Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's 2016

London. Sunday 31-January-2016.

Last time we saw Mary Coughlan at Ronnie's she had dragged herself off her sick bed and was swigging Benylin. This time she was in good health and on top form. She positively bounced on stage to an energetic version of "Meet me where they play the blues". The first set continued in similar vein with superb music interspersed with anecdotes and background to the songs which added an extra layer of understanding to the lyrics.

This was the second time I had the pleasure of being able to show my ex-colleague Delton the best that London has to offer. The concert was sold out and returns were unlikely. We had four tickets but Sunday engineering works diverted one of our friends. Fortunately we were able to find a substitute at the last minute to Delton's delight and good fortune.

The second set was more of the same with Mary pogo-ing to the more upbeat songs. This was easily the best Mary Coughlan concert we have ever been to. Top evening :-)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Champagne Tasting at Ronnie Scott's

London. Wednesday 27-January-2016.

"Bit of a cock-up on the catering front". We turned up for a free champagne tasting at Upstairs at Ronnie's (courtesy of Mary's membership) to be told that there had been a mix up and the tasting was actually Thursday. We were invited in anyway for free champagne and nibbles on the house and asked if we would like to return the next day. "Yes please".

London. Thursday 28-January-2016.

This time all was in order for the champagne tasting proper presented by a champagne "ambassador" from the drinks company. They presented four champagnes:

  • Moet Imperial NV - one third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Dosage of 9 gm per litre.
  • Moet Rose NV - 10% red wine in the blend.
  • Veuve Clicquot Yellow label - 50/55% pinot meunier.
  • Veuve Clicquot Rose.

All full glasses, none of your tasting measures so it was a slightly boozy tasting.

We know all about the manufacturing process having done tours of a numbers of champagne houses over the years. However did I learn some interesting factiods about Madam Clicquot:

  • She invented the process of riddling whereby the bottles are rotated and tilted to get the yeast sediment to the neck for removal. 
  • She introduced the concepts of a vintage champagne - up then it had all been blended NV, as most still is.
  • She introduced the first rose champagne which, unlike most rose which is made by leaving the white grape juice briefly on the red skins, she made by blending red and white wines post-fermentation.

We had a pleasant chat with the neighbours at our table, on champagne, Italy and bands or artists we had seen. We then stayed on for food from the bar and live music. We stumbled home late. Dirty job but somebody has to do it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Burns Supper 2016 at 1 Lombard Street

London. 25-January-2016

We decided at the last minute to book a Burns supper and dragged along an ex-colleague, Delton, for his first experience of this ancient ritual (he is American). We all wore something tartan to get a free cocktail. The menu gave Delton an opportunity to try not just haggis, neeps and tatties but also cranachan.

The restaurant had booked a piper who was something of a character. He did several circuits of the restaurant followed by Burn's "Address to a Haggis".

We were lucky that our table was close the the spot chosen for the address. The piper gave a spirited rendition of the address complete with extravagant gestures, the pouring over of a wee dram and the plunging of the dirk into the haggis' gushing entrails. Afterwards there was a photo opportunity.

Following the meal there was an impromptu outbreak of Scottish country dancing - a Gay Gordans round the restaurant with more enthusiasm than skill from most of the participants. Well done to 1 Lombard Street for an excellent Burns Supper.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

21 Pints of Blood and Counting

 Thursday 21-January-16

I have been giving blood every 8 weeks for the last 2 years. A couple of years ago I volunteered for the Interval Study for blood donations:
"Between June 2012 and June 2014, the INTERVAL study recruited about 25,000 men and about 25,000 women at NHS Blood and Transplant (NSHBT) blood donation centres across England (to see locations click here).

During the study participants are asked to give blood either at usual donation intervals or more frequently. Men donate every 12, 10 or 8 weeks and women every 16, 14 or 12 weeks.

At the end of the study period, we will compare the amount of blood donated and measures of well-being in people asked to give blood at standard intervals versus those asked to give blood more frequently."
Of course I would be randomly allocated to the 8 week group which means regular visits to the West End Donor Centre. However I was given a breather for a couple of donations because we went to malaria-risk Zimbabwe which meant a six month quarantine period.

Today was the last official donation for the study but I will, naturally, continue to donate although maybe not as frequently. They took an extra "after" blood sample to compare with the original "before" sample. There will also be a questionnaire on my general health and well-being.

I have been giving blood intermittently since 1976 (not a typo that is forty years). Part way through the study I received a congratulatory letter for making 10 donations. Clearly w-a-y out as I was at least in the high teens if not twenties so I got in touch.

The Blood Transfusion records people managed to track down some old Farnborough donations in a previous system but going back to the early days it was probably paper-based records. They had no record of donations whilst I was working at Oxfordshire County Council, Sainsburys, Anglian Water and BT. In the end we agreed a compromise figure of 18. I settled for that as I don't want to overstate my record.

Let's see how long until I get my next badge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hedge Laying at Morden Hall Park

Morden Hall Park, London. Tuesday 12-January-2016

One of the joys of retiring is that I can do weekday volunteering. I learned of this opportunity via The Wandle Trust. The river passes through Morden Hall Park which is managed by The National Trust and they were looking for volunteers to do some hedge laying.

Apparently the purpose of the hedge is to discourage dogs being walked along the path from running into the wetland area and disturbing the habitat and birdlife.

These trees were planted several years ago and our mission was to turn them into a hedge.

The first step is to cut 75% through the trunk. It seemed a little drastic to me but apparently the outer layer is what transports the liquids up the tree and core is pretty much deadwood.

Having made the cut we bend the trunk over with much cracking and tearing. So as long as there is some outer trunk intact the hedge will continue to grow.

By lunch time we had a stretch of pretty rough and ready hedge and broke for lunch.

After lunch we headed for a stand of hazel trees to practice the ancient art of coppicing. We harvested a mixture of thick trunks for stakes and longer thin suckers for the runners.

The stakes are inserted every 18 inches in as near a straight line as we could.

Starting with three rods at the first post, we weave round the posts.

At the next post we introduced a new rod between the existing rods and weave that along. Rinse and repeat until we had done the entire stretch.

Finally the tops of the posts are tidied up to make them neater; easy with a chain saw.

A job well done and a most satisfactory day out.

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:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cleaning the Wandle January 2016

Trewint Street, Earlsfield. Sunday 10-January-2016

My first clean up for six months! We have been out of London every second Sunday since last July what with various trips at home and abroad. So it was nice to start the New Year being able to go to this clean up.

The start point was the bridge at the end of Trewint Street. Under the bridge was a weir and a fish ladder which were not obvious until you get down into the water.

The rubbish had to be hauled up the vertical banks using rope and grapple. This was a particularly recalcitrant bicycle that took some time and muscle power to haul out of the sludge.

This scooter was hauled out on a previous clean up. Because of the high walls we will leave it there until we have a clean up downstream when it will be dragged along to a more convenient exit point.

It is shallow here but upstream of the weir the water was up to the chest and the bottom was several feet of sludge. Scary to try and walk through so I shamelessly wimped out and hauled myself onto the bank and stayed there.

Last year was nicely summarised by an infographic from Polly, the clean up coordinator.

Clean ups 2015

  • 6.6 km of the Wandle
  • 33 tonnes of rubbish
  • 595 volunteers
  • 2241 hours


  • 13 mopeds
  • 3 safes
  • 255 tyres
  • 18 carpets
  • 21 traffic cones 
  • 13 bikes
  • 3 TV's
  • 4 mattresses
  • 12 trolleys
I must say that I am surprised that it wasn't more supermarket trolleys. Let's see what 2016 can produce.

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: