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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cleaning the Wandle July 2016

Wimbledon. Sunday 10-July-2016

A lovely day to go paddling in the River Wandle. Very early on I found a duvet and a complete bed base. The latter was a bit of a bugger to get out as it was well buried in the silt. Lots of teamwork and heaving and grunting eventually got it out. Shortly after I found the mini-trampoline you can see behind it.

Unfortunately I managed to puncture my waders on the bed-springs and ended up with some very soggy jeans. Fortunately I have a spare repair patch kindly given to me by Polly the organiser.

There was the obligatory bicycle, but only one this time.

Meanwhile further downstream the others found a washing machine. At this point the concrete channel is a couple of metres high so more teamwork was required to grapple the beast up onto the bank.


And this is why we do it. A couple of tons of rubbish cleaned out of the river.

It is a great way to spend a lovely Sunday. Most satisfying!

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:

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Keb Mo at Union Chapel 2016

Islington, London. Tuesday 05-July-2016.

This concert pushes Keb up into third place as the artist we have seen most often (behind Marcus Bonfanti and Van Morrison). We first saw him in New Orleans at the Jazz Fest in 1998 and again there on one of our subsequent visits to NOLA.

The third time we saw him he was supporting BB King at the BIC. We were wearing our Keb Mo T-shirts and at the interval people came up to us and said 'He's brilliant" and asking "Which album should we buy?"

Then we saw him two years ago also at the Union Chapel. On that occasion we bumped into Pete and Amanda so we know they'd be up for a repeat performance. We also persuaded our friend Barbara to come along as well. As last time, we went for a meal at Tierra Peru beforehand and then joined the long queue for doors open at 6:30.

It is unreserved seating and last time we were up in the balcony. This time, despite the long queue in front of us, we got second row seats in the stalls. Bit off to the side but still pretty good. No support this time, straight into the main act so we got a good long set.

Since we have six of his CD's we knew pretty much all the songs which added greatly to the enjoyment.  A cracking concert. Mary and I went for a quick beer afterwards in The Famous Cock Tavern to round off the evening.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Alice Cooper at The O2

The O2 Arena, London. Saturday 18-June-2016.

The Stone Free Festival was an opportunity to see the legendary Alice Cooper.

The first act Blackberry Smoke impressed. They are an American Southern rock/country rock band from Atlanta, Georgia.

Apocalytica were my first encounter with Cello Metal - who knew that was a thing? File under "Hmmm. Interesting".

The Darkness were OK-ish. Not Mary's thing so she went out for that set.

Finally the act I suspect was the real reason many were there - Alice Cooper. He kicked off with "No More Mr Nice Guy",  always one of my favourites.

The Evening Standard wrote: "Cooper’s tightly drilled, heroically daft pantomime was in fine fettle, despite the 68-year-old’s reduced mobility and absence of patter. As if it were 1972 (the whole point of Stone Free), there were explosions; the traditional live snake on Is it My Body; the guillotine ritual on the Killer/I Love the Dead medley which, not entirely unpredictably, ended with Cooper being resurrected by the love of a lascivious woman; a 20ft monster on Feed My Frankenstein and two fake Kennedys having a fake brawl during the closing Elected." Full review...

I think "heroically daft pantomime" describes it perfectly.

Louder Than War’s Sophie Sparham wrote: "The band’s encore consisted of a series of tributes to fallen rock stars such as Keith Moon, Hendrix, Lemmy and Bowie. It was great to see such a legend paying tribute to musicians that have passed and revved the crowd up for ‘Eighteen’ and ‘Schools Out’, which he sang accompanied by bubbles that came out from the side of the stage." Full review and pictures...

The tributes were great rock and roll songs and very touching all at the same time.

So that's another act ticked off the bucket list :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tom Jones at Hampton Court Palace

Thursday 16-June-2016.

An excellent concert as you might expect from Jones "the Voice". A few of the greatest hits and others lesser known numbers all delivered with expert musicianship. The crowd seemed to be mostly made up of the faithful followers. There were a couple of pairs of knickers thrown on the stage but I believe that is more of a tradition these days.

