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

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Jules and the Gamblers at The Bull's Head

Barnes, London. Friday 13-February-2013

My second time of seeing Jules and The Gamblers. Last time was at The Old Frizzle on Wimbledon Broadway. There I got the impression the set list was geared to background music for the drinkers; this time it was more like the Chicago Blues that they really wanted to play!

Jules plays the harp - he had a box full of them which he played with verve. The guy in the hat is a guest guitarist and the uber-cool guy in the shades in my brother-in-law, Pete. Not visible in this picture are drums and keyboard.

I met up early with sister Jane for a drink and a quick bite and a chat; friends Jane and Brock joined us later and then, after a nourishing supper of beer and chips, we made our way into the Jazz Room.

The Bull's Head is an excellent music venue, the room is small enough that you are close up to the band and can see everything. Jules & Co played two sets and at £9 that strikes me a mega-excellent value for some classic blues. Another grand night out.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cleaning the Wandle January 2015

Wimbledon 11-January-2015.

After missing a couple of clean-ups it was back into the water on a chilly January day just upstream from the last clean up in this stretch in 2013. This had a road bridge over the river so that meant lots of junk in the river as people can lob stuff over the railings.

We had a good number of bikes - it would seem that the yoof of South Wimbledon have nothing better to do than steal each other's bikes and toss them in the river.

Lunch included cheese scones and some very welcome hot tomato soup in the chilly conditions. I was glad I had the foresight to wear my walking thermal Long John's under my jeans but even so the toes were going numb by the end.

When I lived there in the '80s the land across the river was disused sewage works. It is now Wandle Meadow Nature Park and a great improvement it is too. To quote the Merton website:

"A site with a wealth of plant and life, including hawthorn, silver birch, ash, hazel, field maple, dog-rose, blackthorn and many more. Bodies of water are inhabited by a selection of frogs, toads and newts, with no permanent water reserves to provide fish populations."

A much fuller write up of the day from Polly on the Wandle Trust website:

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, January 20, 2015

Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's

Sunday 04-Jan-2015

This was an unanticipated pleasure. It was meant to be a girls' night out but a couple of them could not make it so I got to go, along with our friend Kate.

Mary had been unwell with pneumonia recently, even to the extent of being hospitalised, and had cancelled a previous concert. We were lucky that this gig went ahead but Mary had to keep herself going with throat spray and lozenges.

She told us about working on her forthcoming album which seems like a self penned departure from previous albums and about the sneak preview available on YouTube:

Maybe it was the roughness of her voice but it seemed to me the rawness of the emotions were more pronounced than when we saw her back in 2010 (Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's Thursday 14-Oct-10). That was a fine performance but this seemed very much from the heart.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bill Posters Will Be Band at The Bull's Head, Barnes

Sunday 28-December-2014

My fourth and final time of seeing Bill Posters Will Be Band*. This was their farewell gig. After 31 years performing they have decided to call it a day. Got in quick to get my tickets to see the end of an era - and be entertained.

Featuring Peter Shade (off camera), Sam Spoons, Jim "Golden Boots" Chambers, Megs Etherington, John Gieves Watson and Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell (standing in for Biff Harrington). More biographical detail on the Bill Posters Will Be Band website.

The act defies coherent description - musical lunacy with more than a flavour of Spike Milligan about it. They play a number of songs, wear silly costumes, do comedy skits, Peter wears a cat tea cosy on his head while Jim plays a coat hanger; later John plays a metal washboard tie.

We get an old Bonzo's classic "Jollity Farm", sing-along to "Don't Tell I Tell 'E" (made famous by Adge Cutler and The Wurzels), comedy puppeteering from John, and too many other songs to remember. We unfortunately missed the final encore and valedictory speech as our taxi had arrived.

All washed down with couple of pints of Doombar. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

* Feb 2004Nov 2004Dec 2009

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Daffodil at Toto's Restaurant 2014

We were into November and no word on the Daffodil Christmas meal. It was a bit of a last minute panic: for us - what will become of our work's christmas party? - and for John the organiser - will it take place, when and where? Then mid-November the call went out for a straw poll - 6th or 13th of December?

In the end a date of the 6th of December was fixed upon. We duly dressed in our finery, took the 87 bus and turned up at the regular venue, Roux at Parliament Square, only to find the doors locked and the lights out.

Oh sugar, was it actually going ahead, had we got that date wrong, was it being held elsewhere? A quick phone call revealed "Yes, "No" and "Yes" respectively. Into a taxi for a 6 minute ride to Toto's Restaurant in Lennox Garden Mews where an apologetic John welcomed us.

