Monday, October 14, 2019

The Real Ale Train at The Watercress Line

Alresford, Hampshire. Saturday 21-September-2019.

The birthday treats continued with a journey aboard the RAT: the Real Ale Train on the Watercress Line. The journey begins at Alresford and shuttles back and forth to Medstead and Four Marks several times with the train swapping ends each trip.

All the stations and rolling stock are done in original, period style as are the staff (volunteers) who are clearly having a good time.


First order of the day, get a round in with our friends Gavin and Tania.


The platform at Alresford; all very "Brief Encounter".


The locomotive coming in for the first leg.


Medstead at the end of the first leg. The station master doing his best skinny "Fat Controller" impression.


Swapping ends at Medstead.


The loco in motion.


Reattaching at the other end for the first return leg.


The bar: four barrels of cask-conditioned ale. Alas I cannot tell you their names but I do remember they were all modest strength, around 3.8 ABV, suitable for full evening's drinking.


Supper was a basic selection at the station buffet back at Alresford: chicken jalfrezi, cheeseburger, chilli con carne and a couple of other choices. All clearly, freshly home made and tasty but they were ultra-restrained on the chilli powder and could have easily upped the heat to some advantage.

 An interior of one of the open carriages.


After several hours and several pints we staggered off home having had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Ian McKellen On Stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre

London. Friday 20-September-2019.

A birthday treat for me was a trip to the theatre to see "Ian McKellen On Stage". It was preceded by a really excellent, pre-theatre supper at a Greek fish restaurant Estiatorio Milos, "one of the finest Mediterranean seafood restaurants in the world" [OpenTable].

"Ian McKellen On Stage" was, unsurprisingly, a one man show and it delivered exactly what you would hope and expect: a combination of speeches, recitations, reminiscences and general banter. The first half started with a reading from LOTR complete with the sword Glamdring and Gandalf's hat.


He continued with more readings and biographical reminiscences. His first job after college was at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry where, amongst other roles, he performed in Toad of Toad Hall.

The first theatre production I ever saw was that very same Toad of Toad Hall at the Belgrade Theatre. At the tender age of nine I was taken by my parents, along with my siblings, to this Christmas show. I now know that the part of Chief Weasel was played by a young Sir Ian.

The second half was based on the complete works of Shakespeare using the plays as prompts to anecdotes from his long career.

All through there were lots of jokes and laughs to be had including a slapstick Widow Twanky sketch.

Heather Neil in The I gives it 5 stars: Ian McKellen on Stage, Harold Pinter Theatre, review: crowd-pleasing entertainment of the highest calibre.
"Reviewing Ian McKellen on Stage is, in one sense, like appraising Mount Everest: he is a phenomenon. In another sense, Sir Ian is not like that at all, going out of his way to be available to the adoring patrons filling the theatre, apparently enjoying every minute of up to three hours, from a jokey Gandalf-geared beginning to shaking a collecting bucket at the door as the audience leave. Apparently indefatigable, he can even be found chatting to punters in the stalls during the interval." Full review...
As does Mark Shenton writing for The Stage:
"An unadulterated love letter to the theatre, to the actor's life and the prose and poetry that fuel both, Ian McKellen's latest one-man show is a thing of sheer joy and utter wonder: an act of selfless generosity and warmth in every regard. [...] McKellen is a consummate stage actor, able to speak directly and intimately to every single person listening to his rapt delivery of this rich language." Full review...
On the way out as Sir Ian himself was shaking the charity bucket. As I dropped in our contribution I told him that Toad of Toad Hall was the first time I ever went to the theatre. When I confirmed that it was, indeed, at the Belgrade he shook my hand and said "Good Man!" So that was nice.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Benson Row - 06

Penith, Cumbria, UK. September 2019.

The Penrith money pit is getting deeper and we are still digging! We might as well replace the boiler while we are at it. And put in underfloor heating. And straighten the bathroom wall to take out an awkward kink in the front bedroom. And strengthen the kitchen beam so the bedroom floor doesn’t bounce. And close up the old kitchen door to brace the end wall of the house. And put in steel rods to strengthen the cracked side wall of the house, which is also getting repointed. And the stopcock needs replacing. And the guttering that overhangs the neighbour. And we might as well run a couple of Ethernet cables to the back of the house while the electrician is in. And... and...

