Sunday, October 30, 2016

Van Morrison and Jeff Beck at The O2

"London. Sunday 30-October-2016.

Once again Van Morrison's appearance at the BluesFest has coincided with our wedding anniversary, this year our 23rd. This time a double bill with Jeff Beck who we also last saw at The O2 back in 2010, then in concert with Eric Clapton.

So we preceded the concert with very nice meal at Gaucho and consequently felt suitably mellow as we took our seats.

Jeff Beck was up first and was excellent followed by Van The Man. Having seen Van Morrison many times (we think this is the eighth) we have never been disappointed. I particularly liked Moondance which he did in preference to Brown Eyed Girl which I have never been that fond of.

It was very different seeing him from way back in the O2 where you had to rely on the big screens as opposed to smaller venues where you can see him directly. The music is the same but the experience isn't quite the same. That aside it was a good concert, both The Evening Standard and The Upcoming gave it four stars.

Sarah Bradbury, The Upcoming: "What better way to end a packed weekend of blues, rock and soul than with two British masters of their craft: Jeff Beck and Van Morrison. [...] The Northern Irish songwriter may have failed to get his Sunday night crowd up and dancing but he proved his transcendental style and sublimely soulful voice still have much to offer with this masterclass in blues." Full review...

A great way to end the BluesFest and celebrate 23 year of marriage.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bill Wyman and The Rhythm Kings at Indigo at the O2

London. Friday 28-October-2016.

The first of two visits to the BluesFest at the O2, this in the smaller venue that is the Indigo.

The show was billed as an 80th birthday gala for Bill Wyman with a host of guests.  The first dozen or so rows were clearly marked off for VIP tickets or invited guests. We had excellent seats in the middle of the second row of the bookable seats.

The general format was each guest came on for two or three songs. Behind the stage the screen showed images of the original artist and the original 45. Almost without exception the originals were black artists which shows the depth of gratitude rhythm and blues, soul, and rock'n'roll owes to African American musicians.

Joe Brown was the first guest introduced by Bill. It was entertaining to see a real rock'n'roll survivor. He's a bit like Cliff Richard, wholesome and aged very well. Nice man.

Joe Brown

Mark Knopfler joined Joe Brown. Boy can he play guitar! The genius behind Dire Straights. His guitar playing made it look so effortless, fluid, unmistakeable. Loved it.

We were due to see Van Morrison two days later on the Sunday so this was a bonus. He was on good form.

Van Morrison

Robert Plant was one of the highlights amongst the guests - never thought I'd tick him off my bucket list. More than slightly surreal to hear him singing Let the Boogie Woogie Roll.

Robert Plant

Bob Geldof gave a speech in praise on Bill. Very touching and clearly heartfelt, the man's OK but many commenters on Bill's FaceBook page seemed to think it's ok to be rude about him, I don't hold with that.

The full list of guests. These were mostly golden oldies.
  • Joe Brown.
  • Molly Marriott - daughter of Steve Marriott.
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Andy Fairweather-Low
  • Van Morrison
  • Martin Taylor
  • Holly Stephenson
  • Bob Geldof
  • Little Steven
  • Mick Hucknall
  • Mike Sanchez
  • Imelda May
  • Robert Plant

The Telegraph gave this gig five stars and well they might, it was a superb night.
"The stage may have been filled by bald heads, grey hair and wrinkles, but close your eyes and that dirty blues remained as thrilling as ever. Great music is not just timeless, it effectively suspends time. And this was a night of really great music, played with love and style by masters of the art.

The vintage stars came out for Wyman’s 80th Birthday Gala at the O2 Indigo in London, as part of the Bluesfest. Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Mick Hucknall, Imelda May and Joe Brown all joined the Rhythm Kings for slick, rich, heartfelt runs through blues and soul classics." Full review...
Cracking evening.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

There will be beer

It was a couple of very beery days.

Thursday 27-October-2016:

Meet the brewer. We went to our local (The County Arms) for supper and, unbeknownst to us, Wimbledon Brewery were there for a "Meet the Brewer" event. They came round and gave us tasting samples of three of their beers: Common Pale Ale, Tower Special Pale Ale and Phoenix Smoked Porter. The pale ales are low ABV, session beers, and an interesting business decision to contrast with another local brewery, Sambrook's, whose range is by-and-large much higher in alcohol.

Wandsworth Common Beer Festival. After supper a short stroll round the corner to Le Gothique for a serious beer festival. Not knowing what to expect I was amazed at the massive selection of beers. Mary and I drank halves so we were able to try five beers apiece.

Box Steam - Chuffing Ale (bitter)Bradford Brewery - Farmers Stout
Downton - Honey Blonde (golden ale)Downton - Chocolate Orange (dark ale)
Peerless - True Brit (English IPA)Downton - Roman Imperial Stout
Dynamite Valley - Prospector (wheat beer)Isle of Avalon - Pomparles Porter
Mad Dog - Its All Propaganda (black IPA) Sarah Hughes Brewery - Snowflake (Barley wine style)

The two extremes for me were both from Downton - the Roman Imperial Stout at 9% was a seriously delicious, heavy duty tipple best followed by a siesta; the Chocolate Orange was described in the catalogue as "consistently one of the most popular beers at every festival", personally I thought it was disgusting, after a few mouthfuls I poured it away on the gravel and moved on to something more palatable.

Mary enjoyed all of hers except for the black IPA which seemed a bit too bitter after a few mouthfuls.

Friday 28-October-2016:

Young's Winter Warmer Launch. Tipped off by our beer aficionado friend, Tony, we went to The White Cross in Richmond for the official launch of this season's Winter Warmer. The deal was a full English breakfast and two pints of beer accompanied by live music.

We could have had a ride on the dray but we concentrated on eating and drinking instead.

Meantime Pop-Up Bar. The main event was a concert to celebrate Bill Wyman's 80th birthday as part of the Blues fest. We started the evening with a visit to Meantime's special beer pop-up bar. It was, our barman claimed, the smallest bar in the UK; it was a shed with seating for two and a couple standing.

The master brewer had developed six beers for six cities. This being London they were serving "Luminor" British style pale ale designed for the great metropolis.

As a souvenir we both got personalised bottles of pale ale.

At the concert Mary drank Brewdog's Dead Pony Club while I switched to red wine having had enough beer.

A very interesting range of beers and experiences.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon 2016

London, England. Sunday 09-October-2016.

Having stopped work I was no longer cycling to work so I'd thought I'd try this running malarkey.

I thought "How hard can it be to run a marathon. Tens of thousands of people do it every year. I could do that!" Mary wisely counseled to try running a half marathon and see how that goes.

I have friends who used an app to get from Couch to 5k over several months. I went for my first run in February and did 2 miles. Two days later, for my second run, I did 5k. Feeling smug I then did ten more 5k runs over the next six weeks.

Encouraged I decided I would give the half marathon a go. I googled and found the Royal Parks Half Marathon in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, signed up and downloaded the training plan. Kept quiet about it for a couple of months until I had done some longer distances and decided that I might actually be able to do it. Only then did I go public. Raising money for Prostate Cancer UK via my fund raising page:

Some people are motivated by pursuit of pleasure, some by avoidance of pain; you're a stick person or a carrot person. Some people relish a challenge, that's for gung-ho "pursuit of pleasure" types. To me "Challenge" means pain, discomfort, danger. Why would anyone actively seek out a "Challenge"? I am the "avoidance of pain" type. In this case the pain of public shame and humiliation if I failed to to complete the course. That is why I waited until late August when I was up to 12.9km before admitting to FaceBook about my half marathon and fear provided the spur for training.

I followed the training plan in spirit rather than to the letter. Two runs per week, one short, one long. Every couple of weeks extending the long run by another circuit of Wandsworth Common. Each additional circuit adds another 2.7km including the little dimple round the duck pond that is Bolingbroke Stock Pond. By the end I was going six times round the common. In total I did 49 training runs over 8 months totalling 360km.

In all those runs my speed did not improve, although my stamina did. My pace in September was no faster than it was at the start back in February. This consistency enabled me to predict a race time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 50 seconds. The plot of time vs distance is a pretty good straight line.

The training runs I did in Italy were generally shorter and harder work. The country lanes were like an M C Escher staircase - they were uphill all the way round. How is that even possible?

The Royals Parks Foundation offered a training workshop which I found very useful. Sessions on nutrition and hydration, and pacing followed by a yoga class. It was there I learned about the existance of pace runners - being as this is my first ever charity run I was unaware of this support. Given my pace consistency this was greatly reassuring - I would find the 2:15 guy and stick with him. On the day that is exactly what I did.

Off we went and I plodded round with Mr 2:15. He had dozens of followers at the start. By the end we were down to a handful although I'm not sure if they ran ahead or dropped behind - I'm guessing the latter.

Running down Serpentine Road with Wellington Arch in the background.

Down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace with Admiralty Arch behind me.

Still smiling.

This is me at the 8.5 mile mark passing the Prostate Cancer UK cheering station and feeling fine.

Crossing the finishing line.

Map My Ride gave my time as 02:14:52 which matches the official chip time. So close to my predicted time that I laughed out loud and felt very smug indeed.