So another break from tradition after almost unbroken decades of devotion to Michel Roux, Jnr. However I knew the food and wine would be good because John (on the right below) organised it.

The food was, of course, superb but it is all about the company, the dish is the accompaniment to the conversation.

The pairing of food and wine was all planned in advance, as per usual.

Daffodil Lunch @ Toto's
Saturday, 6th of December 2014
Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG, Ville d’Arfanta, 2012
~ ~ ~ ~
To share
Burrata di Andria with grilled vegetables
Raw & cooked artichoke salad, pecorino shavings
Romagna DOC, Trebbiano Le Coste, Poderi dal Nespoli, 2013
~ ~ ~ ~
Tagliatelle with mixed mushrooms
Campania IGT, Greco Ponte Pellegrino, Fattoria Alois, 2012
~ ~ ~ ~
Cod fish with Mediterranean sauce
Toscana IGT, Donna Patizia, Buccia Nera, 2011
~ ~ ~ ~
Baby chicken, diavola sauce
Barbera D’Alba DOC, Piani, Pelissero, 2010
~ ~ ~ ~
To share
Selection of cheeses
Porto, Fine Tawny, Taylor’s
Sweet bites will be served with selection of coffee and tea

In terms of wine the standout was the Greco Ponte Pellegrino; for the food it was a tough call between the Tagliatelle and the Baby chicken but for seasonal correctitude the fungi nosed into the lead.

Another M&M works Christmas party successfully concluded.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

John Mayall 80th Anniversary Tour at Ronnie Scott's

Wednesday 26-November-2014.

It is four years since we first saw the legendary John Mayall (Wedding anniversary weekend 2010) supported by Marcus Bonfanti. This time it was at Ronnie Scott's with Ronnie's regular support band the Nigel Price/Jim Mullen/Mick Hutton Trio.

I got there early (6:15) in time to bag our favourite table - by the rail in the raised part of the premium seating directly in line with the centre of the stage.

We have seen this same excellent support trio several times now. Like a number of other front men, Nigel Price always introduces the other band members but never introduces himself.

Mary was in Switzerland and all flights to City airport were cancelled due to fog. She was rebooked on a Heathrow flight but it was touch and go if she would make it in time. As soon as she landed, through the miracle of modern telecommunications, I was able to order her food and drink timed for her arrival: she walked in the front door literally as John Mayall walked onto the stage. She dumped her bags and sat down before the welcome applause had died down. Phew!

An excellent set - John Mayall seemed to be really enjoying himself.

Blues Matters thought so too. "It is easy to summarise the set that John and his band served up for the first house of the night, in two words: most excellent. John Mayall’s brand of Anglicized Chicago Blues, his weaving of a long song to a tremendous crescendo, his ability to play the organ while with the other hand making great harmonica music, is undimmed. So, too, is his evident pleasure in playing and pleasing an audience, nearly sixty years into his career." Full review...

Afterwards we queued up to buy CD's, unusually separate CD's from each of the band members rather than the assembled company. So we bought three, one for each of Rocky Athas (lead guitar), Greg Rzab (bass guitar) and Jay Davenport (drums), and got them signed; we also got John to sign a couple of them as well. They have provided some excellent listening since.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ian Seigal and Jimbo Mathus at the Green Note Cafe

Camden, London. Monday 24-November-2014.

Blues at the Green Note - my kind of music, my kind of venue.

Earlier in the month I met up with an ex-colleague I had not seen for 32 years (!) and we ended up swapping Blues guitarist recommendations. I gave him Marcus Bonfanti and he gave me Ian Seigal.

As luck would have it the Green Note email dropped into my inbox a couple of days later and there was Ian Seigal and Jimbo Mathus. A quick consult with friends Kate and Nigel and I snapped up three tickets (Mary was in Zug, Switzerland on business).

Nigel was there for doors open at 6pm and bagged a good table. They no longer operate a full kitchen but there were wholesome, vegetarian bar snacks.

From the opening chords I knew this was my kind of music. The John McLaughlin concert and the Blue Note concert were fine, nay world class, but this music got my toes tapping. They did two sets.

