Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Language Course in Rome 2019

Rome, Italy. Sunday 03-Feb-2016 / Tuesday 26-February-2019

Mary suggested I write this blog post in Italian but I don’t think my Italian is up to that level yet.

We did a three week language course in Rome. On the first Monday they gave us a short test to determine which class to put us all in. Mary was level B2, I was level A1, the beginners’ class. Not really a surprise as I have done little formal learning. I know plenty of nouns, a few verbs but mostly first person singular, present tense or the infinitive, and almost no grammar at all

So the beginners class introduced me to some basic fundamentals like how to do nouns and adjectives both male and female, singular and plural, how to conjugate regular verbs in the present tense and some of the more basic irregular verbs. All good building blocks to start to practice some Italian. I also booked myself three one-on-one conversation lessons with the teachers.

Now I’m back I need to revisit the course workbook, repeat the stuff we’ve already covered and do some of the other sections we skipped during the classes.

Classes were 9 till 12:30, Monday to Friday. That gave us plenty of time to play the tourist. The school organised a few events so we did a walking tour, a cookery class and a gastronomic walking tour.

The walking tour was billed as street art but it was a little more formal than that: an estate where they had decorated various blocks of flats as part of an impressive art project.

Sistine chapel meets Cherry blossom


Squids and whales


Very Alphonse Mucha


More than a hint of Magritte


Young girl


We also did a couple of self guided walkabouts.

Villa Borghese


Santa Maria Domenica


Piazza del Popolo


Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you're seein' double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs


Trevi Fountain


The Pantheon panorama pt 1.


The Pantheon panorama pt 2.


We also took one of the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses. We have done a number of those in other cities and they are a very good way to get an overview of the city and to help orientate yourself.

The Roman Forum


Oh, the hours I've spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin' time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see 'em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb


Circus Maximus


We stayed in an Airbnb apartment less than 10 minutes walk from the school which was very convenient, chosen for that reason. We mostly ate out as the Airbnb apartment had basic cooking facilities. There are an amazing number of pizza joints, café‘s and casual dining establishments in the area. Also some very fine restaurants as well.  At Ba Ghetto we had a classic Romano-Jewish dish: carciofi alla giudia.


A wine first: Kosher chardonay from Galilee.


Rome has two Parkrun venues so we decided to play the Parkrun tourist. The most convenient was Parco Caffarella. We checked it out and the week before there had only been nine runners. We went along and was surprised to discover 60 people were there, most of them visiting Welsh supporters in Rome for the Italy v. Wales rugby match.


The finish line.


Later that day at the Italy v. Wales match. Italy lost 15-25: Match report from Sky Sports.


We decided to do the same Parkrun the following Saturday as the other Rome Parkrun was more awkward to get to. I have to say that it was a unique experience - it was the first park run I’ve done where we ran round a flock of sheep!

At the end of the three weeks we took the train down to Cisternino to check out the apartments and with the plan of signing on with the local GP. Generally renewing is easier than getting into the system for the first time and the idea was to do it before Brexit. As it turns out the annual fee just to be able to sign on was quite substantial so it will be better to pay for a private consultation as and when we need it.

After 16 degrees C in Rome it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Cisternino to -1 overnight and daytime highs in the low single digits.

We also made a surprise visit to the Salento Parkrun where Mary and I were the only participants that week so I was able to snag a first past the post! To say it is one man and his dog is the literal truth. Here is the course director, Saverio, and his dog Bea (the Beagle).


Mary coming in second place - the fastest woman and the fastest in her age range!


The results:


However it was not a wasted trip because we got to check out the apartments make sure everything was all okay and meet up with our friends for a very pleasant meal out and a chance for me to practice a little bit my basic Italian.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Bokanté at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Friday 01-February-2019.

Another visit to Ronnie's for another band we knew nothing about but the write-ups sounded interesting. And another surprise support act.

The support act was Vula Viel with the lead musician, Bex Burch, playing a giant wooden xylophone, I assume a Ghanaian instrument since she trained there. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself with a permanent smile on her face. Even when the xylophone fell off its stand she reassembled the kit and carried on. Very hypnotic and reminded me a little of Balinese Gamelan.

Vinyl duly purchased from the front desk.



The main stage got pretty busy when the main act came on with, in effect, two groups on the stage at the same time. Fortunately not the full Metropole Orkest.

Neil Spence in the Guardian writes: World music Bokanté and Metropole Orkest: What Heat review - righteous and clever:
There is commendable ambition and skill behind this collaboration between Bokanté, the self-styled “super group” founded by Michael League of the New York jazz-funk outfit Snarky Puppy, and the renowned Dutch big band Metropole Orkest (active since 1945). [...] For this second album, League has added cinematic heft to Bokanté’s melange of Caribbean, Middle Eastern and jazz influences, helped by the arrangements of the Orkest’s Jules Buckley. Full review...



As always the acid test is do we rush to buy the CD. And we did.

Both acts had a definite world music vibe with and Bokante's lead singer, Malika Tivolien, from Guadalupe and Vula Viel's lead having trained in Ghana. An interesting and enjoyable evening.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Tina the Musical

Aldwych Theatre, London. Thursday 31-January-2019.

Supper beforehand at Roka, Aldwych. The food was excellent and they do a deal - 2 courses and a glass of bubbles for £26 per person. Also conveniently very close to the theatre.

The show was a straightforward, linear biography stuffed full of the greatest hits. The lead singer was the outrageously talented and gorgeous Adrienne Warren.



