Monday, December 26, 2016

Liane Carroll's Cold Turkey! at Ronnie Scotts

Soho, London. 26-December-2016.

A Boxing day treat to relax after the not-so-excesses of Christmas.Mary and I spent Christmas apart, she with her Mum, me with mine. They are both getting on and getting frailer. Best to spend quality time with them while we can.

This was our belated Christmas meal. Mary flew down from Glasgow and straight to Ronnie Scotts to see Liane Carroll.

No photos because I obey Ronnie's "no photography" request so here is one from Liane's Facebook page.

I remember we enjoyed the show but the memory all gets a bit fuzzy now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blue - a celebration

Cats Protection, Haywards Heath 14-Feb-2010 to Wandsworth 21-Dec-2016

It has taken me a while to get round to posting this, not least because my father died less than a week after Blue and that kinda took priority. Now, belatedly, Blue gets the obituary she deserves.

She was a lovely, amiable companion, so good natured and a veritable ball of fluff - a hit with all who met her. Cuteness personified.

To quote from "Peaches - a celebration"
"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."
Blue clearly lied about her age! She was with us for six and a half years which would make her 20, an unlikely lifespan for a typically short-lived breed.

This is our favourite picture of her exploring the garden, taken by Mary, which we call "jungle cat".

Like all cats she had a talent for relaxing.

In contrast to Peaches, Blue was always wanting to be a companion cat coming over to keep me company wherever I was.

Especially if that meant jumping on the duvet at silly o'clock to be a furry alarm call.

When not lying next to me on the sofa this was Blue's favourite vantage point on the front windowsill to watch passersby.

She liked to drink from smelly plant saucers in the garden and anywhere but her bowl. She even did her best to drink out of Mary's water glass despite her snub nose.

Towards the end she was getting very frail. Whatever her age it was clear she had not much longer to go. The decision to have her put to sleep was very hard, as always with a beloved pet, but the decision was clear and the timing right.

We had her cremated and her ashes are planted under the same rosebush where Peaches and also Cleo's ashes are buried.

As with Peaches I feel happy that we have kept our side of the bargain and Blue in return provided us with her own unique feline company for six years and ten months.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Lucy Zirins supporting Aynsley Lister at the Half Moon

Putney, London. Thursday 01-December-2016

We went to see Lucy Zirins at the Half Moon Putney supporting some other bloke. A bit of a last minute decision and our plan had been to eat in the pub beforehand. What we had failed to take into account was the Christmas rush - every table was reserved apart from a couple of round standing tables. As one of those came free we dived in just to have somewhere to park our beer. Chatting to the outgoing occupants, it turns out they were going to the gig as well and were eating beforehand in a restaurant just down the road. So we follow their example, finished our drinks, walked down to Hudsons and discovered a delightful little bistro and a tasty meal.

Then it was back to the Halfmoon just in time for Lucy's set - half a dozen numbers including a cover of "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" which I know well from listening to Missisippi John Hurt although Lucy's version had much more, and different, lyrics than MJH's pared down version.

I am not sure what it says about the state of live music but the audience demographic was very skewed. Lots of middle-aged, or older, single blokes. Maybe they weren't all single and it was just that their partners weren't interested in standing up in a pub for a couple of hours drinking beer. But they are helping keep music live, so I'm not knocking them, just observing. By the time Aynsley came on the later arrivals had swung the audience mix to a more balanced crowd including younger people and couples.

Lucy was as charming as before and sung beautifully. Didn't need to buy any CD's as we'd bought them all when we saw her at the Green Note.

Aynsley Lister rocked out a very guitar-led set. We had not heard of him before but here are lots of rave reviews out there. Always great to discover a new artiste. Most impressed with his talent we bought a copy of his latest album, Eyes Wide Open. Looking forward to listening to that later.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon 2016 - Lessons Learned

London, England. Sunday 09-October-2016.

When the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon published the age group analysis I was 97th out of 173 over-60's. In the middle of the pack. That tallest bar in the middle of the graph. I'll take that, thank you. The average time for this cohort was 02:18:45 so I was faster than the average, thanks to the long tail. Happy with that too, as a first timer who only started running in February.

