Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pasqua in Puglia 2015

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Sunday 30-March-2015

A good trip to open up for the season with several highlights. The first was the weather which exceeded the forecast pretty much every day. We were able to drag the mattresses out into the courtyard for their spring toasting to drive off the winter damp.

We are switching from umbrellas to a shade sail on the advice of our local agent. Parasols generally do not last as long and fall over in the wind. A quality shade sail lasts longer, provides higher UV protection and covers a larger area. We avoided the Ikea sails and went for a high quality Australian make called Kookaburra.

My top priority on this visit was to drill holes and install eyebolts to take the fittings; two are static (with tension adjusters) and the third has a pulley for raising and lowering. All went remarkably smoothly and we now have cover for lunch in the courtyard. We will retain at least one parasol for the courtyard round the back but I expect the sail to be the main protection from the sun.

Back in Cisternino old town the alleys are too narrow for vehicles of any size and especially for a dustcart (aka garbage truck). Instead of weekly rubbish collection you leave a plastic carrier bag out every night for daily collection. These little vehicles navigate the cobbled streets every day collecting the bags from people's doorsteps.

In our apartment the large white wall has been crying out for a painting. Last year we looked at paintings by local artist Patrizia Pareo who, coincidentally, has her studio directly across from our apartment. We didn't feel able to afford the one we wanted then but this time we upped the budget and bought "Bianco nello spazio".

It must be one of Patrizia favourites as she used it on the cover of her catalogue. And now it's our favourite too. It looks splendid on our wall and is the perfect finishing touch to the apartment.

It was a quite the cultural visit. we went to book at table at Osteria la Valle. At eight o'clock they hadn't event started laying the tables so we went to Bar TrentaDue for a drink for an hour. There was a band setting up and doing a sound check. So after our meal we went back to listen to the band. The bar was heaving with trendy cool dudes. The first set finished at midnight. I was deemed an old fogey for wanting to go home to bed so we stayed for the second set and staggered home some time after one am.

We had hired a large estate car so we could go shopping to patio furniture for the terrace. After visits to Ikea, Conforama, and "our man in the country" we ended up back at Conforama and bought a table and L-shaped sofa.

It only just fitted in the boot with a bit of shoving and is now up on the roof ready for some serious relaxing next trip.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Peaches - a celebration

Cats Protection, Haywards Heath 14-Feb-2010 to Wandsworth 19-Feb-2015

This is Blue and Peaches the very first time was met them at the Cats Protection National Cat Centre in Haywards Heath. We had gone to view kittens but did a last minute swerve to the pen next door where we were told Blue and Peaches were 12 and 14 respectively.

When we decided to adopt two older cats the deal was to give them a peaceful retirement knowing we would not have them as long as kittens. We were resolved from the start that when their time came there would be no heroic measures to prolong their lives unnecessarily. As long as they were happy and comfortable it was quality of life that counted.

When we first took them home they hid in dark corners and cupboards for the best part of a week. It was another week before we let them out into the garden. The picture below is Peaches' first exploration of the garden. It has to be said the she was never much of a one for going out. She could work the cat flap but, like most cats, preferred her humans to open the door for her.

Every cat is different. Peaches was never a lap cat. She was incredibly timid at first and we are quite convinced she had been mistreated in a previous life; for the first couple of years she flinched when you put your hand out to stroke her and would scurry away.

All our friends remarked how much less timid she became as she relaxed and got used to her safe new home.  We learned to approach her slowly from the front so as to not startle her and let her sniff your hand to get used to you.

Although she was not overtly friendly the moment we walked into the room she would start purring, a really deep rumble, like a furry diesel engine. The closest she ever came to us voluntarily was sitting on the back of the sofa however she was very happy to be picked up.

Being an elderly cat she didn't hunt, she didn't jump into cardboard boxes, she treated cat toys with indifference. What she did do was what cats do best - sleep and eat.

What she also did not do was meow, she was a completely silent cat. Well almost: once I accidentally trod on her tail and she yelped; once in the middle of the night she made a wailing noise (I suspect intruder fox). But that was it - in five years, never a squawk or shout or a chirrup.

Cats have favourite sleeping places: back of the sofa, under the breakfast table, on the dining room chairs and of course on the stairs where Peaches was a regular health and safety hazard.

