Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Road Trip 2018

Various locations. Thursday 20-December-2018 / Friday 28-December-2018.

This all started because it was our turn to visit Mary's mum. Plus we have a timeshare in Ambleside for the Christmas week. So we decided to pile everything into the car and drive to Scotland and back breaking our journey in various locations along the way.

Thu 20-Dec-18. Penrith.

First stop was in Penrith to visit our friends Kate and Nigel and their dog Eli. Had a nice meal with them and then joined their friends for a pub quiz. We got the hang of the pub but not necessarily the quiz. We did not win.

Next morning it was a short transfer to Ambleside for a stroll round the town, a pint in one pub and a meal in another.

Fri 21-Dec-18. Ambleside.

Lunch with Mary's Uncle Ronnie and Avril at The Gateway Inn.

Sat 22-Dec-18. Ambleside.

We joined up parts of two different walks to give ourselves a good long yomp.

Time: 5:53:03. Distance 14.00 km. Calories burned: 1,833. Pace: 25:13 min/km. Elevation gain: 914m.

Morning view back down the valley.

Curious local.

Babbling brook.

Then near the top the mists came down and the temperature dropped and we lost the path. It was a bit scary for 20 minutes or so as we blundered about trying to find any path - they split and recombined around the peak. My fingers were frozen and it is hard to work a GPS device when you can't feel anything. Eventually we found our way back to one of the paths on the downward slope. Much relief!

Heading back down, panic over.

That'll be hills then.

That evening after a soak in the bath it was out for a meal at the Drunken Duck.

Sun 23-Dec-18. Ambleside.

A bit of gentle shopping in Ambleside after the exertions of the day before and evening Meal at Rothay Manor.

Mon 24-Dec-18. Irvine.

Monday we drove up to Mary's mum's where we cooked her lunch and then went back to the Gailes Hotel to relax. We dined in by ourselves at the hotel. Only in Scotland would you find Haggis Pakora on the menu. A new kind of fusion cuisine: Indo-Caledonian. As wikipedia drily quotes: "Haggis pakoras have become popular appetizers in Indian restaurants in Scotland, where they appeal to the national predilection for deep-fried food."

Tue 25-Dec-18. Irvine.

We went round to May's for present opening then brought her back for Christmas lunch in the hotel. After lunch we sent her home by taxi.

Wed 26-Dec-18. Ambleside.

Boxing day morning we, again, cooked lunch for May then headed back to Ambleside for timeshare part 2.

Thu 27-Dec-18. Ambleside.

The day's walk was a gentle stroll to Grasmere for lunch and back via the coffin route and Rydal.

Time: 1:54:59. Distance 8.52 km. Calories burned: 665. Pace: 13:30 min/km. Elevation gain: 225m.

Lovely textures of granite, pebbles and leaves.

Gnarly tree roots.

Time: 1:25:05. Distance 6.56 km. Calories burned: 513. Pace: 12:58 min/km. Elevation gain: 119m.

Proper woods - mixed deciduous, none of this Forestry Commission pine mono-culture plantations.

Grasmere shoreline.

Grasmere shoreline panorama.

The other end of the coffin route, coffins used to do it in the reverse direction.

The evening meal was at The Old Stamp House Restaurant, formerly the work place of Wordsworth. No a la carte menu, only one tasting menu from which you could choose the 5 or 7 course version. We, of course, went for the max with matching flight of wines to match. Delicious.

Fri 28-Dec-18. London.

And back to London for a couple of days to swap the contents of the suitcases and two meals out with friends over the next two days just to keep the over-indulgence theme going.

Ready for the next road trip...

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Cardigans at the Hammersmith Apollo

London. Friday 07-December-2018.

A full on Swedish programme. The Cardigans celebrating 20 years since the release of Gran Turismo supported by two more Swedish bands, Jenny Wilson and Moto Boy

The support acts were good and with almost Swiss efficiency came on at the appointed time and played for their allotted half hour. I think every Swede in London was in the audience.