This is my third visit to Green Note (previously Marcus and Myshkin) and just as much fun as the others, This is real, up close music - brilliant. I love the fact that you can wander up afterwards and shake hands with the musicians and say "Great gig, really enjoyed it" - this is not a "Like" on FaceBook, it is the real thing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Celebrating 75 years of Blue Note Records at the Royal Festival Hall

Saturday 22-November-2014

The first half was an extended, hour long duet by Jason Moran and Robert Glasper and it was mesmerising. It wandered through a whole range of styles. I am not sure whether it was an actual composition or whether they had a structure and improvised within that. Either way it was gripping. What also came across was how much fun they were having, that is something you can't see with a recording, you only get that with a live performance.

London Jazz News wrote: "This was a performance redolent of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s great duets, even culminating in Maiden Voyage – albeit Glasper’s Radiohead-infused version. Both pianists made their own distinct styles clear: Moran with percussive prepared piano and blues licks; Glasper with irresistible harmonies and allusions to R&B. Given its intensity, this first half would have proved ample celebration for many." Full review...

After the interval an all-star sextet took to the stage after the interval: Glasper was joined by Marcus Strickland (sax), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Kendrick Scott (drums) and Derrick Hodge (bass).

London Jazz News again: "The concert concluded with Message of Hope from Hodge’s first album as leader, providing a fitting, almost spiritual end to proceedings. With artists this talented, collaborating as well as they did here, it’s clear that the future of the label is in good hands. An exceptional evening which gave proof - if any were needed - that Blue Note is in rude health at 75 years old."

I would second that - an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable concert.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

John McLaughlin and Hedvig Mollestad Trio at the Royal Festival Hall

Thursday 20 November 2014

My brother-in-law is a big fan of John McLaughlin; he and my sister booked early and had managed to get front row seats. We were a little slower off the mark and were back in row MM.

We met up for a meal beforehand in The Archduke a short stroll from the RFH. I cannot go to the Archduke without remembering the time I went there with a crowd of colleagues from BIS (Applied Systems) for a team outing. We were all horribly hungover the next morning and I mean everyone, even the hardened drinkers.

We were all well used to session drinking and knew our limits but this was qualitatively different. I am quite convinced we drank adulterated wine as it was the time of the "anti freeze in wine scandal". You may mock but I am convinced. For us all to be that unwell was unique and never repeated.

I really enjoyed the support act Hedvig Mollestad Trio who belted out an eclectic mix of styles. At one point even I thought I heard a riff reminiscent of T.Rex's Twentieth Century Boy. Plus it doesn't do any harm for a band to be fronted by a woman with long blonde hair and a short red dress.

KWC Today wrote, "The Mollestad trio is a powerful trio and opened this memorable evening and played an excellent set with a programme ranging from jazz fusion, psychedelica to sheer hard rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin."  Full review...

The Arts Desk wrote, "Support came from the Norwegian Hedvig Mollestad Trio, with lead guitarist Mollestad, clearly pregnant, a superb role model as well as atmospheric prog guitarist of the highest standard. [...] With the sonic impact of a serious metal outfit, but the rhythmic playfulness of a jazz trio". Full review...

After the interval it was the turn of John McLaughlin and the Fourth Dimension. As the lights went down we saw the Hedvig Mollestad Trio tip-toe into seats a couple of rows in front of us.

KWC Today wrote, "In 4th Dimension, John McLaughlin assembled an accomplished, creative and fiery band. The tight and incredibly talented unit draws on the musical diversity from all parts of the world. Broadly speaking it is jazz fusion with a hint of blues and the result is quite stunning." Full review...

The Arts Desk wrote, "The repertoire and style was largely familiar, much of it released on the band’s album earlier this year, the pieces in many cases reworked from earlier McLaughlin material. But it was remarkable for the excellence and of the ensemble playing. The sensitivity and sheer quality of interaction within the band embodied the interest in loving spirituality that drives much of McLaughlin’s work perhaps more convincingly than the lyrics the band sung." Full review...

Next up - "Celebrating 75 years of Blue Note Records" on Saturday...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Le Nozze Di Figaro at Rose Theatre

Saturday 01-November-2014

An evening of culture, a night at the opera, and not the Marx Brothers' film but a bit of Mozart.

This performance was by Opéra de Baugé, a visiting company, for one night only. Their take on this was to transpose the setting to ante-bellum America. The Duke becomes the plantation owner and his power over the slaves echoing, if not exceeding that of the Duke's "droit du seigneur".

I did not know it was a comic opera (I thought Mozart was proper, serious music); it more resembled the Bryan Rix school of low comedy, there was everything except the vicar with his trousers down. So you get sublime music with some good laughs thrown in.

At one point the young swain Cherubino (on the right of the photo) disguises himself in women's clothes. Apparently this role is normally played by a woman so here we have a man playing a woman's role dressing up as a woman who is normally a woman playing a man dressing up as a woman. Hmm.