Things I have learned:

  • People sponsored the training. Sponsorship is for doing something hard. Doing training runs twice a week for six months is the hard part. The half marathon itself was a doddle, I just trotted along beside the pacemaker. The last couple of km I was chatting away to him. Over the finish line and wandered off to find Mary. No real after effects at all. I could not have done that without the training.
  • I can't listen to music. I tried it once and it threw me off my stride trying unconsciously to run to the beat. Instead I used my mental jukebox which had the right beats per minute. Mainly Little Eva and The Loco-Motion.
  • I can't drink. I tried it once and it threw me off my breathing. I need my mouth for air! The conventional wisdom is "keep hydrated" but, apart from that one attempt I ran dry. Even on the half marathon I literally drank about five mouthfuls of water from my neighbour's bottle. If I do a full marathon I will probably have to work on this.
  • I don't eat carbs. I went on a training seminar with sessions on nurtrition, pacing and a yoga class. The nutrition advice mentioned the five food groups and loading up on carbs for two or three days prior, not more. Looking at my diet I realised that I eat very little carbs. A couple of slices of toast for breakfast but the evening meal is typically a piece of protein grilled, baked or shallow fried and a heap of vegetable. No potatoes, rice, cous-cous nor pasta except once or maybe twice a week. So it was a real effort to pre-load before the race. I don't eat much fruit either. On the day my fuel was two slices of toast and a small granola bar.
  • I don't enjoy it. I just don't get the attraction of running. It's like being a hamster in a wheel. As someone commented - I deserve especial credit for doing it despite not liking it.
  • I don't get an endorphin high. Or 'runners' rush' or whatever you want to call it. My body doesn't seem to work that way. The first five minutes post-run are getting breath and pulse back to normal, then I spontaneously combust - sweat bursts of of every pore and drenches me - and then I feel relaxed because it's all over. If that feeling is this supposed euphoric state then all I can say is "sod that for a game of soldiers", the game's not worth the candle.
  • I was Billy No-Mates. All my training was done entirely on my own (49 runs totalling 360km). It was really weird on the day to be surrounded by 16,000 other people all around me that I had to dance around to keep my pace.
  • I am a human metronome. Looking at the splits there is less than a minute between average and target all the way through except the first. The only reason the first one is fast is because I had to catch up to the pace runner who had worked his way forward in the queue while we were waiting to start.
    • Chip Time 02:14:52
    • Split Time (Target)
      • 5km 00:30:26 (00:31:57)
      • 10km 01:03:28 (01:03:54)
      • 15km 01:35:05 (01:35:51)
      • 20km 02:07:59 (02:07:48)
      • 21.1km 02:14:52 (02:14:50)
  • I did OK for my age and a newbie. See opening para. There were only 173 runners over 60 which, at just over, 1% surprised me, I would have thought there would have been a few more.
  • Put your name on your T-shirt. Prostate UK send me the letters in my name for me to iron on my vest. All the way round complete strangers were shouting my name, "Go Mark!" and giving me high fives. That is why I have a grin in all the photos.
  • Top tip from the professionals. "If you can see your feet you need to look up".
Was it fun? I am tempted to say No but the smile on my face in all the pictures say otherwise.
Would I do it again? No but I will do a full marathon, this was a stepping stone to prove that end goal is plausible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hugh Masekela at Ronnie Scotts

Soho, London. Tuesday 22-November-2016.

The Guardian writes: "...watching South Africa’s most celebrated musician return to this intimate venue 16 years after he last played here was a rare treat." [Full review...]

Pretty funky music.

That's all.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Olive Harvest 2016

Puglia, Italy.

Another wet summer, another lost harvest. Because of the summer rains the olives had rotted and dropped, rather like 2014. Only those who harvested early got any reasonable crop but we understand that the acidity was poor and may have been too high to technically count as "extra virgin". Extra-virgin olive oil is required to have no more than 0.8% free acidity (Wikipedia).

Not a single olive to be harvested on our nine trees and we had three disappointed friends who came to help with the harvest.  Still not as bad as our friend Mino who has 150 trees and 11 friends over from the UK.

