Saturday, November 27, 2021

Road Trip, November 2021

All over the place. November-2021

Straight after Winter Droving we set off on a road trip. It was only supposed to be a simple triangular trip: down to Axminster for a cookery course, up to London for an Elton John concert and home. Then Elton John went and broke his hip, our friend Alan announced his 70th birthday party and we realised that our friends John and Andrea were a minor detour off our route. So this is what we did.

Sunday 31-October-2021. Cranham, Gloucester. We called in for a meal with our old friends John and Andrea who we have not seen for ages along with their son, my godson, Julian. We ate, we drank, we chatted. So that was nice.

Monday 01-October-2021. Gardener's cottage, near Axminster. We booked ourselves two nights self catering accommodation in the gardener's cottage at River cottage HQ. It had two double bedrooms and as we had paid for the whole place we invited our friends Tim and Sarah to join us as our guests. They arrived from the Isle of Wight and we went to the local pub for supper.

Tuesday 02-November-2021. River cottage HQ. Much More Veg cookery course. The day was spent most enjoyably with a hands-on cookery course learning about new recipes, techniques, vegetables. It turned out to be vegan not just vegetarian, which suited Mary (being intolerant to lactose) and the vegan attendee very well - possibly why they did it. Apparently they do not advertise it as vegan because they fear that may put put some people off. We started off with the basics: a vegetable stock into which you chuck just about everything including onions skin and all. 

We picked a number of herbs and vegetables for the stock and other recipes:

  • Split pea hummus
  • River Cottage Green Herb Sauce (Salsa Verde)
  • Flat breads
  • Vegetable curry
  • Spiced Emmer
  • Roasted Apple, Daikon, Celeriac and Sage
  • Garden Bhajis
  • Oaty Nutty Chocolate ‘Tiffin’

Tim and Sarah had brought along ingredients for a self catering meal that evening but as it turned out there was so much left from the day's course that all four of us dined on that alone and there was still some left over for a doggy bag the next day.

Wednesday 03-November-2021. Denbies vineyard, Dorking. We had a couple of days to while away until Alan‘s birthday do on the Saturday. Mary found a mid week deal from Denbies hotel so we signed up for that: two nights dinner, bed and breakfast plus a cream tea and a tasting of their own sparkling wines.

We drove from Axminster to Ringwood and had lunch at one of our old locals, The Alice Lisle, Then on to Dorking arriving in time for the cream tea.

The cream tea was delicious but the wines were all a little tart for my palette.

Thursday 04-November-2021. Polesden Lacey. We have not had enough opportunity to use our NT membership of late but here we were able to fit in a good long walk round the grounds of Polesden Lacey.

Lots of woodland and mushrooms everywhere. 

We needed somewhere to stay on Friday so we made another booking in Denbies for that night. Part of the reason is that there is a parkrun round the vineyard on Saturday morning. 

Friday 05-November-2021. Speaker audition. Our current speakers are a little large for our new living room so we went up to Graham's Hi-Fi in north London to listen to some smaller speakers. We tried listening to the same speakers as we have in Italy but they were disappointing in a smaller room so we went upmarket. We have now opted for some niche Australian speakers (Serhan Swift Mu2. Mark II). On the way back we stopped for a lovely lunch at Unwined at Waterloo.

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 1. Parkrun tourism. After breakfast we just had to walk out the front door to get to the start line. For me it was my 29th different venue and my 103rd Parkrun. It sounds lovely running round the vineyards but vineyards like slopes and the first part of the course is a long, steady uphill; I was reduced to something very close to walking. The second half is downhill, I picked up a bit of speed and came in under 30 minutes.

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 2. Scattering my parents ashes. After my father died my mother never could bring herself to answer the question of disposal of my father’s ashes. Nor would she ever express a preference regarding her own arrangements. So his ashes have been sitting at the undertakers for several years until Mum died. They had no special places we could go for. In the end we decided the Thames was an appropriate location. My father was a Londoner, my parents met and married in London, their first home together was in London and us three children were all born there. 

