Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Ruby Turner at Ronnie Scott's

London. Wednesday 03-February-2016.

At the recommendation of our friends Grant and Helen we booked for this gig although Ruby is not an artiste I am familiar with. Boy, can she belt it out! A real down to earth person with a good line in audience banter.

The excellent sound system meant we could hear every thing perfectly; I was ungracious enough to contrast it with the Paul Weller gig which had been organised by Grant but it really does make an huge difference.

Ruby Turner paying a tribute to Terry Wogan
Posted by Official Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club & Ronnie's Bar on Monday, 8 February 2016

She concluded the second set with a heart-rending version of "I'd Rather Go Blind" which brought the audience to their feet. A powerful performance all round.

Honourable mention should be given to The Al Cherry Quartet who, like any support band, do not always get the full attention their musicianship deserves. They played some fine classics while we dined.

Ronnie Scott's four times in a week. It's a good life if you don't weaken!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's 2016

London. Sunday 31-January-2016.

Last time we saw Mary Coughlan at Ronnie's she had dragged herself off her sick bed and was swigging Benylin. This time she was in good health and on top form. She positively bounced on stage to an energetic version of "Meet me where they play the blues". The first set continued in similar vein with superb music interspersed with anecdotes and background to the songs which added an extra layer of understanding to the lyrics.


This was the second time I had the pleasure of being able to show my ex-colleague Delton the best that London has to offer. The concert was sold out and returns were unlikely. We had four tickets but Sunday engineering works diverted one of our friends. Fortunately we were able to find a substitute at the last minute to Delton's delight and good fortune.

The second set was more of the same with Mary pogo-ing to the more upbeat songs. This was easily the best Mary Coughlan concert we have ever been to. Top evening :-)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Champagne Tasting at Ronnie Scott's

London. Wednesday 27-January-2016.

"Bit of a cock-up on the catering front". We turned up for a free champagne tasting at Upstairs at Ronnie's (courtesy of Mary's membership) to be told that there had been a mix up and the tasting was actually Thursday. We were invited in anyway for free champagne and nibbles on the house and asked if we would like to return the next day. "Yes please".

London. Thursday 28-January-2016.

This time all was in order for the champagne tasting proper presented by a champagne "ambassador" from the drinks company. They presented four champagnes:

  • Moet Imperial NV - one third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Dosage of 9 gm per litre.
  • Moet Rose NV - 10% red wine in the blend.
  • Veuve Clicquot Yellow label - 50/55% pinot meunier.
  • Veuve Clicquot Rose.

All full glasses, none of your tasting measures so it was a slightly boozy tasting.


We know all about the manufacturing process having done tours of a numbers of champagne houses over the years. However did I learn some interesting factiods about Madam Clicquot:

  • She invented the process of riddling whereby the bottles are rotated and tilted to get the yeast sediment to the neck for removal. 
  • She introduced the concepts of a vintage champagne - up then it had all been blended NV, as most still is.
  • She introduced the first rose champagne which, unlike most rose which is made by leaving the white grape juice briefly on the red skins, she made by blending red and white wines post-fermentation.

We had a pleasant chat with the neighbours at our table, on champagne, Italy and bands or artists we had seen. We then stayed on for food from the bar and live music. We stumbled home late. Dirty job but somebody has to do it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Burns Supper 2016 at 1 Lombard Street

London. 25-January-2016

We decided at the last minute to book a Burns supper and dragged along an ex-colleague, Delton, for his first experience of this ancient ritual (he is American). We all wore something tartan to get a free cocktail. The menu gave Delton an opportunity to try not just haggis, neeps and tatties but also cranachan.

The restaurant had booked a piper who was something of a character. He did several circuits of the restaurant followed by Burn's "Address to a Haggis".


We were lucky that our table was close the the spot chosen for the address. The piper gave a spirited rendition of the address complete with extravagant gestures, the pouring over of a wee dram and the plunging of the dirk into the haggis' gushing entrails. Afterwards there was a photo opportunity.