The kitchen units will be a full U-shaped taking up the entire three sides. We chose to put in underfloor heating because there will be no walls to which we could attach a radiator.


Cement going down. Once it has cured, this will be followed by self-levelling screed to take out the undulations. Then an "engineered" oak floor.


While admiring the new floor a discussion about the heating lead to a decision to replace the boiler. Looking at the somewhat dated current boiler I would say that was the right decision but was yet another item in the spiralling costs. The old boiler is already gone, the vent filled in and plastered over ready for a new Worcester Bosch Greenstar 30i.


The lovely oak beam in the kitchen was boxed in so we exposed it. As you can see from the crack it was not as sound as it could be and the floor above bounced. A couple of steel flanges fixed that.


The back wall was showing signs of movement with nothing to brace it. The structural engineer's recommendation was to fill in the kitchen door and tie it in to the back wall. Each course is pinned alternately to the wall or door with steel rods and epoxy resin.


We are reusing the old kitchen door in the newly re-opened doorway opposite the new staircase.


You can see the crack in the side wall cause by the movement of the back wall. It explains the damp in the bedroom wall that was causing all the paper round the window to peel off.


It look to me like there was once an upstairs door for an external staircase, now blocked up. This whole wall was badly pointed using cement. We are having it raked out and re-pointed using a more sympathetic material. At the same time a number of horizontal steel Helifix bars are being installed to stabilise the whole wall.


The large front bedroom was divided into a rather too large bathroom and an awkwardly shaped bedroom by a previous owner. The old Y-shaped stair configuration meant a kink in the wall to accommodate the bathroom door without stepping direct onto the stairs.

With our new flat landing we were at liberty to straighten the wall. Our builder suggested we go one step further and steal dead space from the bathroom and create a useful sized niche to accommodate our wardrobe. The blue lines in the ceiling show how much we have re-jigged the wall.


The work to put in new downlights in the bathroom revealed the dodgy nature of the ceiling so that had to be replaced along with the front bedroom because it is all the same original ceiling. Oh, and we have to move the bathroom radiator to the new wall.


Both the internal stopcock and the stopcock in the street were jammed so we had to call in the water company to fix the latter. We are close to a junction with two mini-roundabouts so they had to install temporary four-way traffic lights. How to be popular with the neighbours!


With the external tap fixed the builder could replace the internal one. While he was at it he upgraded the internal pipework from 15mm to 22mm to improve water flow.


Going next door to inspect the guttering repairs needed we had a fascinating view of the side of our house which gives more clues as to the sequence of construction. Not that we have worked it all out yet but look at those lines in the stonework. The back house and the upper roof of the middle house are clearly added later.


We went round into our back neighbour's garden to inspect the ivy up our wall which needs removing. The lean-to on the right is our side neighbour's property.


We have no outside space, only the right to pass and re-pass over the small yard at the side of the house. We would love to buy the bottom half of the back neighbour's garden. It would give us a wonderful outside space.


In other news, the loft is missing a fire break between us and parts of the neighbour's loft space. We are fixing that. While we are up there a lot of the wiring is being tided up including adding emergency lighting in the event of power failure (also in the cellar where the fuse boxes are).

All the original roof timbers are great big, gnarly oak beams. I love them!


We are also extending the telephone copper wire down to the living room and running an ethernet cable from there to the cellar where a switch will distribute to three other locations around the house. With great thick stone walls a wi-fi router sometime does cut the mustard!

We joked with the builder that we should have a syphon to connect our bank account directly to his!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Locus Festival 2019

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy.

The 15th Locus Festival and our third. A mixture of free concerts in the municipal piazza over several weeks plus a number of paid gigs, see Calendar of events 2019. For the free gigs we take along a couple of folding picnic chairs and a cool bag of wine and park ourselves at the back of the piazza where the raised position gives a good view of the stage, if a little distant.

Saturday 28-July-2019
Piazza Moro h 21 | Free
Live: JOSÉ’ JAMES “Lean on me” + Tonina feat. Dario Jacque

A funky set from the support act Tonina: "an independent singer/songwriter, bassist, music journalist and poet from St. Louis, Missouri who performs her original music along with her arrangements of covers in both Spanish and English."