Occasionally Peaches would get creative. She mostly ignored her pillow but a nice warm basket of laundry made a more than acceptable alternative. Classic cat!

Peaches was hard to photograph because she always looked down. She never looked at the camera, always at the floor. This is one of my all time favourite pictures of Peaches. Not staged, we had set the table for supper and up she jumped as if to say "Where's my food?"

The end, when it came, was not too protracted. An infection lead to a several night stay at the animal hospital and further tests which revealed cancer of the liver (and possibly lungs). She had lost weight, was not eating and was having to be fed by tube.

We brought her home for one night and Mary, having been away on business, was able to give Peaches one last cuddle. The decision to have her put to sleep was clear and unanimous. We woke the duty vet up early the next morning and drove her straight over. We both were present and stroking her at the end.

We had her cremated and still have her ashes which we will plant under the rose where Cleo's ashes were also buried.

I feel happy that we have kept our side of the bargain with Peaches and she in return provided us with her own unique feline company for five years and five days.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Who Hits 50 at The O2

Monday 23-March-2015

This will be the third time I have seen The Who. Last time was in 1996 in Hyde Park when they played the whole of Quadraphenia. The first time was in 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival when they played the whole of Tommy! I still have the original vinyl double gatefold album with the price sticker 85/- That is 85 shillings or four and a quarter of your English pounds.

This concert was the rescheduled from last year due to Roger Daltry's voice problems. Here he was on good form as he belted out the greatest hits for two and a quarter hours - not bad for a 71-year old. Pete Townsend was also irrepressible and very sweary. They did their signature moves - microphone swinging and arm windmilling respectively.

We went for the "Hot ticket package" so we had better seats, closer to the stage, worth it especially as I will probably never see them again. We also got "merchandising" - a Mod-style backpack, official souvenir brochure and laminate plus lanyard.

The Evening Standard writes: "[...] as you might expect from men of their vintage, things were a little flabby around the middle. By Townshend’s own admission, a lacklustre Slip Kid “sounded better in the sound check” while A Quick One, While He’s Away was The Who in self-parody. Thankfully, the frenetic strumming of Pinball Wizard jolted things back into life. When this was followed by the evergreen Won’t Get Fooled Again, a triumphant show was given its crowning moment. Townshend has suggested this will be the band’s final tour; if that’s the case, they’re going out on a high." Full review...

I would second that. The concert delivered exactly what it said on the tin: all the iconic hits including My Generation - how ironic to hear a pensioner sing "I hope I die before I get old". Unfortunately Mary had to leave at 10pm to get up to Stansted so I watched the last 40 mins on my own. That last segment included an excellent medley of tracks from Tommy. Superb!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dr John at Ronnie Scott's

Saturday 14-March-2105

Another outing to Ronnie Scott's to see the legendary Dr. John. Last time we saw him was at the small venue that is Under the Bridge. This time it is the smaller and more intimate Ronnie Scott's and a chance to get a close up performance from the man.

As often with well known musicians the band are unknown, to me anyway, but excellent. I always assume that an artist of his calibre can pick and choose his sidesmen. I was particularly taken by the incongruity of the lady on the keyboards who dressed more like a schoolteacher rather than a rock goddess but then it's talent not fashion that counts here.

And before anyone accuses me of sexism I have been to see bands who dressed in grey suits and look more like accountants. I suppose I expect performers to be more flamboyant in dress code than the audience as a visual component of the entertainment.

I bought Dr John's debut album "Gris Gris" (1968) shortly after it came out and consequently it is one of those albums that is grooved into my brain. I'm happy to report that he sang "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" - part of the soundtrack of my life by the original artist. Epic.

London Jazz News writes: "There was a small standing ovation as Dr John made his short trip off the bandstand into the dark. No-one really expected an encore, and we didn’t get one. The performance was highly formulaic, certainly, but it was very well played and a great deal of fun." Full review...

Normally there are two shows on a Saturday but for Dr. John there was only one which meant a support act and a longer set from the main man which is good for us.

Time to eat starter and main course and relax with a glass or two. I like that Ronnie's keep the menu short and reasonably priced given they have a captive audience they have resisted the temptation to jack up the prices. So all in all makes it fair value.