Friday, January 31, 2020

Benson Row - 10

Penrith, Cumbria. January-2020.

A quiet month at the money pit as far as the builders are concerned. The staircase has two improvements: Firstly the glass was fitted in the handrails so that small children cannot plummet down the stairwell.

Secondly: the bottom turn in the handrail previously had a gap between two separate pieces. The carpenter has managed to make a turn-and-tilt corner as one continuous rail though the cunning use of two adjacent joints with a short connecting piece. That meant I could finish off sanding and varnishing all the stairwell woodwork.

More delays in the the kitchen fitting as the floor was not level enough for the quality engineered oak boards we have chosen. A second self levelling screed was needed in the kitchen end of the kitchen / dining room with the aid of a laser spirit level. That means that the kitchen fitting can finally begin.

There were plenty of minor tasks for me: changing the door bolts to silver to match the handles, various bits of paint touch up, hanging pictures and mirrors.

We also have been art shopping, buying pictures by local artists to hang on the walls. This involved meeting in person or visiting them in their studios: Hayden Morris, Becca Fielding, Mary ChappelhowAlan Stones. We spent some time taking tea with Alan and getting a full tour of his workshop and explanation about lithography. It is great to actually meet the artists whose work you will hang on your walls.

In other, news: we ate and drank to excess celebrating four birthdays on four successive days, Nigel, Robbie Burns, Mary, and Christine.

That's all folks.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Great British Rock & Blues Festival 2020

Butlins, Skegness. Friday/Sunday 17/19-January-2020

Our fourth trip to Skegness (it's so bracing!) for the Great British Rock and Blues Festival. Back again for great music and horrible weather. As it turned out the weather was better than previous years and the music as good as ever with new artists to discover.

It has to be said it may be the whitest event I have ever been attended: 4,000 punters and only one person of colour! Also I am sure the overall demographic has shifted. The first time there were huge numbers of old guys with beards and grey ponytails. Many of those appeared to have died off and there were more younger faces in the audience.

As well a lots of music we even fitted in a bit of parkrun tourism with the recently instituted Skegness Boating Lake event which is a lovely, flat course on the seafront.

The way it works is that there are four stages between which you can wander at will. We usually chose the venue with the acts we most wanted to see and then queue up to get good seats. Then one or other of us would occasionally pop over to the another venue for a couple of songs of alternative artistes.

  • Introducing (aka Skyline) - is in the main big tent where up-and-coming acts play in the afternoon / early evening. The audience vote each day and the daily winner gets an opening slot the following year.
  • Center Stage - is the main venue with cabaret style seating off the big tent.
  • Reds - is similar to Centre stage but in a separate building.
  • Jaks / Hotshots - Jaks was the worst of last year's stages both acoustically and in terms of layout and they are not using it this year. because of refurbishment. Hotshots is the bowling alley and the replacement for Jaks this year. The acoustics are better but the layout is still pretty awkward with the stage in one corner.

List of who we saw with star rating and (venue).

Fri 17th:
Sunhouse** (Introducing)
Red Fish (Introducing)
Hollowstar* (Introducing)
Johnnie "Guitar" Williamson* (Centre Stage)
Catfish (Hotspots) FULL - NOT SEEN, Boo!
Howling Mojo Bones (Hotshots)
Animals and Friends** (Reds)
Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues*** (Centre Stage)

Sat 18th:
Starlight Campbell Band* (Reds)
Clearwater** (Centre Stage)
Geordie (Centre Stage)
The Flying Burrito Bros (Reds)
Mojo Preachers (Introducing)
The Stoned Crows** (Introducing)
Joan Ov Arc* (Introducing)
Killit* (Introducing)
Miguel Montalban and The Southern Vultures** (Centre Stage)
Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls* (Hotshots)
Paul Lamb and The King Snakes** (Centre Stage)
Dana Gillespie* (Hotshots)
Mike Farris** (Centre Stage)

Sun 19th:
Sam Kelly's Station House** (Centre Stage)
Ma Bessie and Her Blues Troop*** (Centre Stage)
Mud Morganfield*** (Centre Stage)
Eliana Cargnelutti** (Introducing)
Snake Oil Band* (Introducing)
James Oliver Band (Introducing)
Matt Pearce and The Mutiny* (Introducing)
Climax Blues Band*** (Centre Stage)
Dr Feelgood*** (Centre Stage)
Bernard Allison** (Centre Stage)

Photos and comments.

