Monday, December 23, 2013

Walking the Wandle December 2013

Sunday 15-December-13

We finally walked the Wandle Trail - 12 miles from the creek where the Wandle joins the Thames to its source near Croydon. We've been meaning to do this for years. Since we live on the Wandsworth one-way system we did the route upstream from Wandle Creek to Waddon Ponds.

Wandle Creek
Our start point is Wandle Creek where the River Wandle debouches into the Thames. We often pass this way on our regular riverside circuit to Putney and back.

Morden Hall Park
The route passes through the lovely Morden Hall Park (NT). This tranquil former deer park is one of the few remaining estates that used to line the River Wandle during its industrial heyday.

Lunch stop at Ravensbury Park
We had a simple picnic lunch of homemade spiced parsnip soup out of our thermos flasks and an energy bar.

Waddon Ponds
It was a drizzly, damp day so we were happy to reach our end point.

The return trip was by tram from Wandle Park station nearby back to Wimbledon and the 156 bus the rest of the way for a nice cup of tea.

Download the Sustrans Wandle Trail leaflet of the route for more info.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cleaning the Wandle December 2013

Garfield Road, South Wimbledon, London. Sunday 08-December-2013.

I was glad to be able to make this clean up as I used to live in Garfield Road ('86-'94) and it was here that I first met the Wandle. My commute into the city involved a walk to Colliers Wood tube on the Northern Line along Wandle Bank past Wandle Park. I used to look at the junk dumped in the river and shake my head in wonderment at the asocial nature of some people. "Take your litter home" is part of my emotional bedrock.

We dragged the usual junk out of the river; instead of the typical coconut shells (there is a local Hindu temple) we found an actual Ganesha (elephant-headed Hindu god).


An innovation for the Wandle Trust gazebo was a gas powered urn so the lunchtime drinks were made with freshly boiled water. It may not seem much but it makes a difference on a cold day if, like me, you are partial to a cup of tea - it is so much tastier when made with properly hot water.


Some debris is particularly bothersome - carpet, mattresses (as above) and duvets - because of the weight of water their sodden bulk retains. That requires team work, a rope with grappling hook and ...


... plenty of onlookers.


We dragged out the usual couple of tons of cr*p out of the river. Fortunately the council lorry had a grab to lift some of the heavy stuff. Usually there is a lot of manual handling involved.


Merry Christmas. Ho, Ho, Ho!


Full set of photos 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:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Daffodil at Roux at Parliament Square 2013

Parliament Square, London. Saturday 07-Dec-13

What more can I say - living in style. Once again the M&M Enterprises office Christmas Party is the Daffodil Dining Club Christmas meal at Roux at Parliament Square.

Amanda, Mary, Pete, Mark (me)

It is a year since we last saw best man Pete and his wife Amanda, at the previous Christmas Daff. We resolved not to make it so long this time so we've sent them a list of our Italian dates in order to tempt them out to Puglia.

No pictures of the food unlike last year's meal. As usual the chef and sommelier talked us through the menu and the wine pairings. We had our own table of four for a serious meal.

  • Viognier 'Cuvee Michel Roux & Michel Chapoutier' "Biodynamic"
    Ardeche, France, "Gavroche Label", 2011
  • Chateau Cabezac Rose
    Minervois, Specially selected by Albert Roux, 2011
  • Bourgogne Chardonnay
    Domaine Bachey Legros, Burgundy, France, 2011
  • Bourgogne Pinot Noir
    Domaine Bachey Legros, Burgundy, France, 2011
  • Muscat de Rivesaltes
    Jean-Marc Lafage, Languedoc Roussillon, France, 2011
  • Whisky and treacle cured salmon, Guinness soda bread
  • Tartare of Scottish venison, sloe gin, Douglas fir, walnuts
  • Charred Cornish mackerel, heritage beetroot, horseradish
  • Blanquette of Norfolk turkey, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, cranberries
  • Christmas pudding, brandy butter ice cream
  • Coffees and petits fours
I tell you - if you are going to have an office party this is the way to do it :-)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Howard Jones 30th Celebration at the Shepherds Bush Empire

Friday 29-November-2013

Yet another FaceBook enabled, carpe diem, musical bucket list concert.