We listen to the album Long Gone Before Daylight which Mary plays on a regular basis and almost every time I ask "Who are we listening to?" So curiously familiar and yet unknown. The Cardigans set was them playing the complete Gran Turismo album including the excellent single "Erase/Rewind".

Renowned for Sound write:
"Perrson and her band emerged a little after 9pm and set out to deliver a masterful performance of a truly iconic record with the eerie Paralyzed washing over the venue and transporting us back to the bands heyday before first major single offering, Erase/Rewind had the crowd dancing and belting along with the Swedish hit-makers.
The Cardigans aren’t a band who tour very frequently so the opportunity to see such a 90’s staple is truly amazing. To see the band perform their most successful record and one that helped shape the face of 90’s pop/rock takes things to a whole new level. Each track was performed with expert precision and true to its original form making Friday nights performances a truly magical experience for a Cardigans fan." Full review...
All this preceded by an excellent meal at The Dartmouth Castle gastro pub. Top notch evening.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Dellee Dube at the Royal Albert Hall

London. Friday 30-November-2018.

Part of the late night jazz series in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall.

This was a bit of a gamble as we knew nothing of this lady but we thought we’d give it a go. The plan was simple: nice meal in the Verdi restaurant followed by cabaret style relaxing in the Elgar room.

The meal was excellent and then we repaired to the Elgar room to take our seats. Deelee and band were fine musicians but rather too easy listening, dinner jazz style for our taste.

Due to the hecticness of the previous week we found ourselves “resting our eyes”. So when Deelee took a break between sets we decided we were too tired and tiptoed out leaving our seats for our neighbours to move forward to a better vantage point. Sorry, Deelee!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lucky Peterson at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Wednesday 28-November-2018.

We first saw Lucky Peterson earlier this year at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2018. When his name came up on the Ronnie's mailing list we were right there.

Lucky Peterson at Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2018 

We went with another couple, Suzanne, who Mary had met at a fitness Boot Camp, and her husband James. It turns out they are respected, published authors on the topic of requirements management, a methodology area of expertise we share, me having spent many years on structured methods for IT development. We didn’t talk shop fascinating though I’m sure it would’ve been. Instead we had an excellent evening of music.

Once again Ronnie's introduced us to an superb support act that we had never heard of and that we were greatly impressed by. In this case Martin Harley a singer-songwriter who plays Weissenborn lap slide guitar. As well as playing some excellent blues he also had a wickedly dry sense of humour. Fortunately his album Live at Union Chapel was available on vinyl as well as CD so we snapped them up at the interval.

As luck would have it he is appearing at the great British rock and blues festival in Skegness later this month, whichwe have tickets for, so we will get to see him all over again.

On to the main act and Lucky Peterson did not disappoint. He was as excellent as last time and, in the more intimate venue of Ronnie Scotts, you get to see the man close up and personal. Good stuff.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Adventures in Odissi and Kathak - Darbar Festival at Sadler's Wells

London. Sunday 25-November-2018.

The second of two visits to Sadlers Wells and the second "compare and contrast" event (see Rambert and Rambert2). This time East and Odissi vs. Kathak.

The first act was Odissi which is very much what I image when I think of Indian dance. The hand gestures and arm poses are very crisp and precise. I was put in mind of Madonna's Vogue: "Don't just stand there, let's get to it, Strike a pose, there's nothing to it". The body moved in similarly stylised ways.

After the interval Kathak was very different: the hands are very fluid, the arms curved and is in motion; the body is continuously whirling motion reminiscent of Flamenco.

The third part was introduced by Akram Kahn who curated the festival's dance content. This segment was a fascinating duet not only of the two solo dancers but also both sets of musicians. Many of the movements were shared but done in such different styles.