For most of the acts I would wander down to the mosh pit for a couple of songs. One of the things I like about this festival is that you can wander right up to the stage and see the acts really, really close up. Due to the poor quality of the iPhone camera many photos were not fit to publish.

Fri 17th:
Sunhouse** (Introducing) - proper raucous blues singing from the lead vocalist.

Johnnie "Guitar" Williamson* (Centre Stage)

Marion Diaz (Centre Stage) - Daughter of Little Walter. How to clear the hall in record time. It was an interview interspersed with his music to publicise Marion's book but the programme had given no clue that it was going to be a talk. It just didn't work for that time on the first evening.

Catfish (Hotspots) The venue was too small and quickly filled up with a long queue waiting for people to leave - one in, one out. Bit of a shame as they were one of the discoveries from our first time and high on our list to see.

Animals and Friends** (Reds) - classic British blues band with a couple of original / early members.

Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues*** (Centre Stage) - classic Chicago blues band with Billy excellent on "harp".

Sat 18th:
Starlight Campbell Band* (Reds)

Clearwater** (Centre Stage) - this is listed in the programme as the Clearwater All Star Band which we think is a.k.a. Creedence Clearwater Revisited, founded by two of the original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Geordie (Centre Stage) - apparently they were glam rock regulars on TOTP but I don't remember them at all.

The Flying Burrito Bros (Reds)

The Stoned Crows** (Introducing) - more rock than blues and they got our vote.

Joan Ov Arc* (Introducing)

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls* (Hotshots) - a somewhat eccentric act.

Paul Lamb and The King Snakes** (Centre Stage)

Sun 19th:
Sam Kelly's Station House** (Centre Stage)

Ma Bessie and Her Blues Troop*** (Centre Stage) - really good, fun entertainment singing the songs of Bessie Smith. Apparently she also does a Bessie Smith musical with additional biographical narration which we will definitely look out for.

Climax Blues Band*** (Centre Stage)

Bernard Allison** (Centre Stage)

From Skeggie we headed onwards to Penrith to check out progress on the money pit.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Cleaning The Wandle January 2020

North Road, Merton. Sunday 12-January-2020.

Counter-intuitively now that I am retired I get to clean up the Wandle less often. Half the year we are in Italy so that wipes out the summer months. Over the winter we are no longer constrained by work and are all over the place visiting various parts of the UK and with the best will in the world that often happens on a 2nd Sunday.

This year we started with a clear 2nd Sunday and off I went with my waders and a thermos flask of homemade soup.

The first time I helped tackle this stretch we pulled out a large number of bicycles from the water courtesy of the bridge over whose parapet they had clearly been chucked. This time fallen trees resulted in a large number of floating plastic bottles being trapped so that’s a fair amount of plastic not making its way to the river and hence to the sea.

That's me in the black baseball cap.

It reminded me that each stretch of the river has its own distinctive rubbish based on the demographic of the area. In King George‘s Park it is shopping trolleys because of the nearby Southside shopping centre. Beddington Park had a huge collection of tyres courtesy of the nearby trading estate. Ravensbury Park had a large number of wine bottles, presumably detritus from picnics in the park. This visit we had multiple car number plates, I’m not quite sure why that should be. Also the usual traffic cones and coconuts, etc.

I managed to dip my armpit below the waterline while reaching for some rubbish and filled my waders with icy water. It was sufficiently unpleasant and my toes sufficiently numb that I bailed out at lunchtime and went home for an early bath.

Official report from The Wandle Trust:

Friday, January 10, 2020

Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall

London. Friday 10-January-2020

A whodunnit by Agatha Christie delivers exactly what you would expect: corpse, a suspect, clues, more suspects, red herrings, more twists and turns than Hampton Court maze, and a final denouement that catches you by surprise. More than that I cannot say. All good fun!