Ian, a friend of a friend on FB, had a spare ticket as his partner was unwell. I was able to snap up the ticket at short notice because I was home alone; Mary was visiting her Mum in Scotland.

Ian and I exchanged contact details and met for the first time in real life at Shepherd's Bush Market tube.

It was a special gig to celebrate 30 years since Howard's debut single "New Song". Ian had a VIP ticket to spare which included a pre-concert 'private' gig at 6pm and entrance to an after-show party.

The front row of the mosh pit was taken up by a row of 6ft 6in gorillas - I was starting to feel like some kind of midget. Fortunately there was enough room to be able move about and pick a better sightline.

It was a great show of three halves: acoustic, electronic, greatest hits. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The middle section was a specially composed piece called "Engage" complete with visuals projected onto a gauze screen and was an unexpected treat.

Before the main concert everyone in the audience was invited to grab a free pair of colourful gloves from a table at the back of the auditorium. Then we could wave our hands in the air and join in with similarly coloured hands playing piano on the big screen.

Howard came across as a really nice bloke with a genuine desire to connect with his fans. The stuff on his FB feed since reinforces that impression. And the music was excellent.

The Upcoming review said, "The calibre of the performance and the tracks themselves bear witness to his great talent as a performer and songwriter, one who has forever left his mark on the British New Wave music scene." I'll second that. Full review:

We popped into the after-show party for one small glass of sparkling then called it a night.

Howard will be publishing a DVD of the concert - that is going on my wish list for sure.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mott the Hoople at The O2

Monday 18-November-2013

An opportunity to "carpe diem" and tick another artist off the yet-to-be-written, musical bucket list.

At work on that Monday I saw that a couple of cyber-chums were going to this concert. I'd never seen Mott The Hoople and "All the young dudes" was one of those evocative tracks from my teen years especially because of its mention of T.Rex.

I was home alone because Mary was on a business trip to Columbia and I thought "What the heck, why not?" The cats might be a bit peckish when I get home but there are plenty of nuggets for them to eat if they so deign.

Off to TicketMaster and purchased an excellent seat on the floor of the arena, Block A, Row H. Messaged my Facebook friends and said "hope to meet you there for a drink" and so it transpired.

I had briefly met Linda and Gordon at previous Bolan Bops but was not so egocentric as to be sure if they would remember me but at least I knew what they looked like. I spotted Linda behind me on the escalator and waited at the top to say hello.

Gordon, Rick, Linda. Alessandro

Alessandro, Mark (me), Linda, Gordon

The first support act was Fish of Marillion fame who Linda was keen to see so we all went in to catch the latter half of his set. We all reconvened for a beer and a chat during the second support act, Thunder, and then back into the arena for the main act.

They played a load of songs I didn't recognise and then all the greatest hits that the crowd were here to hear.

After the gig Gordon reckoned they were on a par with a fair pub rock band and the Telegraph was pretty much of the same mind: "The glam-rock giants overstay their comeback, but shine when they stick to energetic classics.

[...] the main set is largely composed of such stodgy, lumpen fare [...] Amid this muddy morass, the classic singles shine like diamonds. The magnificent The Golden Age of Rock'n'roll and All the Way from Memphis remain rollicking, rambunctious glam-rock anthems, alive to their own glory and absurdity, while All the Young Dudes and Roll Away the Stone are roustabout encore gems. Sadly, they come too little and too late to salvage a show that simply feels like a comeback too far."