An interesting review at Young Talent:
My favourite part of the show was the final piece at the end, when both the Odissi and Kathak musicians and dancers came on stage to perform a joint piece. The dancers duet was so beautiful, it was truly amazing to watch both dance styles side by side and how they really complemented each other." Full Review...
A view shared by Asian Culture Vulture:
Seeing two such distinct styles complimenting each other with such harmony showed just how different the two art forms are, while reinforcing why they are so precious. Full review...
All in all a fascinating and enjoyable evening.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Macy Gray at Ronnie Scott's

London. Saturday 10-November-2018.

A contrasting pair of of performances, a cheerful and enthusiastic support act and a slick, professional but dour main act.

Being booked for the first house we get a support act. This is Ronnie's opportunity to introduce us to bands we may not otherwise have heard of, in this case the excellent Braxton Cook, a young saxophonist, and his band.

In marked contrast to the Macy Gray he was clearly thrilled to be appearing at the legendary Ronnie Scott's. He smiled, he chatted, he introduced himself and the songs, giving a little background to each number. Sure the music should speak for itself but some context adds to the enjoyment.

In the interval I rushed out to reception but there were no CD's on sale, Fortunately his manager came to the rescue and produced a pile. I thought cash from physical sales at gigs was an important source of revenue for all but the biggest artists. The few thousandths of a cent per stream that Spotify pay won't cover the mortgage. We have listened to the CD several times now with great pleasure - well done Ronnie's for a great support act!

And then we have Macy Gray.  She came on 25 minutes late. With only 1 hour 15 minutes for the set and a second house to follow I was not impressed. Any band should be set up, sound checked and ready to roll at the appointed time. To be fair they did finish late so we got our allotted time but that might have given the house a rushed changeover to prepare for the second house.

The music was superb but the chat was minimal and a smile would have helped.

The reviewer at The House that Soul Built writes:
"‘All the crazy bitches say “yeah”!’ A thoroughly packed audience whooped and hollered to Ms Macy Gray’s encouragement. However, I’m sure Gray wouldn’t be offended by the suggestion that she was probably the craziest presence at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club last night. And it’s a craziness and peculiarity she’s always embraced. She’s had no choice but to with that shredded, breathy, and frankly quite odd voice of hers. [...] Armed with a fully-decked band including two backing vocalists (clad in feathery red dresses and purple wigs), Gray delivered a set balanced between her greatest hits and her new material." Full review...
So that was nice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Rambert and Rambert2 at Sadlers Wells

London. Wednesday 07-November-2018.

The first of two visits to Sadler's Wells. An unintentional exercise in nested contrasts both between and within the two shows. This performance West / youth vs. experience, and East / Odissi vs. Kathak.

The Evening Standard was not entirely convinced: Rambert - Two review: A study in endurance, but not for the dancers. 3 out of 5 stars.
Rambert’s mixed bill is a study in endurance and determination — and we’re not talking about the dancers. The first chance for London to meet the company’s new junior troupe, Rambert2, made up of fledgling professionals aged 19 to 25 [...]
The night ends with its weakest work, Killer Pig, a long, preening piece by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, which hurts the ears and tries the patience. [...] An interesting, if flawed night. Full review...
The Guardian was more enthusiastic: Rambert: Two review – spiky, sassy dancers seize the stage. 4 out of 5 stars. Rambert showcases its new sister company in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s knockout Killer Pig, plus work by Benoit Swan Pouffer and Rafael Bonachela Lyndsey Winship
Rambert proper perform Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, in its last run before being retired from the rep. The 1981 work - a tribute to the disappeared of Pinochet’s Chile – seems like an odd programme choice, quaint by comparison, with its painted backdrop, melodic score and theatricality, but compellingly crafted choreography doesn’t date and neither does divine dancing. [...] 
In Killer Pig, by Sharon Eyal with Gai Behar, this aggression and the sheer volume at its climax becomes stressful. But that brazen intensity is part of its power and it’s the standout work. Part club, part catwalk, there’s spikiness and sass. [...] It’s exactly the kind of work a young company like Rambert2 should be doing: edgy, cool, challenging, excellent. Full review...
You pays your money and you takes your choice.