The production was given added atmosphere by being held in the old GLC council chamber which, with the addition of the statue of justice, made for a very passible courtroom. You could even pay extra to sit in the jury box.

Michael Billington in The Guardian gives it 4 stars: "Witness for the Prosecution review – Christie thriller makes judicious use of County Hall [...] Convention says that TV has now appropriated this kind of Christie mystery but, when staged as cleverly as this, her plays can still work with a live audience. " Full review...

Beforehand we went for an exquisite Japanese meal at Hannah. A restaurant with pretensions to Michelin stardom. The food was beautifully presented and delicious with interesting combinations. A good opportunity to practice mindful eating: cutting small mouthfuls and savouring each bite. Not cheap but worth it for the quality.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Parkrun Tourism Part 03 - 2019

All over the place. 2019.

Parkun tourism continues with another 7 locations added in 2019 (showing location, date, my time and number of participants) bringing the total to 20 unique locations:
  • Caffarella
  • Richmond Park
  • Clapham Common
  • Old Deer Park
  • Belloluogo
  • Moors Valley
  • Dean Castle Country Park
We are opportunistic parkrun tourists. There are some who plan their trips based around parkruns they want to tick off. We, on the other hand, if away for the weekend, will check out if there happens to be one nearby that we could do but that’s as far as it goes.

As any tourist will tell you they vary tremendously. Some are flat, some are horribly hilly; some have a nice smooth paths, others squelch through mud and puddles; some are urban parks, some playing fields, some beautiful countryside.

They can have one, two, three or four circuits. For me two is optimum: one large loop and I’m thinking "are we there yet?", three laps and I dispiritedly see all the younger, faster runners peeling off to the finish while I still have one more circuit to do, four laps is just boringly repetitive. With two laps you can think to yourself "I’ve done this before, I am nearly there".

Attendance also varies. I have run everything from over 1000 to just the two of us turning up, our only opportunity to be 1st and 2nd at parkrun. The big numbers are no fun as you have to wait just to cross the start line and then squeeze through narrow spaces jogging on the spot. Never a PB at those events.

They also vary in degree of friendliness. Some venues are very good at saying “Thank you Marshall” to the volunteers as they go around, others much less so. Some are so large they are anonymous, others you get people being cheered on by name. At some Mary gets encouragement from the faster runners as they lap her, "Well done!", they shout. Some congregate and chat afterwards, others everyone clears off home. Wherever I am I practice being “that nutter who talks to strangers”. I will talk to whoever is beside me at the start line, if they are first timers or visitors I will generally make some encouraging chat to make them feel welcome.

Caffarella. 09/02/2019. 28:04 [62]
We were in Rome for three weeks in February attending a language course. So of course we had to check out parkrun and there were two: Caffarella and Roma Pineta. Caffarella was easier to get to on the Metro so we went for that.

The previous week there had been 10 attendees so we were a little surprised when we arrived to discover a large number of people, 62 as it turned out. It was because Wales were playing Italy in the Six Nations and I would say at least half the parkrunners were Welsh.

It is a very pleasant park running round the meadow. We went again in the second week as the other parkrun was the wrong side of Rome and harder to get to. We had the novel experience of running round a flock of sheep. Fortunately they stayed in the middle of the meadow and did not wander into our path.

Richmond Park. 09/03/2019. 26:52 [552] 26:30 5PB stays at 22:34
Richmond is my brother’s home parkrun and a lovely venue. He has not done parkrun for a while as he has switched to the treadmill in the gym. Since it was only last year that I finally managed to beat his personal worst we thought it will be a laugh to parkrun together for the first time. We did keep together for most of the course but in the end Ian finished 8 places and 17 seconds ahead of me.

Clapham Common. 01/06/2019. 27:45 [986]
Over the summer we had a lodger, the daughter of a friend of a friend. She used to do parkrun in Scotland and said that she was intending to parkrun on Clapham Common with a friend. This was news to me as I did not know there was a Clapham Common parkrun. It turns out it’s been running less than a year which is why I was not aware of it.