Full review:

A great evening and great to meet up with fellow T.Rex fans in real life.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Olive Harvest 2013

This year we were joined by our friend Kate for the olive harvest. Last year was a bumper crop of 93 kg and, following the rule of alternating harvests, we were expecting a modest harvest this year. Mother nature ran true to form and delivered a meagre 29.5 kg - scarcely 3 litres of oil so no Christmas present olive oil for the family this year.

Kate harvesting
Mary harvesting
Kate and the final haul
As previously, we tipped our haul in with neighbour Mino's crop as we are below the minimum pressing quantity of 220 kg at the local cooperative olive press. Next spring we will collect our oil for cooking through 2014; organic, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil - apply liberally.

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sotto Le Stelle 15 - Sleeping in the apartment

So close to finished that we can sleep there and publish version 1.0 of the before and after pictures.

The gas has still to be connected, thanks to the Italian bureaucracy. The bathroom is now complete apart from the door which is still being constructed - the tower rail, shower screen, mirror and lights are all in and the loo works even if there is no hot water.

We started the process of furnishing the apartment: I unpacked and assembled the sofa, put up a curtain pole for the alcove behind the bed and completed the bed assembly left over from the last trip. Then we brought a load of kitchenware over from Trullo Azzurro.

With aid of a kettle and toaster we were able to sleep there even if we had to go back to Trullo Azzurro for a shower. A major milestone.

The builder actually thanked us for allowing him to work on the building - to modernise an old building whilst preserving and enhancing its original character. He is a man with a passion for stone and we were guided by his advice on a number of items so he must take a goodly part of the credit.

Next trip we should have heating and a bathroom door (with any luck).

A full set of before and after photos on Flickr: 20131012-Sotto-Le-Stelle-Before-After.

1.1 Kitchen Before1.2 Kitchen After2.1 Living Before2.2 Living After3.1 Bedroom Before3.2 Bedroom After
4.1 Roof before4.2 Roof after5.1 Front before5.2 Front After

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Venice 2013

Our trip on the Orient Express ended at the Santa Lucia railway station. The transfer from station to hotel was by water taxi, given Venice's watery nature the only sensible way to make the trip.

Mary had done her research and booked us two nights in the Hotel Al Ponte Antico that had rave reviews on Trip Advisor. It is a converted palazzo (palace) and had amazing high ceilings complete with frescoes. The location was unbeatable, right on the grand canal with its own balcony and a view of the Rialto bridge - stunning!

View of the Grand Canal from the balcony

View of the Rialto Bridge from the balcony

The bar and dining area

The ceiling of the bar and dining area

After checking in and a rest we went out to eat at Osteria Antico Dolo recommended by the hotel owner. Busy and full of other tourists; we had to wait to be seated but were too tired to look elsewhere. Very authentic, local food but I made a poor choice. I had not realised that the tagliatelle with squid would be in a squid ink sauce. While an unusual and typical dish, the blackness of it all and the grainy texture were not really what I had been looking for. Oh well.

Osteria Antico Dolo

That last time we were in Venice was in 2001, at the time of the twin towers so I can date it easily. We had the Cadogan Guide with walks for each of the six sestiere or neighbourhoods. Then we did one per day but on the last day time constraints meant we had to truncate the Cannaregio walk. This time we had a full day in Venice on the Saturday so literally retraced our steps and completed the entire sixth walk.

Cannaregio - door

Cannaregio - bridge

There were masses of tourists about, especially Italian tourists, because the Friday, being All Saints' Day, was a national holiday.

Piazza San Marco

We manage to find an excellent little bistro for lunch - Osteria ai 40 Ladroni - that was everything I had been hoping for the night before. Full of locals and tasty, fresh cooked food.

Cannaregio - gondola park

That evening, thanks to more research by Mary, we dined at Ristorante Algiubagio [] down on the Fondamente Nove. That was a much more satisfactory dining experience - a class restaurant with excellent food and wines - a suitably romantic, candle-lit supper.