We chose a spot between the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern as my father particularly was fond of Shakespeare and the arts. Appropriately with St Paul's behind us which contains the Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Dad was awarded the MBE for services to architecture which allowed Mary and I to get married there.

We went in order of seniority, me first, then Ian.

And finally Jane who also read a short poem.

The flowers went downstream as the tide turned.

The tide was high so we were unable to get right down to the strand. On the other hand it meant the tide turned and their ashes were swept down the river to the sea. We all three agreed that it was a job well done and a lovely send off.

PS. The Port of London authority website said that it’s okay to scatter ashes in the Thames with certain provisos like ‘not off a bridge’ and ‘don’t chuck the urn in afterwards'!

Saturday 06-November-2021, part 3. Alan‘s 70th birthday party. We switched from Denbies to a local B&B so that we would have a very short stagger home after the party. A wise choice. It turned out that our hostess at the B&B was one of the volunteers at that morning's parkrun so I was glad that I had given her a cheery "Thank you marshal" as I passed.

The party itself was a great success and it was lovely to meet up with many old friends who I haven’t seen in real life for a while. Let's hope it won't be too long till we meet again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Brunswick Road 07 - Loft, fireplace, kitchen clearing

Penrith, Cumbria. October/November-2021

A mixture of construction and destruction tackling the loft, fireplace and kitchen. We gained space in the loft and lost some in the kitchen. 

Boarding the Loft. 

I’m getting the hang of this loft boarding malarkey. Much easier when you don’t have to wrestle existing insulation. Note the sarking boards supporting the tiles - typically Scottish but also found elsewhere.

The other end shows the light well above the stairs (currently used for access) and the space where we will have a hatch and ladder installed when we can get hold of a joiner.

I wasn’t even half done when the suitcases, hifi boxes and Christmas tree were up there. It’s even fuller now.

Restoring the fireplace. 

The next big piece of work is restoring the fireplace, Opening the hearth and installing new uprights. We used the same stonemason as for Benson Row. The stonemason discovered unsupported brickwork inside the chimney (!) so there is a now a second concrete lintel supported on brick pillars hidden behind the stone one. We now have our own mini Stonehenge. 

Still to do: cleaning and superficial distressing to get a better colour match.

Acro props to hold up the lintel (and probably the rest of the chimney!)

The middle section that used to be a back boiler now gone.

Cutting the new uprights in the back alley.

New hearth stone in place ready for the uprights.

New uprights in place.

The stone dries lighter as the cement dries out. The lintel has been given a light chiselling to remove the old cement and plaster.

Now we have to decide what we do with the fireplace. We could line the flue and have a real fire grate or log burning stove. For now we will put in a decorative fake stove.

Clearing the Kitchen.

Next up is redoing the kitchen floor. The door opening into the utility room will be moved and expanded ready for the floor works. The concrete floor will be dug down so that a multi-layer sandwich can be laid: waterproof membrane, insulation, electric underfloor heating mat, self-levelling screed and finally lino. Hopefully the latter will be down just as we leave for two weeks over Christmas and New Year.

The kitchen has to be cleared for this. All the old units are gone as are all our temporary work surfaces. We want to keep the sink as long as possible so are doing a cutaway unit to make the floor accessible. Nothing like a power jigsaw for cabinet destruction.

A flying sink so the workmen can dig up the concrete floor beneath.

All kitchen units have now been ripped out. The bridge table will go shortly.

Dining room now with the kitchen corner. With the delayed timetable from our kitchen fitter we have treated ourselves to an Ikea induction hob and a combination oven and microwave.

The next couple of months are going to be challenging in terms of eating and dishwashing. 

The mantra is “It'll be lovely when it’s finished”.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Winter Droving 2021

Penrith, Cumbria. Thursday/Saturday 28/30-October-2021.

Winter Droving was one of the reasons we ended up living in Penrith. Our first Winter Droving was in 2016 when we came up to Penrith to visit our friends and had much more fun than I was expecting. We returned for subsequent Winter Droving’s and ended up buying a second home here. When Covid hit we stayed up in Penrith and after a year sold our London flat and made Penrith our main home. 