I thought I would pop along as it is literally my closest parkrun. When they asked "do we have any visitors" I enthusiastically stuck up my arm and when asked where from replied Tooting which got a large ironic groan from the assembled company. It’s a very pleasant course but packed, there were over 980 attendees. Not a course for a PB.

Old Deer Park. 06/07/2019. 29:31 [165]
Mary and I recently made new wills and set up lasting power-of-attorneys for our executors. One of them is my nephew and godson, Lorenzo, who lives in West London. Saturday morning was the best time to visit him for signing so I thought I’d combine it with a bit of local parkrun tourism. I was tempted to visit the "mothership" in Bushy Park but the Old Deer Park was closer to him. It was a surprisingly small parkrun for an urban London course in terms of numbers and a very pleasant, flat course.

Belloluogo. 05/10/2019 29:00 [45]
Much to our surprise southern Italy has given birth to a second Parkrun in Lecce very close to our usual Salento Parkrun. We were not able to make its inaugural run as we were back in the UK that weekend. We went back a couple of weekends later for only their third event by which time they had refined the course to make it easier to follow. Basically they have made it four identical laps. A very lovely park and a fast course on good tarmac paths although having to do four circuits can get a bit tedious.

There wasn’t as much post run camaraderie as at some other venues despite there being a convenient cafĂ© right next to the start/end. There were small groups of friends obviously together but not much general mingling. Still that may change as the locals get to know each other. Salento parkrun is the role model for friendliness.

Moors Valley. 23/11/2019 28:59 [426]
We had to take our new car back to Ringwood where we bought it for a minor spare part to be fitted. We combined that with the visit to my second cousin in Bournemouth for lunch and an evening meal plus overnight stay with our friends in Ringwood on the Friday night. Of course that meant a Saturday morning parkrun in the nearby Moors Valley Park. One large single circuit through very pleasant countryside.

Mary power walking over the finish line.

Each parkrun has a different age profile based on the demographics of the local area. At my home parkrun of Tooting there are very few in the veteran male 65–69 bracket (typically 3), in Moors Valley there were 13 of them, likewise in Richmond. I guess that reflects the affluence or that many people retire to those areas.

Dean Castle Country Park. 25/12/2019 30:36 [124]
Christmas was spent in Scotland with Mary‘s mum. This was an opportunity to do our first ever Christmas day Parkrun. The local park run at Eglinton was not putting on an event but fortunately a new parkrun had opened up in Mary‘s hometown of Kilmarnock a short drive away. So off we went wearing Santa hat and tinsel. A very friendly bunch but the down side was the two lap parkrun had some short, sharp, steep slopes which completely knackered me.

Even the dogs were getting into the festive spirit.

Another year over and now up to 20 unique locations. This year we already know of three more: NYD at Eastleigh, Skegness at the Rock and Blues Festival in January and Dublin city centre for Valentine's day. Plus who know what else 2020 will bring?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Benson Row - 09

Penrith, Cumbria. December-2019.

December was mainly about painting (again!) for me. This time I was under the cosh to paint the bedroom walls and skirting boards before the carpet fitters came on Friday the 20th - known locally as “Black Eye Friday”. This is because many of the trades finish at lunchtime on the Friday before Christmas and all go down the pub. The subsequent inebriation leads to a number of fistfights and black eyes. Certainly our local bar was doing a roaring trade although I didn’t see any fisticuffs.

I had to paint the walls in two bedrooms, all the skirting boards in the bedrooms and landing and varnish the wood skirting down the stairwell. I lost a day because we had to move out while another layer of self levelling screed was laid down downstairs.

We adjourned to a local hotel for two nights while the cement dried. As a result two walls in the small bedroom had to wait until after the carpet laying.

Once the carpet was in I could also assemble the bunkbeds intended for the smallest bedroom.

Thank goodness for the power screwdriver, it was worse than IKEA furniture for the number of screws I had to drill.

In other news: the lino in the downstairs shower room has been laid, boards have been fitted to make the shower enclosure and the showerhead and taps are in. The loo still has to be installed.