John Clark of 'The i' wrote: "... any fears that this was to be a sombre affair were blown away by a set based mainly around tracks from the recent trilogy of albums (Praise & Blame, Spirit In The Room and Long Lost Suitcase) in which he revisited his blues, gospel and country musical roots and influences. [...] The voice from the valleys was as powerful as ever and the whole evening had a contemporary feel rather than being a tired collection of past successes." Full review...

We had planned a picnic in the grounds but the heavens opened so we picniced on the dining room table then headed off. Tom came on just after 9pm and played for nearly two hours, they clearly have an immovable 11pm curfew. He sang the expected hits, Delilah, It's Not unusual, Green Green Grass, Sex Bomb and Kiss (my favourite), interspersed with other songs I didn't know but all excellent.

Top evening.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chicago 2016 - Statues

Chicago, Illinois, USA. 12/13-June-2016.

As well as the Blues Festival we also used our time to see some of Chicago's statues:
"Downtown Chicago is home to more than 100 sculptures, mosaics, and paintings placed in plazas, lobbies, and on the Riverwalk. The dedication of the huge sculpture by Pablo Picasso in 1967 confirmed that Chicago was a city for the arts. Since then, major works by Alexander Calder, Sir Anthony Caro, Sol LeWitt, Richard Hunt, and Ellen Lanyon, among others, have been added to this free open-air museum." The Chicago Public Art Guide
The tourist information office had relocated from the Chicago Cultural Centre to Macy's where the guy behind the desk printed us a list of major public art works. We used that to spend a couple of mornings wandering round downtown Chicago finding and ticking statues off our list, we managed a fair few.

In alphabetic order:

Alexander Calder - Flamingo

A spectacular piece of curves and sharp angles put me in mind of feathers and beaks.

Alexander Calder - Flying Dragon

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (1)

A major selfie opportunity for almost everyone there.

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (2)

Looking up and seeing the distorted reflections is really disorienting, it made me giddy.

David Smith - Cubi VII

Edward Kemeys - Lions

Frank Gehry - Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Hector Guimard - Paris Metro Entryway

Henry Moore - Large Interior Form

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (1)

This fountain is a fun piece with the changing back projections.

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (2)

The first time we saw it was a really hot day and all the children were having so much fun splashing around under the waterfall and in the pool.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (1)

I like the way you can walk into and through this one like an old castle or standing stones.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (2)

Jerald Jacquard - Space Junction of Energy

We only noticed this as we were leaving for the airport, directly across from our hotel by Belmont station.

Joan Miro - Miro's Chicago

Louise Nevelson - Dawn Shadows

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (1)

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (2)

Pablo Picasso - Untitled

This is credited as the piece that started the whole public statues thing in Chicago. It even gets a mention in The Blues Brothers:
Elwood: This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive! If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza!
Jake: That's where they got that Picasso.
Elwood: Yep.
Richard Hunt - We Will

Richard Lippold - Radiant 1

Sol LeWitt - Lines in Four Directions

Took us a while to spot this one: not just a statue but the whole side of a building.

If we ever go back there are plenty more on the list we still have yet to see...

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Madeline Bell at Ronnie Scott's 2016

Saturday 04-June-2016.

Third time of seeing this irrepressible singer and just as much fun as the previous two occasions. Her shows always sell out fast so we nabbed our tickets as soon as they were announced. We persuaded our friends Tim and Sarah to come up to London for the weekend and join us for this.

She was joined by Tommy Blaize, the lead singer with the Strictly Come Dancing Band, for a couple of great duets.

She always has a good chat with the audience. As a reviewer on Trip Advisor remarked "I hope I have as much lust for life, energy and kindness when I reach my golden years." I'll second that.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Distillery Tour at Sipsmiths

Chiswick, London. Wednesday 01-June-2016.

Mary bought me a tour of the Sipsmith distillery for Christmas which came with a bottle of gin. The gin I could make a start on any time but this tour is so popular that they were booked months ahead and, what with trips to Italy, this was the earliest date we could make.