Looking at the splits I am a human metronome, less than a minute between average and actual all the way through except the first. The only reason the first one is fast is because I had to catch up to the 2:15 pace runner who had worked his way forward in the queue while we were waiting to start.


They don't publish the age-related positions so I cannot tell how I did against my peers. Not that it matters, my only plan was to cross the finish line before they started to dismantle it. I ran all the way and felt absolutely fine at the end. All the training clearly paid off. No after effects to speak of.


What I have learned is that I don't enjoy running. I just don't get it, cannot see the attraction. It's like being a hamster in a cage. Part of it, I think, is that I do not get a runners' rush or endorphin high. For the first five minutes after a run my breathing and heart rate subside to normal. Then I spontaneously combust and for the next five minutes sweat pours out of every pore, salt water stings my eyes. After that I feel calm which I have attributed to relief that the run is over. Certainly doesn't feel like a natural high and if that is it then it is so imperceptible as to not be worth the effort.

All that is irrelevant as it was about raising money for Prostate Cancer UK via my fund raising page: Please join my generous friends and sponsor me.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Other Place 02 - The Building

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy.

The new apartment building forms one corner of the old town walls which dates it to some time in the 1600's is a best guess from our builder. It is on the corner of Corso Umberto I which is L-shaped, one half of which is pedestrianised.

It is clear looking from the outside that it spans three separate buildings. That explains the different ceilings, the different roofs and the low doors that must have been hacked through from one building to the next.

The stairs from the street come up in the middle of the apartment. The first (left hand) part is the living room and bedroom, above an apartment which is above a seamstress. The room immediately to the right is the kitchen / dining room above the another part of the first floor apartment which is above an archway into the old town. The far right hand part is the subdivided room with a terrazzo and will be another bedroom.

The aerial view makes it clear with the grey roof on the corner covering the rooms on the left side, then first red tiled roof and then the red one next to it wth terrace. The grey roof is currently undulating because of the barrel-vaulted ceilings below but we are getting part of that levelled for a roof top terrace.

The roof has a stunning 360 degree view over the town roofscape to the Itria valley and the sea beyond.

This is the view from the top of Via Regina Margherita showing our neighbour's balcony below. You can see the exterior will need some work - re-pointing and whitewashing.

This is the view of the back showing the old town gate with our kitchen-diner above, again some repointing and repainting is in order. To the left of that is the terrazzo that adjoins the bedroom and overlooks the alley.

Next up we demolish the recently added internal walls in the bedroom and work out how to make best use of the space...

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Other Place 01 - The Back Story

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 01-October-2016.

It is exactly one month to the day that we exchanged on the purchase of our latest home. We have not yet given it a name so its working title is "The Other Place" until we can think of a more appropriate moniker.

Our current apartment in Cisternino is small but perfectly formed. It is a one room apartment with limited storage which is fine when we spend six weeks a year here but with the plan to spend six months here we need more living space.

We have a takeaway pizza place on the ground floor directly under our feet providing unwanted underfloor heating through the summer. The dream was to buy the place and convert it into a bedroom with en-suite bathroom and kitchen corner. For that dream to come true three things would have had to happen. The pizza place had to go out of business, the owner had to be prepared to sell and he had to ask a sensible price.

On our visit in July the first happened, we bumped into the pizza guy working in the nearest bar as the business had folded. We put out discrete feelers to discover that the owner would rather rent for the income. Then later that he might sell for a price that was 50% above the going rate. Had he sussed that we were the interested parties? Anyway we were not prepared to be ripped off so decided to let him stew.

In the meantime we started to investigate alternatives in the old town, either for ourselves or for our friends Grant and Helen who loved our apartment and could be tempted to buy a holiday home in Cisternino if one like ours came up.

After several interesting viewings in the old town we saw "The Other Place" a four room apartment on the second floor in the old town. Three times the size of Sotto-Le-Stelle and not much more expensive. We gave Grant and Helen the details but they passed. It was too good a bargain to pass up. In the end we made an offer which was declined, we split the difference and sealed the deal.

This is what will be the kitchen and dining room with a star vaulted stone ceiling under the plaster.

The living room with barrel vaulted ceiling.

The view from one of the bedrooms down Via Regina Margherita.

The plan of the building as it is today. The room at the top of the plan has been subdivided with internal walls. They will be the first to go.

We came back a month later to complete the purchase and pick up the keys. We originally thought of it as a buy-to-let investment but then realised that the extra space made it an idea home for us. So we decided to move and in future Sotto-Le-Stelle will be let as a holiday apartment.

More about the place in the next post...