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.

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.