We were one of the first to arrive and the welcome drink was, of course, a gin and tonic. I was pleased to note the tonic was Fever-tree which I had switched to as soon as I discovered it a few years back, forsaking all other tonic waters. Our host opined that Schweppes is a perfectly respectable tonic water but for me it would be of necessity not choice.

The tour was actually a bit of a misnomer as the whole distillery is in one room, an old garage. Most of the "tour" was a fascinating history of gin including the Gin Craze period in the first half of the 18th century and subsequent legislation. Well done, Sipsmith!

It was Sipsmith's pioneering efforts with HMRC in getting the size restriction removed from stills in order to obtain a license that has opened the doors for many other craft distilleries to spring up.

It was not all talk. We tasted a number of their fine products including a Pimm's-like cup and a Sloe gin. They also produce small batch runs of experimental flavourings on a quarterly basis some which were a little outrĂ©.

A fascinating tour - highly recommended.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Limoncello recipe

Our friend Christine makes an excellent limoncello, not too sweet. This is her recipe:

  • 500 ml alcohol
  • 5 lemons (unwaxed)
  • 500 ml water
  • 200 gm sugar
  • Remove the zest from the lemons
  • Put the zest in a jar with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for 15 days
  • Strain out the zest
  • Dissolve the sugar in the water
  • Combine the sugar syrup with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for one month
  • Drink
Not being sure of the lemons in the market we stole five lemons from Chris's tree (with her permission). Guaranteed unwaxed and pesticide free.

One unusual feature of Italian supermarkets compared to the UK is that you can buy pure alcohol (95%) for culinary purposes in just about any store. Some recipes suggest using vodka, if neat alcohol is not available, but that will be 30% water so you would only need about 300 ml of the sugar syrup to keep the ratio of alcohol to water correct.

Then all you need is a jar or two and a zester. You could use a knife but a zester allows you to precision de-rind the lemon without any bitter pith.

Two weeks later and the alcohol has leached out the oils and flavours from the zest.

Chris's recipe only uses 80 gm of sugar but some I found on the internet that used nearly 10 times that amount! If it is too tart you can always add more sugar later but you cannot take it out if there is too much.

The combination of the water and the oils makes limoncello turn the typically cloudy appearance.

Now all I have to do is let it mature in the dark ready for our next visit.

Update: Earlier version had incorrect quantity of sugar - was 80gm now corrected to 200gm.

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 05, 2016

Trullo Azzurro flooring

When we originally bought the Trullo Azzurro and had it done up we told the architect to leave the flagstones (chianchi in Italian) because we figured that if they lifted them they would never be able to get them back down in the right place again.

Recently we had some plumbing work done in the bathroom and they did a good job of lifting and re-laying the tiles. We also discovered that the flagstones were laid directly onto the clay - no wonder the building was always a bit cool and damp over the winter.

So we asked Saverio our builder to quote for installing under-floor heating and a second boiler. That turned out to be very expensive. Also the flagstones are too thick for under-floor heating so would have had to be taken away to the quarry for slicing in half with risk of breakages.

In the end we arrived at a compromise: lift the floor, dig down and prepare the ground with damp-proof course and an insulating layer, then re-lay the original floor. Whilst this was being done we paid to have pipes put in place for normal radiators so if we changed our mind later and put in a second boiler we wouldn’t have to re-dig up the floor.

The room with flagstones lifted…

… and all neatly stacked in the courtyard

Then they dug down 30-40cm

Pipework for a possible future heating system.

Insulating expanded foam “igloos”. They also allow for some air circulation.

Flagstones re-laid

Floor re-grouted

Furniture back in place as if nothing had happened.

It was quite a logistics exercise because, before they could lift the flagstones, they had to clear out all the furniture including the wood-burning stove then put it all back when they were done.

It turns out that this under-floor layer is what a number of fellow Trulli owners have done. Now they tell us! We should find the place drier, warmer and easier to heat.

Whilst the builder was there we got him to improve the lane up to the Trullo as the winter rains had eroded some of the surface.

So all is looking spick and span for our first guests which will be my sister Jane and second cousin Effie next week.

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