Nothing for it but to eat, drink and do the tourist thing. Over the week we went out for four excellent meals of very different styles:
  • Arrosteria del Vicoletto (Cisternino). A fornello pronto - basically a butcher where you choose your meat, they cook it in an wood oven and serve with baked potato and salad and wine by the jug. A mixture of chops, sausage and bombette - meat balls available in a variety of meats, flavours and seasonings.
  • Il Cortiletto (Speziale) - we visited this trattoria a couple of years ago with Nigel and he was keen to re-visit so we booked without telling him, as a surprise. The dining room is the size of someone's living room, there cannot be more that 20 covers. They have a chalk board menu of the day and it is freshly cooked and changing every day. A real gem.
  • Osteria Sant'Anna (Cisternino) - the best restaurant in Cisternino and an obvious choice to celebrate our friends Tony and Terri's 39th anniversary. The food is excellent and the ambience is stylish without being too formal with lovely stone-vaulted ceilings. 
  • Osteria del Porto (Savelletri) - on our way back to the airport we stopped in Savelletri and ate in this harbour-side restaurant. We had eaten there before so knew it was good and, despite it being 2:30, they were still able to serve us.
Pomodoro al filo

These air dried tomatoes on a string are an essential ingredient for a really authentic orecchiette con cime di rapa [recipe]. Seeing them in the local supermarket I snapped up a bunch and made the dish for supper the following day. Very tasty.

During the daytime we did visits to several of the lovely towns in the area.

Martina Franca. A beautiful city with lots of baroque architecture.

Ceglia Messapica. Our first visit to this town and it was a pleasant surprise. The area has a reputation for poverty and crime especially if you live out in the countryside where the risk of burglary is not inconsiderable. However there is a fair amount on money being invested in the area including public work in the town to improve facilities. Word is that it is up and coming.

Ceglia Messapica - The castle

Ceglia Messapica - The castle courtyard

Ceglia Massapica - Streets

What impressed me was the "suburbs". A typical arrangment for towns in the area is a historic centre on a hill top, full of characterful, winding, narrow lanes, surrounded by a ring of ugly, modern, concrete apartment blocks on the slopes. Here the streets surrounding the old city walls are, themselves, old and full of chararacter making for a more charming aspect.

Egnazia excavations and museum - over the years we have revisited this fascinating site many times. New areas are being uncovered including a very impressive set of public baths. The signage has improved as well with lots of explanatory boards, The museum has also been been given a makeover and now is less text heavy and more visual displays covering the evolution of the site.

Egnazia - forum

Alberobello - no pictures as we've been there so many times. It is a must see for first-timers to the area.

Polignano a Mare - a pretty port often featured in brochures for the area. Even in the dark it was worth breaking our journey to the aiport for an evening stroll.

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 15, 2016

The Other Place 03 - Stairway to Heaven

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Tuesday 15-November-2106.

Part of the olive harvest trip was inspecting the progress on the new apartment. Saverio and his team have really been cracking on. This visit was about all decision making for the bathroom layouts.

The door on the left below used to lead into a small loo and handbasin under the old terrace stairs which are now gone, demolished and rebuilt. The door on the right is new and will be the entrance to a new shower room making use of the space at the foot of the old terrace stairs.

The new stairs have a turn, instead of a landing, to keep the footprint small so it does not have to intrude into the living room. The original doorway into the old stairwell, where Mary is standing, will be blocked off.

The access to the terrace is greatly improved. The first half dozen steps used to be a wooden stepladder! Now it is a proper set of stairs. The concrete will be finished off with a layer of stone. Also the access is from the left hand side of the apartment which means if we ever let it on airbnb the guests will have their own access to the roof terrace whilst we will have the balcony on our side.

Pietro, our local liaison with the builders, and Mary considering shower room options.

The floor is lifted where the new shower room will be revealing the ready made plumbing. The soil pipe for the apartment is in the top left corner of the picture below where the bucket is. Plumbing is a key factor in an old building, you have to work with what is there and be able to connect to it from any new facilities.

The bedroom where the internal non-structural walls were knocked down now has new internal walls but relocated to give a viable sized bedroom and a second shower and loo. The drainage from that will have to be channeled across under the bedroom floor to connect up with the current main bathroom plumbing.

What was the main bathroom will have the bath removed and replaced with a washing machine and laundry sink turning it into a utility room whilst retaining the loo and bidet.