Following the meal there was an impromptu outbreak of Scottish country dancing - a Gay Gordans round the restaurant with more enthusiasm than skill from most of the participants. Well done to 1 Lombard Street for an excellent Burns Supper.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

21 Pints of Blood and Counting

 Thursday 21-January-16

I have been giving blood every 8 weeks for the last 2 years. A couple of years ago I volunteered for the Interval Study for blood donations:
"Between June 2012 and June 2014, the INTERVAL study recruited about 25,000 men and about 25,000 women at NHS Blood and Transplant (NSHBT) blood donation centres across England (to see locations click here).

During the study participants are asked to give blood either at usual donation intervals or more frequently. Men donate every 12, 10 or 8 weeks and women every 16, 14 or 12 weeks.

At the end of the study period, we will compare the amount of blood donated and measures of well-being in people asked to give blood at standard intervals versus those asked to give blood more frequently."
Of course I would be randomly allocated to the 8 week group which means regular visits to the West End Donor Centre. However I was given a breather for a couple of donations because we went to malaria-risk Zimbabwe which meant a six month quarantine period.

Today was the last official donation for the study but I will, naturally, continue to donate although maybe not as frequently. They took an extra "after" blood sample to compare with the original "before" sample. There will also be a questionnaire on my general health and well-being.


I have been giving blood intermittently since 1976 (not a typo that is forty years). Part way through the study I received a congratulatory letter for making 10 donations. Clearly w-a-y out as I was at least in the high teens if not twenties so I got in touch.

The Blood Transfusion records people managed to track down some old Farnborough donations in a previous system but going back to the early days it was probably paper-based records. They had no record of donations whilst I was working at Oxfordshire County Council, Sainsburys, Anglian Water and BT. In the end we agreed a compromise figure of 18. I settled for that as I don't want to overstate my record.

Let's see how long until I get my next badge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hedge Laying at Morden Hall Park

Morden Hall Park, London. Tuesday 12-January-2016

One of the joys of retiring is that I can do weekday volunteering. I learned of this opportunity via The Wandle Trust. The river passes through Morden Hall Park which is managed by The National Trust and they were looking for volunteers to do some hedge laying.

Apparently the purpose of the hedge is to discourage dogs being walked along the path from running into the wetland area and disturbing the habitat and birdlife.

These trees were planted several years ago and our mission was to turn them into a hedge.


The first step is to cut 75% through the trunk. It seemed a little drastic to me but apparently the outer layer is what transports the liquids up the tree and core is pretty much deadwood.


Having made the cut we bend the trunk over with much cracking and tearing. So as long as there is some outer trunk intact the hedge will continue to grow.


By lunch time we had a stretch of pretty rough and ready hedge and broke for lunch.


After lunch we headed for a stand of hazel trees to practice the ancient art of coppicing. We harvested a mixture of thick trunks for stakes and longer thin suckers for the runners.


The stakes are inserted every 18 inches in as near a straight line as we could.


Starting with three rods at the first post, we weave round the posts.


At the next post we introduced a new rod between the existing rods and weave that along. Rinse and repeat until we had done the entire stretch.


Finally the tops of the posts are tidied up to make them neater; easy with a chain saw.


A job well done and a most satisfactory day out.

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit: http://www.wandletrust.org/.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cleaning the Wandle January 2016

Trewint Street, Earlsfield. Sunday 10-January-2016

My first clean up for six months! We have been out of London every second Sunday since last July what with various trips at home and abroad. So it was nice to start the New Year being able to go to this clean up.

The start point was the bridge at the end of Trewint Street. Under the bridge was a weir and a fish ladder which were not obvious until you get down into the water.


The rubbish had to be hauled up the vertical banks using rope and grapple. This was a particularly recalcitrant bicycle that took some time and muscle power to haul out of the sludge.


This scooter was hauled out on a previous clean up. Because of the high walls we will leave it there until we have a clean up downstream when it will be dragged along to a more convenient exit point.


It is shallow here but upstream of the weir the water was up to the chest and the bottom was several feet of sludge. Scary to try and walk through so I shamelessly wimped out and hauled myself onto the bank and stayed there.


Last year was nicely summarised by an infographic from Polly, the clean up coordinator.

Clean ups 2015

  • 6.6 km of the Wandle
  • 33 tonnes of rubbish
  • 595 volunteers
  • 2241 hours

Retrieved

  • 13 mopeds
  • 3 safes
  • 255 tyres
  • 18 carpets
  • 21 traffic cones 
  • 13 bikes
  • 3 TV's
  • 4 mattresses
  • 12 trolleys
I must say that I am surprised that it wasn't more supermarket trolleys. Let's see what 2016 can produce.

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit: http://www.wandletrust.org/.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Christmas Daffodil at Angelus Restaurant 2015

London. Saturday 05-December-15

Not actually a Daffodil Dining Club event but we improvised. The usual Christmas "Daff" did not materialise which left us in a quandary for our usual works Christmas lunch. It is essential to make use of the taxman's allowance for annual parties and other social functions. So we rounded up the usual suspects Pete and Amanda and booked a meal at Angelus.


This restaurant was a one off venue for the Christmas Daff in 2010 and really impressed. Ever since then I have wanted to make a return visit. We had a lovely meal, so much so that we ate it rather than photographed it. Not sure whether we can have a work's party next year if we have retired, maybe it depends if the company is still registered.

For more about this fine restaurant see Open Table reviews.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Paul Weller at the Eventim Apollo

Friday 04-December-2015

Mary was off for a girls' night out in Winchester so I took up the offer of a lads' night out to see Paul Weller at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo. This tour was to promote Paul's new album Saturns Patterns so I presumed that many of the songs were off that album.


The Telegraph gives it 4 stars. "Paul Weller, Eventim Apollo: 'the modfather remains a dynamic force. Former Jam singer delivered his new set with full-throated gusto, says Pete Naughton. [...] Over the following two hours, Weller and his fiercely well-drilled five-piece band – two drummers, a bassist, a keyboardist and former Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock – powered through a 27-song set that’s been finely tuned over months of touring this year." Full review...

Personally I found the sound pretty dire. One could hardly make out the vocals, lost in a mish mash of undifferentiated instruments. The Telegraph agrees: "The only disappointments of the evening came from the Apollo’s acoustics, which rendered some of Weller’s newer, rhythmically experimental material almost unlistenable."

I did not recognise hardly any of the set. Part of the Faustian bargain between artist and audience is that they play a mix of new stuff and some greatest hits to send the crowd home humming the old favourites. Reading the Telegraph review it would seem that Paul ranged widely across his back catalogue which just shows how little I know of his ouevre. All in all one of the most disappointing concerts I have been to for some time. Sorry Weller fans!

Still there was good banter with Grant and John and more pints of beer than are recommended in the latest Government guidelines [PDF].

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Average White Band at the Royal Festival Hall

South Bank, London. Saturday 21-November-15.

We enjoyed AWB hugely when we saw them at Ronnie Scott's so it was an easy decision to go see them again albeit in a larger venue. Still we got pretty good seats, Row E in the stalls.

The support act were Kokomo featuring Jim Mullen who we have also seen at Ronnie's in other line-ups. They were most enjoyable, always good when you hear a new (to me) band. They guy next to me was clearly a fan singing along and strumming the chords.


London Jazz News wrote:
"As Average White Band left the stage with two and a half thousand people on their feet, it felt more like the end of the final headline set at Glastonbury than an evening in the Royal Festival Hall. Yet when the house lights came on, with the final stabs of Pick Up The Pieces still hanging in the air, the audience were revealed not as muddy young rockers but a different tranche of society: charitably middle-aged and dressed for the theatre. On paper, Saturday night's Soul Summit may have seemed a straightforward return to past 70s glory, but the fantastic musical delivery from the bands and the joyous reception they received from the audience made it a new night to remember in its own right."
Full review...


Afterwards the band rushed round to the foyer to sign copies of their last CD. At first I thought "surely they don't need the money that badly?" but then I realised that it was actually them being good guys and allowing fans a chance to meet them all in person, say a few words and get a CD signed by *all* the band members.


And here is Mary having a word with Onnie McIntyre.


As London Jazz News said "A fantastic show, there was nothing average about this one."

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Olive Harvest 2015

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 07-November-2016.

The best harvest ever both in terms of quantity and quality.  Previous years we have harvested in the middle of November. We have two sets of trees with black and green olives respectively. The black ones ripen earlier so generally many have fallen to the ground by harvest time and we pick mostly the green variety. This year we went for the first weekend of November and as a result harvested many more black olives which were looking in prime condition.

We persuaded six of our friends to take a long weekend and help us with the harvest, not that they took a lot of persuading.


We flew out on a Thursday; Friday it was pouring with rain so no harvest. Saturday was clear so a-harvesting we went.


With eight of us I was not expecting the harvest to take long, normally three hours is enough. This time it took most of the day, partly because of the bumper crop and partly because of a leisurely lunch.


We worked in pairs, two to a tree and were most meticulous harvesting every last olive. We have a multi-function ladder that can be configured as a platform so I did the upper branches while Nigel here did the lower branches - teamwork!


We only have four nets and four crates so we had to co-opt one of the under-bed storage crates to hold the overflow. We forgot to weigh the haul but it easily hit the 100kg mark.


The olives went off to one of our neighbours for pressing along with his harvest. We do not meet the 220kg minimum pressing quantity so we combine ours with his. Since it is a batch process we know that the oil we get back is made, at least in part, from our olives.


The work done we relaxed with a pizza party. We hired in a pizza chef who brings all the makings and fires up our oven.


Part of the fun is having a go at making your own pizza. Creating an even, circular base from a ball of dough is much harder than it looks. The dough is slow-risen for three days and is incredibly elastic, it keeps springing back.


We were joined by two sets of neighbours so it was quite the party. Mino appointed himself pizza judge awarding points for shape and thinness to much hilarity.


The weather was sunny enough that a trip to the coast for a seaside lunch required a pre-lunch dip for the hardier souls. Not me. Too darned cold in the water. Sod that for a game of soldiers.


Tony is a great real ale aficionado so on our previous visit we had tracked down a source of Puglian artisanal beers.


Good food, good wine, good company, great harvest. What more could one ask for?

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit http://www.homeaway.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Prom 49, 2015: Mahler - Symphony No. 6

Saturday 22-August-2015

Mary decided to make this a "corporate event" so we treated a number of her colleagues to an evening of culture. We had a loggia box which seats eight and smuggled in a small picnic with us.


I was anticipated something quite gloomy given Mahler's reputation but I found it much more enjoyable than I had expected.

The reviews were variable and two both singled out the brass for disapprobation. Skipping over the first half of the concert (Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae) this is what two reviewers had to say about the main piece:

Seen and Heard international: Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Bring Magnificent Mahler to the Proms.
"And so to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Here the sheer orchestral perfection of the Boston Symphony shone through, with perhaps an odd exception: the solo horn player, James Sommerville, too often sounded just barely in control of his instrument and at other times tended towards approximation.
[...]
If the opening march was blunted somewhat, one listened with awe at so many aspects of this first movement: the stunning, clarion first trumpet of Thomas Rolfs, the sweet solo violin of concert-master Malcolm Lowe, the superb trombone trudge of the coda against heavy, low strings, and throughout the glowing oboe solos of John Ferrillo. Nelsons’ Mahler is heavily gestural and, yes, atmospheric. He also has a superb rapport with this orchestra; subtle tempo manipulations in the second movement were minutely managed, with Luftpausen both natural and precise."
Full review...

BachTrack: Prom 49: Boston Symphony Orchestra misses the magic in Mahler.
"So to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Standing at nearly four times the length of Dramatis Personae, and requiring one of the repertory’s largest orchestras, here it found a very unlikely friend: the Albert Hall’s acoustic. The BSO is a truly magnificent orchestra, and the sheer sonic richness produced by innumerable string desks, nine horns, and a brass section on very high risers meant this huge empty space felt fuller than I have ever heard it. Even better, everything was miraculously clear; Mahler’s orchestrational prowess deserves some credit, but warrants the highest praise for finding such a perfect sound even in this troublesome acoustic.
[...]
Unfortunately, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the biggest issue was the balance of the orchestra; the brass was far too loud most of the time, entirely drowning out the strings and woodwind, with the principal trumpet’s extreme vibrato and excessive volume simply too much from start to finish."
Full review...

The Prom finished relatively early as there was a second, late night prom following. So rather than go straight home several of us went for a beer at the nearby Queens Arms hidden down a back street mews with a decent range of beers.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Blues Brothers at Ronnie Scott's 2015

Thursday 20-August-2015

It is almost a year since we saw the Original Blues Brothers Band feat. Steve Cropper and Lou Marini at Ronnie's and were very much looking forward to a repeat performance. We were not disappointed.