That got the evening off to a good start.


The main act was José James: "Often referred to as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation, New York City-based vocalist José James combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz."


Not bad at all.


Wednesday 07-August-2019
Stadio Comunale h 21 | Ticket
Live: MS. LAURYN HILL + Mahmood

A ticketed concert with Lauryn Hill who we know only from her first solo album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" but another draw for us was the support act, Mahmood, who we were as much interested in seeing as Ms Hill.

As the concert was in the Locorotondo sport stadium we got there very early mistakenly thinking that they would use the terrace seating but no! They were sealed off and it was an all standing concert. We positioned ourselves against the barriers surrounding the mixing desk and camera tower so we could sit with back support or have something to lean against, if standing.


We discovered Mahmood when on a language course in Rome back in February. The bar where we often went for a nightcap was constantly playing his music. We liked it and so we bought the album.


An excellent set lasting a hour and playing almost every track from the album.


Lauryn Hill had her own support act so the first part of her set was DJ Reborn.


Then Lauryn came on a did a mixture of stuff we knew and stuff we didn't.


By this time we were a little tired so didn't wait to the very end but slipped out just before midnight.



Thursday 08-August-2019
Piazza Moro h 21 | Free
On stage: COLIN STETSON + Mammal Hands

Back to the free concerts and two bands / artists we knew nothing about.

Mammal Hands were excellent and very much in the mould of GoGo Penguin who we saw last year. Maybe that helped because our ears were already attuned to their mix of ambient, jazz, electronic music and world music. I went to buy the vinyl afterwards and chatting to the band it turns out they are big mates with GoGo Penguin and have performed together.


Colin Stetson was not our cup of tea at all. A solo performance using tape loop to lay down a denser sound but that sound was too raucous and self-indulgent for us. After the first couple of pieces we'd had enough, thank you, and cleared off out of there.


So, apart from Colin Stetson, a good showing from Locus 2019. Mind you, it is free so you can't knock it and it does introduce us to new artists. There were a number of other concerts but we could not make them all due to our hectic social life.

Locus 2020 is definitely on our "must do" list for summer next year.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Aperitivo Classico 2019

Bar Fod, Cisternino, Italy. July/August-2019

One of the highlights of summer in Cisternino is Aperitivo Classico, a series of Sunday lunchtime concerts in the town square organised by Bar Fod. Every Sunday at 12 noon in July and August, a drink and nibble of some local produce with an hour of live classical music. There is usually a recommended drink of the day to pair with the food.

We missed the first concert because we were in the UK.

14-July-2019.

The DAFF brass quartet and I forgot to photo the food.


21-July-2019.

An introductory spiel about a local wheat beer.


Octopus in a bun with red Tropea onion garnish.


A wind quartet provided the music.



28-July-2019.

A local rosé and a wheat based nibble.


A lad we have seen in previous years demonstrating that the accordion can be an instrument of some subtlety not just a folk instrument suitable only for dancing.


03-August-2019.

No Aperitivo Classico as that weekend was reserved for celebrating the town's patron saint, San Quirico.

11-August-2019.

Part one of the concert was a children's story with music.


Drink of choice was an Aperol spritz plus friselle with tomato.


Part two was sax and piano duets.


...and a second round of egg and cheese "lollipops" to keep the children's theme going.


18-August-2019.

A guitar and flute duo.


A selection of locally produced cheese and salami.


25-August-2019.

Some operatic arias.


Champagne and seafood plus mortadella.


The last official concert always includes a team photo for the regulars.

01-September-2019.

A bonus concert the first weekend of September after most of the, mainly Italian, tourists have gone home. We were treated to a collection of pop songs, mostly featured in film soundtracks.


A brightly coloured food presentation as a homage to Andy Warhol and the exhibition of his work at nearby Martina Franca. A quasi-breakfast theme with a blue cappuccino (a frothy alcoholic cocktail) and red (beetroot) scrambled egg on toast.


More sax and piano duets.


Most of the regulars are now friends or we know who they are.


Lots more photos from Vito Zizzi, the official photographer, on the Bar Fod Facebook page.

That's it for another year...