The kitchen corner has had the plaster stripped. the extra ten centimetres that frees up may well have a considerable impact on the number of standard units we can fit in without having to go the custom build route.

The balcony with work in progress and a boiler out of the ark. That is clearly going and will be re-sited in the wall near the kitchen with the added benefit of giving us a larger outside area.

A good visit with decisions made. We go back in January 2017 for the next round - kitchen design.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Jan Garbarek at the Royal Festival hall 2016

London. Sunday 13-November-2016

Another excellent concert from our favourite Norwegian saxophonist. The third time we have seen him at the RFH as part of the London Jazz Festival.

We got seats close to the stage but high up in a box. Not suitable for those suffering from vertigo but it did give us an excellent view of the stage and the performers.

It was a great concert, the most uptempo of his three jazz festival concerts that we have seen.

Sarah Chaplin of London Jazz News writes: "Now forty-odd years into his career, Garbarek is as close to perfection as it’s humanly possible to achieve, showing himself to be a master of silence as well as sound, of striking rhythmic figures as much as achingly beautiful phrases." Full review...

I'll go with that. It was a rare treat. He doesn't give that many concerts. It is well worth getting to see him if you can. His next UK date isn't until July 2017.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Winter Droving 2016

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. Saturday 12-November-2016.

Well that was much more fun than I was expecting. Not that I knew what I was expecting exactly.

We were in the Lake District for a week's walking, visiting our friends Kate and Nigel who have just moved into a little two-up, two-down in the centre of Penrith. Since their house is work-in-progress we stayed at the nearby Whitbarrow holiday village by trading in one of our timeshare weeks in the bank. When we were told about this event we extended our stay by one day in order to take it in.

First up was a three way competition between the young farmers, police and local bar staff including a tray-of-beer race, haybale relay race and an egg throwing competition. I've no idea who won but it was a bit of a larf.

Wandering around town there was lots of entertainment: various stalls, street theater, clog dancing, sword dancing, buskers and several live bands including The Windy Bottom Boys, Opera Anywhere and Mylittltebrother.

Rimski was a bizarre piano on wheels that lurched around scattering spectators while the Chaplin-esque pianist played and crooned a whimsical ditty.

Special mention for sheer silliness must also go to the Feminist Mouse Circus including a mouse called Germaine Gruyere.

Part of the deal was that attendees are invited to wear masks. I had a wild creature of the woods mask - actually it was made by nine-year-old Charlie, the son of a friend of a friend, out of a toy shop batman mask with bits of feather and fur stuck on. Mary wore a mask that belonged to her friend Christine, in her memory.

We donned our masks and went back out for the parade and festivities

The whole thing was very impressive with large, illuminated creatures. There were marching bands, revellers in costume and a candlelit parade. It was all suitably spectacular.

After supper at a local florist and part-time restaurant Green Wheat and Fika The last event of the night was a concert in the Arts Centre from Gypsy Hill.

After that we staggered off home having had a thoroughly entertaining day. Well done to all concerned.

More photos on Flickr:

Walks Around Ullswater 2016 Day 04 - Askham and Lowther Park

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. Saturday 12-November-2016.

Walks around Ullswater - Walk 9 Askham and Lowther Park.

We finished off the week with a short circular walk though woods and parkland.

Over the River Lowther.

Lowther Castle.

The River Lowther again - it was a circular walk!

This old door and mossy stones put me in mind of The Secret Garden.

We finished off with a visit to Stuart Broadhurst Ceramics where the man himself was fascinating on the topic throwing teapots - his specialism. I had to buy one, they are objects of beauty.

That was the end of a brilliant week's walking.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Walks Around Ullswater 2016 Day 03 - Brothers Water, Glenridding and Lantry's Tarn

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. Thursday 10-November-2016.

This day we decided to combine two walks from our map Walks round Ullswater: Walk 2 Brothers Water and Walk 3 Glenridding and Lantry's Tarn. 

Early on we met some free range chickens enjoying a rootle in the leaves.

It was a beautiful walk with vivid greens and browns and dappled sunshine.

More great views of Ullswater.

For most of the walk the sun shone. Walks don't get much better than this.

Towards the end the rain started to drizzle but to compensate provided us with a spectacular rainbow.

The two routes were joined up a lunch-time walk between the two circular walks.

Another great day's walking.