For me a lot of modern dance is a bit like a Rorschach test. I do not necessarily know what is going on, what the choreographer is trying to say, so I watch and let my mind roam where it will.

Rambert2 BBC London news piece - Nov 2018:

I will leave the final word with the Telegraph: "An impressively danced but oddly programmed evening, then, one that seems to suggest an effervescently creative past and a tediously one-note future – a bizarrely undesirable mission statement. The evening is far from a failure, but those 13 bright young things deserved a fairer choreographic wind on their maiden voyage. " Full review...

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Chucho Valdes at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Sunday 04-November-2018.

The joys of being a member and getting advance notice. Mary was able to get tickets for this show before they sold out. We went with our friend Kath and had booked superior seats. Being regulars we knew to ask for the corner seat so that, after eating, we could shuffle round and all see comfortably without one of us having to swivel their head like an owl.

It being a Sunday we get no support act and two sets from the main artist which was a real treat. Couldn't find any reviews of this particular concert but he had a week's residency at Ronnie's three years ago which says it all:

Chucho Valdes/Irakere review – a Cuban hurricane of brass and bata
4 out of 5 stars. Ronnie Scott’s, London
The Cuban masters delivered a vibrant set that mixed intense big-band jazz, funk, rock, ritual percussion and vocals. John Fordham writes in the Guardian:
"Now celebrating their 40th anniversary under the brilliant pianist Chucho Valdes’s continuing leadership, Irakere are a hurricane where the Buena Vistas were a summer breeze. They launched a week’s residency at Ronnie Scott’s club on Monday with the elated parade of big-band jazz, funk, rock, classical music, and African-rooted ritual percussion and vocals that have been their trademark from the start." Full review...
Mary says he's one of the best pianists we've seen. It is amazing how different the same piano sounds with different players at the keyboard. Although I cannot but help but think that the sound engineer might have a contribution there as well.

It was fascinating watching the drummer use a whole variety of weird percussion instruments to conjure up a soundscape but it did occur to me that the pull of the visual perturbed the musical balance. Listening with my eyes closed I got a better sense of the total arrangement.

Excellent stuff.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Walking in the Lake District 2018 - Day 2

Coniston, Cumbria, UK. Friday 02-November-2018.

This was a much longer walk than the last but not as hilly, a circumambulation of Coniston Water.

25.41 km Distance 5:24:36 Time 12:46 min/km Avg Pace 371 m Elev Gain 1,886 C Calories

The weather couldn't make up its mind if it was sunny or overcast so we got a mixture of blue sky, cloud and rain.

A field of alpacas was a bit of a surprise after all the sheep.

Lovely autumnal walking. The outbound leg followed the Cumbria national trail first along the lake shore then headed up the slope of the hills and looked down on the lake.

A sizeable flock of Canada geese. In London parks they are a pest, they eat all the grass, crap all over the place and intimidate the other birds. Here I would hope they are less of an issue with more space to spread about in.

The return leg up the Eastern shore dropped back down to the shoreline.

We passed Brantwood - once the home of John Ruskin, a leading Victorian art critic.

Autumn berries.

As it was getting late and dusk was falling we avoided the high path back and came along the road. instead. Almost back to base, to compensate for the drizzle we got a rainbow.

Back to Coniston for a quick beer in the Crown Inn and then a drive home to the hotel for a long soak in the bath and a glass of champagne.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary

Windermere, Cumbria, UK. Tuesday 30-October-2018.

We always do something on our wedding anniversary for just the two of us. This year we wanted something special so we chose a luxury county house hotel - the Holbeck Ghyll just outside Windermere in the Lake District.

The view from our bedroom window:

It was set in wooded grounds rich in autumnal colours.