Ristorante Algiubagio starter

Our direct flight on Sunday from Venice to Bari had been cancelled some weeks back so we had ourselves rebooked via Rome. Unfortunately the large number of Italian tourists returning home after the weekend meant the queues were horrendous. It took forever to do bag drop and security - we were only just through the scanners at the same time as our flight was due to leave. Stress levels sky rocketing. Fortunately so many people were in the same boat (plane?) as us that they had to delay the flight - we were part of an entire busload of passengers similarly delayed.

At Rome we had a reduced connection time as a result. Fortunately both flights were domestic so no formalities to queue for. As luck would have it our arrival gate and departure gate were not only in the same terminal but directly above one another. We only had to go down on escalator and so made our flight easily; not so our luggage…

We arrived at Bari and waited until the carousal was empty and then reported our missing luggage. There was a later Rome-Bari flight so we were hoping the bags would make that. Mary was worried because "the dress" plus the cufflinks Mary gave me on our wedding day and some other nice stuff were in those bags.

Later that evening the airline called to say the bags had arrived in Bari and they would be delivered to our apartment in Cisternino the next day. Sure enough around 10:30 the bags were delivered to our door - big sighs of relief all round.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orient Express - London to Venice

Thursday 31-October-2013

The back story: we originally booked for our actual 20th wedding anniversary on the 30th October. Since the schedule was Venice to London we didn't fancy returning home as the culmination of the journey. Instead we booked a half journey Venice to Paris with the plan being a couple of days in Paris before returning home.

A friend of ours said that you got a 25% discount with Nectar. We were dubious but so it turned out: 25% off a big number is a big saving - that is some serious money (

A couple of weeks later Venice Simplon-Orient-Express wrote to say that journey was cancelled and, if we cared to rebook, they would give us a further 20% discount, Shedding crocodile tears, we booked the full London to Venice on the the 31st, the anniversary of our honeymoon instead, at a total 45% discount - result!

Departure lounge, Victoria Station Platform 2
Departure lounge, Victoria station, Platform 2

The first part of the journey is 30's vintage British Pullman - Victoria to Folkstone with brunch. The carriages are all restored originals full of wonderful wood panelling.

British Pullman - Mary with Brunch
Bellini and Brunch

At Folkstone we transferred to executive coaches to cross the channel via Le Chunnel. On the French side we boarded the Orient-Express proper.

Orient Express - our maitre du cabin, Thibault
Orient Express Sleeper Carriage with our Maitre de Cabine, Thibault

The train consists of three restaurant cars, a bar car and about six sleeper cars plus kitchen and staff accommodation. We found a complementary half of champagne in our cabin to sip until it was time for cocktail in the bar and dinner in the restaurant.

Orient Express - Mary in dining car
Isn't this dining room fabulous?

Dinner was lobster, the tenderest fillet steak I have ever eaten, cheese and a dessert, then a digestive and chat with fellow celebrants in the bar afterwards. Friends will not be surprised to learn that we spent the discount money we saved on the wine list.

Orient Express - bar car pre-prandial cocktail

In our cabin the seating converts into bunk beds. The corner of the cabin has a cupboard containing a washbasin for basic ablutions. The loo is at the end of the carriage. A full shower will have to wait till we get to the hotel in Venice.

Orient Express - cabin upper bunk

The next morning, after breakfast in our cabin, we watched the alps slide past our window. They changed engines at every border otherwise they'd end up with French engines in Italy.

Orient Express - through the alps 02
The train

Then it was time for a three course lunch with more fine wines.

Orient Express - lunch day 2
Prawn in filo with baked fish

A bit of a siesta followed by afternoon tea and cakes until we arrived in Venice for detraining and a water taxi transfer to our hotel.

Orient Express - farewell view of our cabin at Venice

People ask "Was it worth it?" The answer has to be "Yes". This experience is, as they say, not available in the shops. Unique.

Full set of photos on Flickr: