Monday, June 24, 2024

Grand Tour 2024 - Bari

Bari, Puglia, Italy. Tuesday 25-June-2024.

Table of Contents:

  • All posts
    • Bari, 25-June-2024.
    • Fiesole, 26-June/02-July-2024
    • Vienna, 03/09-July-2024
    • Konstanz, 10/17-July-2024
    • Freiburg, 17/22-July-2024
    • Carcassone, 22/31-July-2024.

Last year to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary we did Interrailing for Seniors - a three week rail journey from southern Italy to Amsterdam. It was so successful that we decided to do something similar this year. This time it was five weeks to escape the southern Italian heat and travel across Europe ending up in Carcassone for a music festival.


We booked the option for four days first class travel to be taken over one month. There was only one “must have” requirement - a parkrun every Saturday. We are doing fewer days travelling and staying longer thus giving ourselves a chance to settle in and really explore each place in depth. The first two stops are larger cities where there is more to see and do.  

Another change from last year is that we are using Home Exchange for all our accommodation. This is a scheme whereby you exchange houses with other people. You can either do a synchronous exchange, an asynchronous exchange or pay and receive guest points. We have had a number of people stay in our house in Penrith and our apartment in Cisternino, so we had sufficient points to provide accommodation without paying a penny. 

As last year, the first day was a long one with an early start so we set off the night before and stayed in Bari. We took the bus from Cisternino down to Fasano station and caught the train into Bari where we had booked a central hotel (Centro Citta Concept) not far from the station. A nice meal at Taverna Verde and an early night ready for our first trip to Fiesole just outside Florence. 


Up not too early the next day for the first proper leg of the Grand Tour 2024 - Bari to Firenze.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Two Contrasting Musical Evenings

Puglia, Italy. June-2024.

Secret Trulli. Saturday 15-June-2024.

An evening of folk music under the stars. From the New World and the Old, spanning the centuries from 17th century ballads, featuring the serpent, to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. A magical evening in the garden of an unspoiled trulli.

This was a word-of-mouth event organised by our hosts who wanted it to be an informal gathering of friends and an opportunity to meet and make new friends. It was called a "Secret Trulli" as they kept the exact location a secret until the day before. It turned out to be 30 minutes walk from Cisternino so we planned to walk there and back. Our friends Steve and Trudi drove, picking up us as we were nearly there and kindly gave us a lift back, saving our legs.

It has been a long time since I have seen a serpent being played, not since the mid 1980s when I used to regularly go and see the New London Consort play early music. The soprano here had an amazing voice.

There was food and drink and a chance to mingle before and afterwards with our hosts and their friends. We had some very interesting chats.

Il Bel Canto. Masseria Torre Maizza. Thursday 20-Jun-2024.

A night at the opera. Last year we got a preview of the Festival della Valle D’Itria 2023, this year it was a sampler of arias from the last 50 years of the festival compered by the artistic director, Sebastian Schwarz, and held in the ludicrously expensive venue of the Masseria Torre Maizza.

La storia del Festival della Valle d'Itria
con gli artisti dell'Accademia del Belcanto "Rodolfo Celletti" di Martina Franca

Programma

  • Christoph Willibald Gluck da Orphée et Euridice: "T'ai perdu mon Eurydice”,
    Saori Sugiyama, mezzosoprano
  • Vincenzo Bellini da Norma: "Casta Diva”
    Juliette Chauvet, soprano
  • Friedrich von Flotow da Marta:"M'apparì tutt'amor”
    Pepe Hannan, tenore
  • Gioachino Rossini da Semiramide: "Bel raggio lusinghier”
    Carmen Larios Caparrós, soprano
  • Luigi Cherubini da Médée: "Vous voyez de vos fils la mère”
    Louise Guenter, soprano
  • Gioachino Rossini da Il turco in Italia: "Bella Italia, alfin ti miro"
    Omar Cepparolli, basso
    Camilla Difonzo, soprano
  • M° Giorgio D'Alonzo, pianoforte.

Entirely unplanned, Mary and Trudi showing great taste in matching dresses!

The ticket price included a glass of fizz and some hors d'oeuvres.

Sebastian as the musical director of the Festival Val d’Itria acted as MC and giving an introduction to each aria, when and where first performed, etc.

Saori Sugiyama, mezzosoprano.

Juliette Chauvet, soprano.

Pepe Hannan, tenore.

Carmen Larios Caparrós, soprano.

Louise Guenter, soprano. No pictures as she was hidden behind a pillar.

Camilla Difonzo, soprano, Omar Cepparolli, basso.

Afterwards we drove down to Savelletri for a late supper at Osteria del Porto.

A great pair of musical evenings, so very different in style and content but both very entertaining.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Oxford Life - Glossary

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Glossary.

Oxford has many strange jargon words. Below are some either used in the blog or others I remember from my time there.

Me punting circa 1976 standing at the "wrong end".

Buttery
Where undergraduates purchased their meal tickets. Run by the College Butler who is responsible amongst other items for managing the College’s collection of historic silverware and managing the college wine cellars.
Cantab.
Short for Cantabrigiensis, the Latin for Cambridge.
Catz
Colloquial name for Saint Catherine‘s College.
Commoner
A normal student who does not have a scholarship or exhibition (see also Exhibitioner and Scholar).
Exhibitioner
A student who did well enough in exams to be awarded an Exhibition - a small monetary grant (see also Commoner and Scholar).
Fresher
A first year undergraduate. As far as I know there are no special terms for the second and third year students, unlike the US terms Sophomore and Senior.
Finals
Exams taken at the end of your third year.
Hilary
The second term of the academic year in the New Year.
Magdalen
A college whose name in Oxford is pronounced Maudlin as in "self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental".
Matriculation
An admission ceremony ceremony at which new students are entered into the register of the university, at which point they become members of the university, see Matriculation:United_Kingdom.
Michaelmas
The first term of the academic year, before Christmas.
Milk round
The series of visits made at a particular time of the year by large companies to colleges and universities to discuss giving jobs to students after they have finished their education.
Mods
Honour Moderations are a set of examinations at the end of the first part of some degree courses (e.g., Greats or Literae Humaniores).
Norrington Table
An annual ranking of the colleges, see [Wikipedia:Norrington Table].
Oxbridge
A portmanteau word for Ox[ford] and [Cam]bridge.
Oxon.
Short for the Latin "Universitas Oxoniensis" used as a post nominal e.g. Mark McLellan M.A. (Oxon).
Prelims
Preliminary examinations, taken at the end of the first year, see [Wikipedia:Prelim:University_of_Oxford].
Punt
A flat bottomed boat propelled by a person standing at the back using a long pole. In Cambridge the punter stands on a flat platform, in Oxford the boat is turned round with the flat portion at the front and the punter stands on the sloping slats. Both Universities agree that the other is standing at the "wrong end".
RLAHA
Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art where I did my fourth year, Part II, research project. See [RLAHA].
Scholar
A student who did well enough in exams to be awarded a scholarship - a more sizeable monetary grant (see also Commoner and Exhibitioner).
Schools
aka Finals. Exams at the end of your third year.
Sconcing
A curious habit found when dining in some colleges. See [Oxford Life - 04 Food].
Scout
Housekeeper and, in our case, part-time barmaid (see picture below).
Sporting your oak
A closed outer, oak door indicated that either you were away or you were in and not to be disturbed because you were studying hard or you had a guest. See [Oxford Life - 03 Accommodation].
Tanner Scheme
A scheme whereby Hertford would offer places to pupils based on an interview, recommendation from the school and predicted grades. See: [Tanner Scheme].
Subfusc
Academic garb required to be worn on formal occasions, see [Wikipedia:Academic dress of the University of Oxford].
Teddy Hall
Colloquial name for [St. Edmund Hall].
The Broad
Local term for Broad Street.
The High
Local term for High Street.
Trinity
The third year term of the academic year.

Our scout and part time barmaid whose name eludes me.

tbc... 

Friday, June 07, 2024

Oxford Life - 07 Epilogue

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 07 - Epilogue.

Graduation.

This is me in the full regalia required to attend the graduation ceremony. 

I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. I am envious of people who always knew what career they wanted to pursue. The university did provide career advice, so I had a meeting with an advisor. All I knew was that I wanted something that combined theory and practice like chemistry, or architecture like my father. The best I could come up with was that had this been in the middle ages I would have signed up with one of the guilds of master craftsman. The advisor had no suggestions.

No one had explained to me about the milk round. 

Milk round: "The series of visits made at a particular time of the year by large companies to colleges and universities to discuss giving jobs to students after they have finished their education."

By the time I learned of its existence it was all over, not that it would have done me much good without a clear goal.

My first job.

I quite liked the idea of becoming a studio potter. This was partly inspired by an old family friend, Mick Casson, who was a respected and charismatic figure. When revising for my O-Levels, I spent a week with his family following my revision plan in the morning, throwing pots with him in the afternoon, and the evenings with his family.

I signed up for pottery evening classes to test if that was possible vocation for me. However I still liked to eat so I signed on the dole and started applying for Lab Technician type jobs. One of them was as a computer operator for Oxfordshire County Council.  The job involved changing magnetic tapes, loading printers with continuous stationary and various other tasks. 

When I went for the interview they, spotting that I was over qualified, said that they were also recruiting for computer programmers and would I like to take the aptitude test. Unsurprisingly I did pretty well so they offered me a job as a trainee programmer. I accepted, went off to London for a two week basic COBOL course, staying with my Uncle Ralph and then came back to start life as a coder. 

My starting salary was £1,999 per annum - yes, you read that right - two thousand pounds per year - it was 1976! After a couple of years the lure of the big city lights and a 50% salary hike took me to London to work for Sainsbury’s. It had never occurred to me that one could make a living as a programmer and I took it like a duck to water, thus began my life-long career in IT.

Since then no one has ever asked for evidence that I actually have a degree from Oxford and certainly never asked what class of degree it was!


Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Oxford Life - 06 Academia

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 06 - Academia.

Introduction.

There are a number of peculiarities about the Oxford education system and the Chemistry degree in particular:

  • For historical reasons, all first degree courses in Oxford lead to a B.A. degree, even if they are in a science subject: nobody gets a B.Sc. at Oxford. 
  • The three terms are named Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity and are only eight weeks, making for long holidays.
  • Seven years after matriculation you also get awarded an M.A. basically for not falling under a bus, sending in a cheque for a modest sum and attending a ceremony. See: Master of Arts (Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin). So technically I am entitled to Mark McLellan M.A. (Oxon).
  • Chemistry is a four year course. A normal Part I three year course followed by a Part II project, normally in one of the three main labs (Organic, Inorganic, Physical). Because of my interest in archaeology I opted for an outlier, the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art.

Year one.

The first formal event was Matriculation where we were inducted into the university. This required us to dress up in academic garb called subfusc and attend a ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre (designed by a young Sir Christopher Wren) conducted in Latin (of course).

The education consisted of 10 hours of lectures: two hours each day Monday to Friday, 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Then one day a week spent in a laboratory doing actual experiments. There was one tutorial a week lasting an hour for which you had to prepare an essay. The essay was basically transcribing chunks from one of the three substantial textbooks and then presenting them to the tutor who went through them and corrected any mistakes. 

There was no correlation between the lectures and the tutorials. You might have a lecture on a topic in the autumn term and a tutorial on that same topic in the following spring, or vice versa.

The tutors themselves were academics who may well have been experts in their fields but lacked the skills required to engage with students. Possibly in arts subjects there might be intellectual discussion and banter but for a science that just does not apply. This was a rubbish way to impart knowledge!

Being a studious youth, I worked hard and at the end of first year exams, known as Prelims for which we also had to wear subfusc), I got a decent grade and according to my tutor was capable of getting a very good degree. 

"I am sure that you are capable of getting a very good degree indeed and that reading now will repay you well". Verbally, he said I was on track for a First.

Year two.

In the second year, this dreadful educational system continued to grind away at my enthusiasm for chemistry. At school I had an inspirational teacher, Mr Annable, and I loved the subject with its mixture of theory and practice. The Oxford approach was disappointing to say the least. 

Apologists for the system claim that you are no longer spoon fed like you are at school and have to be self directed. I would argue that in fact it was more like "sink or swim" with no guidance, support or coaching delivered by people with dubious presentation skills and shakey didactic abilities. A very poor approach to imparting knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm.

I read widely in other areas such as psychology, anthropology, child development, sociology, and at the end of my second year asked if I could change subject. The answer was “No” since I was already two years into my course and funding from the local educational authority would not be forthcoming. So I gritted my teeth and stuck it out with no great enthusiasm.

There were no exams at the end of the second year, which which meant a certain degree of freedom to enjoy other aspects of life. Many of the colleges had Amateur Dramatic groups and in the summer term I was going to two or three productions every single week. 

Going back through my old programs I discovered that I had not seen anyone who later became famous apart from Oz Clarke (now better known as a wine presenter) but I did see a fellow pupil from my school, Jane Broughton, who came up to Oxford the year after me and appeared in “Saksoon” at St Edward’s.

Year three.

By the third year, I was so disillusioned with the teaching that I stopped going to lectures completely! Instead, I spent my time reading large numbers of science fiction books purchased from various secondhand bookshops. 

Interestingly, no one enquired how I was getting on or noticed that I wasn’t attending lectures. The indifference and lack of interest shown by the college and my primary tutor, now that I look back on it, was frankly appalling.

As a consequence my marks in Schools (aka Finals) were poor, on the border between second and third class honours. 

"Your performance in Schools was a little disappointing I am afraid and you will need a good Part II to ensure that you get the 2nd of which you are capable. [...] I hope you will make a real effort for it would be a nonsense for a man of your intelligence not to get a Second." 

It would all hang on how I did in my Part II, fourth year project. 

Year four.

The project had a decent remit to test the the effects that burial might have on pottery and the possible impact on dating techniques.

The project went well enough but was not helped by losing my lab notebook on the bus whilst visiting London. I had a last minute, final term panic re-creation of the experiments. The viva didn't go particularly well and unfortunately the thesis was not good enough to push my marks over the boundary into Second so I scraped through with a Third Class Honours.

It was, however, good enough to get a paper published the following year:

Hedges, R.E.M., and McLellan, M. “Cation exchange capacity of fired clays and its effect on the chemical and radiometric analysis of pottery.”

Abstract

Measurements of the exchange capacity of several clay types for firing temperatures up to 1000/sup 0/C are presented. Consideration of these, together with measurements on archaeological material, shows the possibility for significant alteration of the trace element composition for pottery. The implications of this for provenance determination and thermoluminescent radiometry are considered.

Archaeometry; (United Kingdom); Journal Volume: 18:2. [More…].

So Oxford turned a keen, hard working pupil capable of getting a First into an unhappy, disillusioned student who scraped a Third. 


All this for a piece of paper that has sat in an envelope for 50 years. No one has ever asked for it or even for proof that it exists.

Am I bitter? Too f***ing right I am.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Oxford Life - 05 Money

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 05 - Money.

Introduction.

The way we manage our money now is so very different to when I was at college: no student loans, frugal spending habits and primitive banking technology. Back then there were no credit cards, no ATMs, no internet banking, cheques took three days to clear. Shopping was cash or a cheque with a cheque guarantee card. Only part way through college did credit cards arrive to join the party and ATMs appeared after I’d left.