I am not much of an opera buff, in fact I am not an opera buff in any way shape or form, but I thought the singing was good and our friend Kate who came with us and sings and knows about this stuff averred the same. If you want a bit of culture you wouldn't go far wrong with this and in the excellent setting of the Rose Theatre.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good Cop, Bad Cop at the Leicester Square Theatre

Saturday 15-November-2104.

A very entertaining way to spend an hour with this slightly surreal comedy. It was positively Stoppardian - it reminded me of After Magritte with its use of rational explanations for apparently bizzare "life choices",

We ate beforehand at the Cork and Bottle wine bar which I have been going to since 1980. On a previous visit I mentioned this to our wait-person who remarked that that was before he was born!

The Lounge at the Leciester Square is one of the smallest venues I have been to for a while, in a good way. You are really close to the stage so can get the full impact of the performance. The reviews were in the vein of "damning with faint praise" but we thoroughly enjoyed it so what do they know.

Since it was a short walk and a short performance we had ample time to return to C&B for a night cap afterwards.

The British Theatre Guide wrote.
"Fettes's and Alexander's obvious differences are clear and deliberately exaggerated to great effect from both, which helps keep the audience hooked in the few moments of uninspiring madness.

What is more captivating and impressive is the delivery of Stevenson's character. A somewhat mad eccentric incapable of lying, this is a gold star performance which brings to life a top notch, deeply flawed and interesting character.

Initially, Good Cop Bad Cop starts off as a simple plot with little scope, so it was reassuring to see it develop. This is a great attempt from this writing trio at trying to push the boundaries and create a new edgy, funny play capable of its West End billing. " 
Full review...

The Upcoming liked it in an ambivalent sort of way,
"The performances here are all decent enough – Stevenson in particular deserves credit for an endearingly spaced-out turn as Joe, which at least serves to confound expectations of how the detainee should behave in this well-worn paradigm. They cast might be better served by the script, however, if it were boiled down considerably to form a much tighter (and much shorter) sketch." 
Full review...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble at the Temple Church

Friday 14-November-2014

We have been a fan of Jan Garbarek ever since Mary's copy of the Rough Guide to Jazz kept falling open at his entry so we went and bought a copy of Invisible World knowing nothing of his music. "There's an intensity here borne of deep concentration and commitment to beauty." -

Several other purchases followed including Officium in which he collaborated with the Hilliard Ensemble in a mixture of Jazz and Gregorian Chant. We have also been lucky enough to see him twice at previous Jazz Festivals in 2007 and 2012.

We snapped up tickets as soon as we heard about this concert and got the best seats in the house - along the central aisle.

Atmospheric is the best word to describe the venue and the sounds. The Ensemble sometimes wandered around the church, sometime stood at their music stands while Jan prowled around at the back of the nave, rarely visible apart from odd glimpses. The church was almost a sixth member contributing echoes and resonances.

The Guardian's John Forham said "Garbarek and classical music’s Hilliard Ensemble are winding up a 20-year partnership, and Temple Church’s unusual circular nave was the perfect echo chamber for this quintet’s ethereal sounds." Full review...

Jazz Journal's Michael Tucker wrote "Garbarek and his colleagues were able to exploit the startling, clear and resonant – yet also intimate – acoustic offered by Temple Church. [...] An ultra-attentive audience [...] were treated to around 75 minutes of (largely) meditative magic from an ensemble shaping up to call time on what has been a remarkable 20-year journey into and across worlds as seemingly disparate as Gregorian chant and the blues, the sublimated drive of jazz and folk tropes and the hushed aura of a spare Arvo Pärt chart." Full review...

Given that the Hilliard Ensemble are about to retire this was probably the last ever chance to hear this magical combination - a rare treat indeed.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Fleet of RTs on Route 11

Sunday 02-November-2014

We had an unexpected change of plan thanks to a friend on FaceBook alerting us to this event. We abandoned our intention to walk part two of the North Downs Way and, instead, went for a ride on the buses.

"London Bus Museum to operate 60 year-old RT-family buses over full route 11

Route 11 is London’s most famous bus route, passing the Bank of England, St Paul’s Cathedral, Fleet Street, Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Victoria, Sloane Square and Chelsea’s Kings Road.

Before the famous Routemaster came the RT, the first of which ran in London before the second world war, 75 years ago in August 1939."
 See more at: RT buses recreate full Route 11

We walked along the Thames Path and over Hammersmith Bridge to the bus station at Hammersmith Broadway where we awaited our transport of delight.