No reviews of this year's performances to quote from and no photos of mine because I respect Ronnie's request not to photograph the band (but there are a load on their FaceBook page) including:

Lou Marini.


The parts of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi and taken by Tommy McDonnell and Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi.


We got a bit of duelling guitars at one point. All good fun.


We were presented with a third brother to sing the Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" and others.



An excellent show and I even got to shake Lou Marini by the hand as he walked past.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Ninth Annual BBQ and Drink Our Excess Cellar

Saturday 15-August-2015

We havered about having our BBQ this year but went for it as there was a free Saturday before we went to Italy and it didn't clash with Bob & Lynn's BBQ because they didn't have one this year. So out went the invites and in came the acceptances.

We outsourced much of the catering to Waitrose but the artisanal ice creams are my department.

Ice cream #1 Blueberry ripple. Starting with a home made custard, real vanilla, and added rum in the blueberry sauce.


Ice cream #2 Brandy Alexander. This one never sets fully so is soft scoop and always goes first.


Ice cream #3 Yogurt and raspberry. I had to sieve all the pips even though the recipe said it was optional because I hate the pips getting stuck between my teeth. I add some vodka to the raspberries but not enough as it set hard and took ages to soften enough to serve.


Thirty-eight people came and drank 40 bottles of wine. The more they drink the less we have to move when our house sale goes through.


We left it too late to arrange a burger flipper. All the nephews are too old for that stuff. They are all graduated and have proper jobs that pay real money. Instead our friend Grant did the honours for quite some time which allowed me to mingle and so we gave him some very tasty Riesling as a thank you.

Next year the BBQ will be on the green outside our new flat. Looking forward to that.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic in Locorotondo

Masseria Ferragnano, Locorotondo (BA), Italy. Sunday

The main reason for adding a day to our previous trip to Puglia was to see this band following rave reviews from a friend of a friend. Any excuse to spend longer in Italy!

This concert was part of the 11th Locus Festival where (according to the English version of the website) "many other artists, will perform during three weekends themes: the modern black music American, the legends of the musical contaminations, and its electronic avant-garde contemporary." I can go with that.


The concert was in the open air in a country house estate on the outskirts of Locorotondo. The concert wasn't due to start until 10:30 which is just as well as the queue for the beer tent took half an hour!


Mary counted 14 people up on stage. It was a full on jazz funk spectacular.


The backing singer on the right wasn't wearing much so provide equal opportunity eye candy for the ladies they had a male dancer who rippled his six-pack and did handstand on the speaker stack.


The band played for nearly three hours and finished at 1:30 in the morning. Since we were in the middle of the country there were no neighbours to upset. As the crowd dispersed we wended our way back to the apartment just in time for a spectacular firework display at 2am which woke the dogs up and set off car alarms. And a nice lie in the next morning :-)

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit http://www.homeaway.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hadrian's Wall Walk in Aid of Alzheimer Society

Cumbria. Saturday 08-August-2015

Mary said "We haven't done a challenge this year". "Oh dear" I thought. So she signed us up for a 23 mile walk along part of Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer Society. That explains why we have been doing lots of walks this year - all part of the training regimen.

We took the day off and went up by train, picked up a hire car and drove to Brampton where we had booked a B&B for two nights. A walk round the town and a pint of local ale in the Howard Arms followed by a meal in a Brambles Bistro and an early night.


It was an early start: drive to Lanercost Priory for assembly at 6am to be bussed to the start point from where we would walk back to the priory.

It was a lovely day, perfect for walking, admiring the countryside and marvelling at the feat of Roman engineering as it snaked across the countryside following a natural ridge.


"Boys will be boys" and we passed several groups of men dressing up as centurions. And good luck to them, they are having fun, it adds to the general jollity and provides lots of photo opportunities. As I said to one lot they must appear in so many people's photo albums.


At times the escarpment that forms the basis of the wall's route is positively spectacular.


There are turrets every third of a mile and forts every mile.


It was a long hard slog. Some serious ups and downs at the start. It levelled off in the latter stages but by then we were running on empty. Mary had it worse as she was recovering from a horrible cold. But we made it - 23.6 miles in 8.5 hours.



A grand day out and we raised a reasonable amount of money for the Alzheimers Society.