain hurts". The Pythons did all the classics including the dead parrot - always a favourite.

I can tell you today's O2 Arena tickets cost a deal more than 12 shillings (that is 50p in your new fangled decimal money).

When this event came up we just had to go. There was a massive dead parrot in the concourse and I had to wait my turn for this photo opportunity with many others doing the same.

A suitably Gilliam-esque proscenium arch.

When the members of the cast appeared there was a surge of photo taking drolly anticipated by "Photo Opportunity" captions.

The show was a mix of live performance, vintage TV clips and song and dance routines from a much younger troupe. The photo below is Bruces sketch if I recall correctly.

I think the Telegraph summed it up best: "Poignant and predictable, but tremendous fun." [Three stars]

"If the best parts were predictable they were tremendous fun too. The arrival of the Spanish Inquisition showcased Python's gift for high-strung irascibility; Dead Parrot blurred the divide between end-of-pier and Beckett-esque existentialism (Palin briefly floundered, blindsided by what felt like an impromptu swipe by Cleese against the Daily Mail). Four Yorkshiremen, arguably their cleverest, least over-egged routine, was reprised beat for beat – ironic considering it skewers the same impulse to mythologize the past Python were now party to." Full review...

The Guardian gave it three stars as well.

"This was always going to be a parade of the greatest hits; everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition, not to mention the Lumberjack Song, Cheese Shop, Dead Parrot and Spam. These are all duly delivered, often ingeniously segued into one another. But there are some less familiar gems too. It was a joy to be reminded of the Exploding Penguin sketch, as well as Anne Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses, performed with such glorious deadpan by John Cleese that Idle fights to keep a straight face throughout." Full review...

So many people with knotted handkerchiefs on their head declaiming "My brain hurts". They did all the classics including the dead parrot - always a favourite.When we got home Team Fluffy were standing by their food bowls awaiting, nay demanding, a midnight snack. It was indeed the stroke of midnight as this was taken.

A fine evening's entertainment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Keb Mo at The Union Chapel

Islington, London. Tuesday 15-July-2014.

We first saw Keb Mo in New Orleans the first time we went to Jazz Fest back in 1999. He doesn't get over to the UK often. The last time we saw in him in the UK was in 2001 at the BIC supporting B.B.King. We were wearing these very same t-shirts and several people came over and said "He's brilliant" and asking which of the CD's on sale we would recommend.

We had a meal at Tierra Peru beforehand; Mary reckons it's the best ceviche she's had outside of Peru. The Union Chapel is an amazing venue, positively cathedral like in grandeur.

The support act was a very droll "Son of John" who played a set of high energy acoustic blues.

Then Keb came on to an enthusiastic reception and played a mix of old favourites and several tracks from his new album Bluesamericana. We had to buy a copy of course.

Excellent evening, let's hope it is not so long till he gets back to the UK.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cleaning the Wandle July 2014

Beddington Park, Surrey. Sunday 13-July-2014

This cleanup was also the annual Wandle Trust picnic which they organise as a thank you to us volunteers - much appreciated. It was also the last cleanup for Erica who has been the Cleanup Coordinator for as long as I've been going and, apparently, since very nearly the inception of the Wandle Trust.

This was advertised as mainly a balsam bashing event but within five minutes I had hauled the first of several shopping trolleys out of the river.

Himalayan balsam is not the only invasive species here; there were also several Giant Hogweed - best steered clear of as the sap can burn the skin.

We use half barrels as floating trugs to gather our harvest.

It is breeding season for many birds and we do our best to avoid the wildlife. Hopefully the mother will return to this nest once we have moved on.

By lunchtime we had the usual collection of rubbish.

One unusual item was a cloth bundle that had been weighted down by a brick attached with cable ties and a crucifix attached. Of course we had to investigate just in case it was something reportable.

As I had found it I got to snip the ties and unwrap the cloth. The smell was pretty rank as I revealed a white rat! Phew, at least it was not human. Whether it was a much loved pet or some Satanic ritual we will never know.

It was a lovely day for a picnic and we were able to relax in the sunshine after an earlier passing shower.

Gideon gave a speech of thanks for all Erica's work for the Trust over the years. Theo, Chairman of the Trustees, presented her with a card and gift vouchers.

Then a surprise presentation of a coconut. We often find half coconut shells in the river because of offerings from the nearby Ghanapathy Hindu temple. They can be used to mark new beginnings so it was an appropriate symbolic gesture for Erica.

Then another presentation this time of a collage showing various aspects of the river done by one of the other regulars. A really beautifully done piece of art and a wonderful, personal gift.

A great day all round.

More pictures on Flickr.

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, July 26, 2014

Puglia July 2014

Puglia, Italy. Monday/Saturday 07/12-July-2014.

Courtesy of the British Airways luggage allowance my normal cabin bag went into the hold and its place was taken by a very fine Panama hat.

This hat is my 60th birthday present from Mary. Given the respective climates of England and Italy it was always destined to live in Puglia.

The next morning, looking out of the window, I saw a dark line on the car door. My immediate thought was that someone had opened their door into mine, especially as there was a dark coloured jeep-style vehicle parked next to ours. When I got down to the car I came face to face with a large cricket or cicada style beastie.

To give an idea of scale here it is next to the alarm fob.

On our last evening we went out for a meal in Martina Franca. The local Pilates teacher is also an wannabe chef. Every so often she takes over a local restaurant for the evening and plans and cooks a meal with matching wines from a local winery. This time it was in Del Terrazze del Rococo - ristorante panoramico - in baroque Martina Franca. A wonderful roof top setting.

It was a very leisurely meal lasting from 9:30pm to 1:30am; I was glad I was not driving, I was more than ready for my bed by the time we finished.

Other activities including fitting a kitchen shelf from Ikea in Sotto le Stelle, meals with friends and the obligatory beach lunch at La Rotondo da Rosa.

Can't wait to go back in August.