Part way through the journey we caught up with the prototype RT1. We swapped buses and paid the five pounds to ride on this original - all the others were free - and well worth the money to go on a piece of vehicular history.

On the RT1 you get a proper conductor and a bus ticket.

A sign you do not see on modern buses.

We rode as far as Strand to buy me new Ecco walking shoes and then caught a different RT bus back to Sloane Square for more shopping.

From Sloane Square we walked back home via Albert Bridge and an atmospheric sunset.

I was reminded of a song from my childhood: Transport of Delight by Flanders and Swann. My favourite line:
"We like to drive in convoys - we're most gregarious.
The big six-wheeler scarlet-painted London transport diesel-engined 97-horsepower omnibus."

A full set of pictures on Flickr:

A day far more fun than I had expected. Hold very tight please! Ting-ting!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Olive Harvest 2014

The final visit each year is closing up Trullo Azzurro for the winter and harvesting our olives. I had been hoping for a good harvest this year but the weather had other ideas.

Up till now the harvest has alternated between, typically, 35 kg and 90 kg. This was due to be a good year but the summer had been very wet and the olives were very poor quality - a combination of mushy fruits and damage caused by insects encouraged by damp conditions. We did not know this at the time and harvested as per Plan A.

We lay the nets down and raked the olives using fingers, hand rakes or rakes on poles.

We then 'herded' the olives into the crates picking out the leaves and lumps of clay.

We ended up with about 35 kg of olives. We then took them round to our friends to add to their harvest for pressing together and then learned the bad news; they were thinking of not even bothering to harvest as the quality was so poor.

We had already paid for hold luggage on RyanAir so we went round to the local olive press and bought 10 litres of this year's harvest to bring home as a consolation prize.

It was an opportunity to show our friends the presses at work - starting with the minimum 220 kg that you need to get olives pressed (which is why we need to put our smaller harvest in with our neighbours).

The traditional cold press process starts with grinding the olives, stones and all, into a gritty pulp; the millstones are just visible top left. The pulp is then layered between raffia-type, circular mats.

When sufficient matts are piled up the whole lot is put under a hydraulic press and the oil is slowly squeezed out.

The oil is then stored in stainless steel cans that look remarkably like milk churns.

The rest of the weekend went as planned - lots of vacu-sacs filled with linens and duvets keeping them dry for the winter and general tidying.

We also discovered an excellent new trattoria thanks to a recommendation from our friends Chris and John: Il Cortiletto a short drive away in Speziale near Fasano. We managed the full anti-pasti, primi, secondi and dessert and they were all excellent.

Thursday and Friday were very wet, Saturday morning stayed dry for the harvest and Sunday was lovely - we had breakfast and lunch outside. We were sorry to go home and the next trip is Easter to open up for the 2015 season.

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, November 04, 2014

BluesFest 2014 at The Royal Albert Hall

Thursday 30-October-2014.

For our 21st wedding anniversary the nice people at BluesFest London had laid on a programme of concerts for us. We orginally booked for the main evening performance but when we learnt that Marcus Bonfanti was playing we added on a stroller ticket and took the afternoon off work.

First on in the Elgar Room were Dr Feelgood who belted out some good ol' rock'n'roll. Robert Kane makes an excellent front man giving it plenty of energy.

Then Marcus Bonfanti who we have seen now for the eighth time. Seeing someone that many times you get to see different styles of performance from the wonderful acoustic set at Green Note Cafe to the raucous rock star version last year at Blues Fest 2013. This was slightly to the gentler side of centre.

For the third session we saw a little of the Matt White Trio in the appallingly unsympathetic venue of the Verdi room. We listened to a couple couple of songs then bailed in favour of The Excitements in the West Arena Foyer. A good call as they belted out some Rhythm 'n' Blues and Soul. The lead singer's style was a mix of younger versions of Aretha Franklin with a bit of Tina Turner thrown in.

Supper was in the Coda Restaurant. The waiter asked if we had been there before - "Yes, exactly one year ago for our last wedding anniversary".

The main concert was Robert Cray - excuse the poor quality iPhone photo - fortunately the music was high quality :-)

After the interval was Californian singer-songwriter Beth Hart\ about whom we knew nothing. We had come to see Robert Cray unlike the guy in the seat next to us who had come to sees Beth. She was good but not good enough to hold us to the very end - we were both feeling tired so we sneaked out before the end and grabbed a black cab home.