There was no Winter Droving last year and this year they made a number of changes to accommodate the pandemic. For a start they spread it over three days. I believe the thinking was that this would reduce each day’s crowd numbers and hence lower the risk of a super spreader event. 

I think three days was somewhat ambitious, just Friday and Saturday might have worked better. As it turned out the rain on Thursday effectively turned it into a two day event. 

On Thursday one of the excellent local bands, Ponyland, appeared in the upstairs room at Fell bar and did an excellent set. Loud and energetic, we were amazed we did not all end up on the ground floor.

Reducing the crowding was the logic behind abandoning the evening parade. Instead they had a static display of the animal lanterns in Saint Andrew’s Church yard along with an excellent fire-breathing Dragon which did flame-throwing every half hour.


Fire-breathing Dragon.

Apart from that it was pretty similar to previous years: craft stalls, excellent food stalls, street entertainers, a funfair and live music at several venues around the town centre.

I got roped in from the audience to help Nula Hula.

Nula Hula.

Big wheel.

The Melodrome returns. It clearly does the rounds as we also saw it at SolFest.

Music at the bandstand from Delagrave, another excellent local band.

We had our first guests staying in the new house: Mary's sister, her husband, their eldest and his girlfriend. They all seemed to enjoy it. Once the guests had departed we set off on a weeklong road trip...

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

September 2021 in Puglia

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. September 2021 (and a bit of October).

I didn't blog last September's visit to Cisternino as it was mainly eating and drinking with friends and enjoying the warm weather. This year's visit was a little more action packed.


Six weeks in Puglia in bullet points:

  • We flew in and out of different airports thanks to flight cancellations
  • Our wonderful cleaner dealt with mould and mustiness before we got there
  • We helped harvest Mino’s grapes twice (white and red)
  • We stumbled into a German talent show
  • We tested out possible venues for my 70th next year
  • I did my 100th parkrun at Salento’s 100th event
  • I worked out how to use the NHS Covid as a green pass
  • We sold Sotto Le Stelle and were sad to see it go
  • We tested out many local bars for the best aperitivo
  • We celebrated world Bluetit day!
  • There was some churn in bars and restaurants
  • We helped a neighbour and got a free lunch
  • I had a drastic haircut

Flights to and from Italy: we had two return flights (LGW / BDS) with EasyJet cancelled (original and the re-book). We considered driving down with the advantage of transporting back wine, olive oil, etc. But instead we booked a British Airways business class flight (LHR / BRI) using air miles and a two-for-one voucher. BA then cancelled the outbound leg so we booked a flight with EasyJet again. That meant we were doing an X-shaped flight pattern: outbound Gatwick to Bari, return Brindisi to Heathrow! BA then cancelled our return leg so we booked for Bari to Heathrow but two days earlier.

Fortunately we have a friend who lives 10 minutes drive from Heathrow T5 and close to Wraysbury station. So we parked our car in his garden and caught the train into Waterloo and down to Gatwick. On our return it was a short taxi ride to pick up our car, handover olive oil, hazelnuts and sun-dried tomatoes as payment and head off back to Penrith.

Mould and mustiness: Our wonderful cleaner, Rosaria, took it upon herself to go into our flat and check it out. She discovered mould on the walls and a very musty smell. Hardly surprising as the place had been locked up and airless for 10 months. She took it upon herself to bleach down all the walls, clean and air the place thoroughly and put the bedding through a wash cycle. What an absolute gem.

Grape harvest, red and white: one of the fun parts of being in Italy is helping to harvest Mino's grapes and get fed afterwards. This time we were there for both the red and white grape harvests so we got fed twice - result! 

Harvesting the white grapes:

Post-harvest meal with an amazing, telescopic, expanding table (from 6 to 20).

Germany's Pop Idol: We popped into the main square for a beer and stumbled on this in the town square one afternoon. We had front row seats so were obliged to yell and cheer with great gusto after each act! Watch out for us on German TV next January; the show is called Deutschland sucht den Superstar.