Mary bought an Alexander McQueen dress for our 20th celebration - a trip on the Orient Express - London to Venice. With great self control she has been dieting and exercising to ensure that she could get back into it for our 25th.

Back in 2006 we attended a BBR champagne school as a result of which we bought half a dozen bottles of Pol Roger Winston Churchill 1996 which we are gradually working our way through on special occasions. None more so this this. There was no mini bar in the hotel, fortunately the window sill outside was cold enough to keep it chilled for our pre-dinner aperitif.

When we got married we were two households alike in gadgetry. We had no need of electrical appliances or toast racks; our wedding list included luxuries such as bottles of Chateau Lynch Bages 1989 - the year we met. Our friends could buy as few or as many as they chose; we got up to ten so we bought the last two to complete the case. Like the champagne, we are working our way gradually through them.

The hotel was going to charge a large corkage fee but given the current list price of the wine it was worth paying (fortunately in the end they didn't charge it). We took the bottle down a few hours in advance for the sommelier to decant and allow it to breath.

The meal was excellent and the wine was superb. Celebration unlocked!

Walking in the Lake District 2018 - Day 1

Ambleside, Cumbria, UK. Tuesday 30-October-2018.

Today was our 25th wedding anniversary but instead of relaxing we went for a walk. A repeat of the walk we did in 2012 but this time with better navigation. Before lunch was a walk into Ambleside, up to Wansfell Pike (482m) and then across the moors to The Mortal Man at Troutbeck for a pub lunch.

Distance 10.92 km, Time 2:43:40, Avg Pace 14:59 min/km, Elev Gain 398 m, Calories 1,089 C.

Mostly sunny.

Autumnal colours.

View of Windermere.

More views.

Starting to look a bit murky but it passed.

Wansfell Pike 1.

Wansfell Pike 2.

After lunch we only had a short, mostly downhill, walk home. Carefully planned that way, beer has a way of demotivating the legs.

Distance 3.92 km, Time 47:33, Avg Pace 12:08 min/km, Elev Gain 101 m, 416 Calories C.

View over Windermere.

Back at the hotel...

...for a siesta and getting ready for the celebration meal that evening.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Winter Droving 2018

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. Saturday 27-October-2018.

This is our third Winter Droving festival [2016, 2017]. When we realised that it was the weekend before our wedding anniversary it was an ideal opportunity to organise Lake District double-header. Mary's sister and brother-in-law, having heard all about it from us, decided to join us this year.

A packed programme of live music, craft stall, street food and a candle lit procession.

I didn't think any of the bands were professionals but what they lacked in slickness they made up for enthusiasm and talent. It was great to see such grass roots music.

This group fronted by three female drummers had an almost had a punk ethic to it. "Let's form a band, dress up in fancy dress and bash out some music". On further listening it became apparent that these were well rehearsed numbers and all done with smiles on their faces, clearly having a good time.

Eliza Gutteridge is semi-professional and has appeared on The Voice. Mid-set a couple of mobile buskers passed through including this mobile piano.

Then time for some street food from the Jamaican stall: Jerk chicken and festivals (a fried dumpling).

It was time for the Drovers' Cup, a four-part event with four teams competing: firemen, farmers, bar staff and locals. First was the egg throwing with the firemen showing some serious motor control and catching skills; they had clearly been practising.

Second section was the day of beer relay race. They substituted fruit squash this year to reduce the spillage of good beer. Again the firemen won.

The next was another relay race, this time with bales of hay and sacks of potatoes as befits a rural themed festival.

The last leg was Cumberland sausage eating. Four sausages and two members from each team. The thought of sausages determined our menu planning for the following evening - sausage, mash and onion gravy.

At this point it was time for a wander round the stalls and then to Dockray Hall for beer and supper with our hosts and other friends. A few held the table whilst the rest of us went out for the parade. Flaming torches - but no pitchforks.


Howling Wolf.




Wild boar.

Then it was back to Dockray Hall for more beer to round off the evening.