Student Grant.

Way back in the ‘70s only 4% of pupils went on to university. These days it is approaching 40%. There was no need for student loans because the public purse could afford to pay for our education. I received a grant from the local education authority that covered tuition, accommodation and living expenses. 

It was means tested, so parents were expected to make a contribution and the grant was reduced accordingly. My father earned a modest salary working as an architect for Coventry City Council and had a wife and three offspring to support. Consequently, he was not able to make his contribution even though small.

As a result, I was on a tight budget and had to manage my money very carefully. I kept a journal in which I recorded my cash in hand or, more literally, in pocket. 

Looking back it gives some insight into the cost of every day items.

  • A cashed cheque for £6.50 was enough to cover my expenses for a week. 
  • A pint of milk was 4p
  • A pint of lager and lime was 14p
  • A packet of chocolate digestives was 11½p. 
  • Looking through all the pages it seems that I lived on chocolates and biscuits but in the first year food was already paid for as part of my college accommodation. 
  • Powdered milk was for coffee in my room as there was no fridge.
  • There was no payphone in the college so "Telephone" was going out into Catte Street to the iconic K6 red telephone box opposite and feeding it coins to speak to my parents or girlfriend. 
  • I went to the laundrette once a fortnight. I owned 15 pairs of identical brown socks so that matching them up was never a problem - just grab the first two that came to hand out of the drawer. The 15th pair was, of course, to wear at the laundrette while I washed the other 14 pairs.
  • A platform ticket “allowed non-passengers to enter the paid area of the station, for example to walk with their friends, associates and loved ones all the way to the passenger car at stations where the general public is not admitted to platforms.” [Wikipedia]
  • CADAS was the Coventry and District Archaeological Society.

What doesn't appear in this cash book is the almost weekly cheque written in favour of Virgin Records in Little Clarendon Street where my vinyl collection was augmented on a regular basis.

In my third year, my brother went to King’s College, Cambridge and the parental contribution was then divided between the two of us, meaning a smaller deduction from my grant cheque which helped with my living expenses.

Bank account. 

We had only just made the conversion from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency in the spring of my first year [Monday 15 February 1971] so by the time I came to open a bank account the UK was fully decimal.

I opened my first ever bank account in my home town of Kenilworth, but then immediately transferred it to Oxford because you needed to physically go into a branch to withdraw money. There was no ATM from which you could withdraw cash. ATMs had only been introduced into the UK two years previously and were not at all widespread until after I finished college. You went into the bank, wrote a cheque made out to “Cash”, handed it over to the teller and got your money in return.

I once read that people were more likely to change their spouse than their bank account. Not sure if that is still true. I kept my Lloyds Bank account open for many years even after Mary and I were married and had opened joint NatWest bank accounts. Eventually I closed it realising that I was pointlessly paying fees on a dormant account.  

Cheque guarantee cards. 

If you wanted to buy something in a shop you wrote a cheque. The cheque guarantee card promised the shopkeeper that the bank would honour the cheque provided they made a note of the card number on the back of the cheque. Banks were wary of giving them to students. When you received your cheque guarantee card you had to sign a piece of paper saying you would not run amok (I paraphrase). Finally withdrawn in 2011

Credit cards. 

Back then credit cards were almost unknown. Very few people had them. Barclaycard was the first, introduced in 1966. In the early ‘70s the banks decided to start issuing credit cards. You didn’t even need to apply. They just mass mailed them out. Initial credit limits were really low but it seemed like every three or four months they would up the credit limit and then up it again so the imprudent could rack up huge debts very rapidly. 

There was no electronic capturing of data. The shopkeeper inserted a multipart paper slip into a device, inserted the card and pushed the handle across to take an impression of the card. You got one copy, the shopkeeper retained one and the other went off in the post to be processed by the card issuer. Seems very primitive by today's electronic standards.