70th birthday planning: next year I will be celebrating my 70th birthday in Puglia. One possibility is to find a masseria with accommodation that can provide both the food and also accommodation for at least some of our guests. We tested out a couple on friends recommendation and will be doing more when we return next May.

parkrun number 100: one's 100th parkrun is a significant milestone in the parkrun world and you get a free T-shirt. In the normal course of events I would have achieved that milestone 18 months ago but Covid postponed it. As it happened Salento parkrun restarted the very weekend after we arrived so I was able to run my 100th in Italy amazingly, coincidentally at their 100th event. Curiously enough I have now run more events in Italy than my nominal, original home parkrun of Tooting Common. 

Read more about Salento parkrun Number 100.

Green Pass Italia: if you want to dine indoors or visit museums art galleries and music concerts you need proof of a recent test or that you have been doubly vaccinated. I worked out how to use the NHS Covid certificate in the Italian green pass app. I was also able to help some of our less text savvy friends to get the same set up. 

We sold Sotto Le Stelle: this probably deserves its own post. The short version is that a friend was interested in buying the place but when he found out the current market value he lost interest. However that prompted us to put it on the market and quickly found a full asking price buyer. So we completed the sale on the 6th of October 2021. We were sad to see it go but for the last two years it has generated no income and still incurred costs. It all helps with the life simplification.

Aperitivo testing: often evenings start with a gin and tonic and aperol spritz in a local bar. Prices and ambience vary so we thought we would conduct an informal survey of various of the bars around town to see who did the best. Criteria included price, strength, quality and price of the nibbles and the views. After extensive tippling we decided that Chirico Bistrot was the best all round although unsurprisingly Giorgio at Bar Porta Piccola was the cheapest.

World Bluetit day: Mary is a member of a Facebook group called the The Bluetits Chill Swimmers (Cumbria flock) who support each other in their open water swimming exploits. This started with a local group in Pembroke but is now worldwide. It is not a formal organisation as such but just a shared enthusiasm for icy waters. They decided this year to have their first ever world Bluetit day and encouraged wild swimmers to post pictures of their exploits. We went with our Welsh/Italian friends Carole and Alessandra and held aloft specially printed and laminated bluetit logos for added authenticity. However with sea temperatures of 23°C they were hardly in Bluetit territory!

Restaurants and bars: we dined in many of our usual, favourite restaurants and noticed a few changes. Trying out Cisternino's newest fornello pronto and birreria (Birrosteria 72014 formerly Porta Grande) from our old friend Umberto (ex Diaulicchie pub). 

His old, real ale bar had been given a makeover and is now run by somebody else. Birrosteria 72014 under Umberto's influence now sells artesanal beers as well as the usual local red wines. The restaurant directly below us used to be a creperie but now sells fishy food (see next).

There is such a thing as a free lunch: Lagravin is directly below us and their chimney emerges on our terrace. While we were still in the UK, with our permission, they ran a TV aerial from our roof down the front of the building and into the restaurant in order to show some Italian matches. 

They made the same request while we were present and we were happy to accommodate their request as it didn’t really impact us. A man came up with a very long coil of aerial cable at one end to our TV aerial running along the gutter and down the front of the building. 

The proprietor was so grateful that when he spotted us coming out of our front door he was effusive in his thanks and invited us in for a free meal. I had a very delicious roll containing prawns wrapped in Parma ham and a bottle of beer while Mary had the octopus in a bun. We were very is restrained as we didn’t want to abuse his hospitality.

Extreme haircut: After a haircut the barber always holds up a mirror behind me so that I may admire his handiwork and my ever growing bald spot. As the hair thinned over the years I knew there would come a time when I would have to go short to avoid the dreaded comb over (for which there doesn't seem to be an Italian word). So I went to Jos barbers at the bottom Via Dominico Cirillo and, with the aid of Google translate asked "Lo vorrei corto ma non calvo" - "I want it short but not bald". Well I shall certainly save on shampoo from now on!

Then back to the UK for cold, wet weather and grey skies. Boo!