The relocated kitchen door has been replaced with a brand-new UPVC door and is looking good (and secure). The new kitchen window has been installed but because of the raised floor the windowsill is now higher and there is some making good to be done on the outside including a new stone windowsill.

After all that we were able to relax and enjoy a local carol service and some live music in Fell Bar.

Christmas pop songs done as you have never heard them before, a rocking good evening.

The one room I hope not to have to paint is our bedroom where the walls and ceiling need a lot of prep. The ceiling is sorted as we had the whole thing re-skimmed but the walls would need a lot of work before it is ready to paint. We are waiting for a local painter to give us a quote.

The best news of all is that the challenge of matching the spray paint colour for the kitchen cabinet doors has been resolved. Instead of trying to match the colour to the spatula we matched it to a shelf from the carcasses (which had in their turn been matched to the spatula). Turns out we were matching to car paint colours and the best match was a classic Jaguar colour, so we were very happy with that.

Spraying will commence ASAP in the new year which means the fitter can install the carcasses. Then the work top can be templated followed by a final screed in the kitchen area after which the wooden floor can be fitted.

By the time we return in January 2020 we should have a working kitchen even if we don't yet have the floor laid.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

EFG Jazz Festival 2019

London. November-2019

A busy few weeks packed with music from the EFG Jazz Festival plus other gigs.

Jan Garbarek Group at the Royal Festival Hall
London. Sunday 17-November-2019.

John Lewis in The Guardian writes: "Amid celebrations of the ECM label’s 50th anniversary, the Norwegian saxophonist delivered some compelling exploratory solos"
This gig, however, was a marked improvement on his performance seven years ago with a similar quartet, largely because the band is now dominated by its charismatic percussionist, Trilok Gurtu. His entertaining solo spots (on tabla, cymbals, gongs, squeaky toys and even a bucket of water) take centre stage, but he also pushes Garbarek into his most garrulous and exploratory solos, both on tenor sax and on bamboo flute. It’s closer to the ECM spirit, and all the more compelling for it. Full review...

We had good seats in a box just above the aforementioned entertaining percussionist.

Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy.
Piccadilly, London. Tuesday 19-November-2019.

We enjoyed this exhibition, I find his work playful and accessible, slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Skye Sherman in The Guardian writes: "From its primordial gloop to the iron baby in the courtyard, Gormley’s show chronicles human progress. But is he really the right person to tell the story of us all?"
This is a seriously handsome show with plenty of crowd-wowing art that aims to put “the visitor centre stage”, yet also underlines his project’s sticking points. [...] It turns out there’s something in here for everyone, and that’s a problem. Gormley’s musings about bodies and being are too unfocused, and ultimately too polite, to land the political punches they attempt. Where’s the tension? Where’s the real debate? Full Review...
Hermeto Pascoal at Ronnie Scott's
Soho, London. Tuesday 19-November-2019.

We were due to go straight from the Gormley exhibition to Ronnie Scott's but Mary was feeling unwell so we wimped out. The concert was sold out so there was no problem in returning our tickets, getting a credit note and going home straight from the Royal Academy for a quiet night in.

Chrissie Hynde at the Royal Festival Hall.
South Bank, London. Sunday 24-November-2019.

Not the Chrissie of "... and the Pretenders" but a more ballady, crooner Chrissie of "... and the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble". We listened to her latest album as preparation and were not that enthused. Live we had the same reaction, great voice but just not really our style. Sorry, Chrissie.

Emeli Sande (Ben Monteith) at the Eventim Apollo
Hammersmith, London. Monday 25-November-2019.

We had seen Emeli before so were looking forward to her set. What took us by surprise was the excellent support act, Ben Monteith. A busker from Glasgow, a talented singer / songwriter with great stage presence. He was discovered as part of a TV series on BBC Scotland hosted by Emeli. Apparently she was sufficiently impressed with Ben to invite him to be her support act for her European tour.

Mario Biondi at Ronnie Scott's
Soho, London. Tuesday 26-November-2019.

Our third time of seeing Mario.

This time along with our friend Cathy who originally introduced us to this performer. Excellent seats and an excellent concert.

Phew, that's a fair bit of concert going!