Having had to manage my money carefully back then installed frugal habits I retain to this day. That is, apart from Hi-Fi (see My Life in … Hi-Fi)!

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Oxford Life - 04 Food

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution. 

Table of Contents:

Episode 04 - Food. 

Years one and two.

As part of the accommodation we were required to dine in hall for a set number of meals. You bought a book of buttery tickets, somewhat like a book of cloakroom tickets, which could be exchanged for meals. The dining hall looked like a small version of Hogwarts with dark oak panels and oil paintings of previous Principals of the college but without the floating candles.

There were long refectory tables with bench seating along both walls and down the centre of the hall. Across the top of the room on a dias was, literally, high table where the dons dined. 

There were no gaps so if you wanted to sit on the wall side you had to walk over the table with your tray of food: you’d say “excuse me” which would cause people to budge up and move their food and condiments out of the way, you’d then step onto the outer bench, up onto the table and across to the other side avoiding treading on people’s dinners and step down to the wall side bench. After a short while you got used to people walking across where you were eating.

Weekdays there were two sittings, the second sitting was more formal and you had to wear your academic gown, bow tie optional. On Sunday there was only a formal sitting where there was a curious custom called sconcing. 

“A person would be ‘sconced’ at a formal dinner if they broke table etiquette – for example by talking about women, religion, politics or work; by referring to the portraits hung in the hall; or by pronouncing the Latin grace wrong. All very serious stuff. The tradition then evolved from being a monetary fine to the penalty of having to drink a tankard of ale which the sconced student could share with his fellows, thus making amends to those who suffered his breach of etiquette. Only the master or senior scholar at the table was able to impose a ‘sconce’: if other people at the table felt that a sconce was necessary, they had to make their request to their senior in Latin or Ancient Greek.” [The Art of Sconcing :: Cherwell].

I only remember witnessing it a couple of times. The guilty party had to pay for a beer to fill the sconcing cup which held about three pints. They would drink as much as they could, then the cup would be passed to the person on their left. Obviously the accuser would typically be on the offender’s right thus getting a free drink before passing it along the table.

The other nights when not dining in college we had to dine out. Having no kitchen facilities in our accommodations, our usual repast was pasty and beans in the The Chequers or a Chinese takeaway: sweet and sour pork balls in fluorescent wallpaper paste with chips that had been cooked too quickly - crisp on the outside, almost raw in the middle.

Breakfast was included in our fees and consisted of bread rolls and marmalade. It is amazing how much marmalade you can squeeze into a modest sized sized roll. 

Years three and four.

Moving into Stratford Street with a kitchen opened up new options. Instead of pasty and beans I could cook at home starting off with Vesta Chow Mein ready meal. I read that they used to subtly tweak the formulation periodically so that people’s palate would not get bored and then not buy as frequently. 

The first Christmas in Stratford street I was given a cookbook by my sister’s then German boyfriend. It was full of traditional English recipes and was my first foray into real cooking at the age of 22, see My Life In … Recipes

We held a party where drinks included a container of scrumpy that Vince had brought up from Somerset. Not all was drunk and it started to grow cloudy in the weeks following. The cookbook included a recipe for rabbit in cider so we thought we’d give it a go. Off the the covered market where the butcher sold us a rabbit in its entirety. We did get him to gut, skin and behead it but we still had to joint it for the pot. Never having done such a thing we resorted to Pete’s scalpel set to dissect the beast. The resulting stew was delicious.

My first ever dinner party came out of the same cookbook. I decided to invite my tutor to dinner along with the rest of the usual suspects. I cannot remember what we served for starter, but the main course was Coq au Vin. I had also discovered a recipe for Hertford pudding - an appropriately named dessert. It basically consisted of whipped cream into which was stirred sweetened chestnut purée. It seemed to go down well.

After college my culinary skills continued to develop thanks to the Reader's Digest classic cookbook “The Cookery Year”.