Michael Billington at The Guardian writes: Phyllida Lloyd’s musical is a heady celebration of triumph over adversity, with an astonishing turn by Adrienne Warren.
"But the show rests on the shoulders of Warren, who is rarely off stage and who is simply astonishing. Above all, she captures the fact there is not one Tina Turner but several. Warren shows how Tina develops and changes as a singer and how, in moving to rock stardom, she retains her ferocious energy while introducing occasional notes of plangent melancholy. Warren also conveys Tina’s growth from stoical victim of Ike’s cruelty into a woman of defiant confidence. On top of all that, she dances up a storm in a way that had the audience on its feet even before the curtain call. [...] As bio-musicals go, this is as good as it gets." Full review...


A special mention should also go to the very talented girl who plays the young Tina and sings several songs with great power.

A fantastic evening out.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Burns Supper 2019

Irvine, Scotland. Friday 25-January-2019.

Being married to a Scot I have of course had haggis, neeps and tatties many times. I’ve even been to a number of Burns suppers in London where they have a piper and a reading of the “address to a haggis”. But I’ve never been to a full-blown Scottish Burns celebration.

We were going up to Scotland to visit Mary‘s mum over the weekend of the 25th of January. So Mary tracked down a Burns supper which turned out to be the Irving Burns Club 193rd Burns celebration. That’s an impressive piece of continuity and history.

According to Visit Scotland (and they should know) each Burns supper is individual, but the running order normally goes something like this:
  1. To start – everyone gathers, the host says a few words, everyone sits and the Selkirk Grace is said.
  2. The meal – the starter is served, the haggis is piped in, the host performs Address to a Haggis, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert.
  3. After the meal – the first Burns recital is performed, the Immortal Memory (the main tribute speech to Burns) is given, the second Burns recital is performed, then there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, before the final Burns recital is performed.
  4. To end the night – the host gives a vote of thanks, everyone stands and sings Auld Lang Syne, crossing their arms and joining hands at the line ‘And there's a hand, my trusty fere!’.
A more extensive and somewhat droll description is available on the BBC website.

When we arrived all the great and the good of Irvine were there, the movers and shakers, the Provost (Mayor) and local dignitaries.

Before supper we had readings of Rabbie‘s poems by various local school children. It might as well have been in Klingon or Serbo-Croat for all that I could make sense of it. It was definitely a foreign language as far as I’m concerned.

Mary's Mum (with stick), Mary (in tartan scarf)

The meal was much as expected: soup, haggis neeps and tatties, roast beef and pudding. Afterwards we started with “the immortal memory” and various toasts, "please be upstanding..." for this and that. Poor old Mary‘s mum was up and down like a yo-yo. We tried to persuade her to sit them out but as we were right in front of the top table so it would’ve been a bit obvious. Apparently the next day her knees were aching.

Much to my disappointment we didn’t get the usual address to the lasses and the lasses response. Apparently they are traditionally humorous much along the lines of a best man speech. Instead we got various orations and then some Scottish folk music. And I learnt a new (old) meaning of the word Croupier: 2. HISTORICAL the assistant chairman at a public dinner, seated at the lower end of the table.


We mostly drank red wine but I had to have one nip of whisky which is, I understand, traditional. The Provost came round with a large bottle of whisky and insisted on pouring me a hefty top up. It would’ve been churlish to refuse.

So that was nice!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Great British Rock & Blues Festival 2019

Butlins, Skegness. Friday 18-January-2019 to Sunday 20-January-2019.

Our third time at this festival. I cannot give you an act-by-act review as I cannot find the timetable online so I will summarise with the acts we deemed good enough to rush to the front and buy a CD at the end of the set:
  • Dave Speight
  • The Della Grants
  • Jack Broadbent
  • The Stumble
  • Martin Harley
There are loads of excellent photos on the FaceBook group Butlins Rock & Blues Festivals Skegness. I give you my crappy iPhone photos because they are my memory joggers.

There is a good review over at Get Ready To Rock: GREAT BRITISH ROCK & BLUES FESTIVAL – Butlins, Skegness, 18 – 20 January 2019 with more pictures and a different list of bands. Inevitable given the wide ranges of choices over four stage.

Friday 18-January-2019.

Sure enough the weather lived up to Skeggie's reputation with temperatures only just above zero.


Last year, when we booked, we asked for accommodation closer to the venues. I swear they put us in a block further away. It matters when you are a hot house flower like me and the wind-chilled walk to and from the music chills you to the marrow.


Off to the music. Jack Broadbent was excellent.


And the evening went on with many fine acts...

Saturday 19-January-2019.

The "Introducing Stage" showcases up-and-coming acts who you can vote for and the winners get a main stage slot at next year's festival. After a couple of bands at lunchtime, the evening started with some Introducing stage sets, then an early supper and off the Reds stage for The Della Grants.


I popped over to Centre stage for a couple of songs from Clearwater Creedance (sic) Revival. Tribute band and excellent covers of CCR finishing up with a rousing version of Proud Mary.


Back at Reds for Martin Barre's Jethro Tull. He played guitar with Jethro Tull from their second album in 1969 to the band's initial dissolution in 2012. [Wikipedia].

Martin raised the question, "When is a band not a tribute band?" With personnel changes over the years he is the only original member left. But at least there was one so he opined that it was OK. Using that criteria Dr Feelgood are a cover band not the original.

Dave Speight. Now this is full-on Delta Blues, rocking chair on the porch, woke up this morning, kind of blues. He's been playing his own, self taught versions of the classics for 50 years. My sort of blues.


Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo. Record producer turned performer. The list of acts he has produced is impressive. Now he has stepped out from behind the console to entertain us and his experience shows.


Sugaray Rayford. Energetic entertainer.


Sunday 20-January-2019.

The day started in a chilly Jaks stage. Sadly the worst stage of the lot for a favourite artist of ours, Lucy Zirins. The acoustics are poor and the layout is not conducive to a cosy, intimate atmosphere. Still Lucy was the real trooper and delivered a good full hour's set.


Lucy had pre-release copies of her latest album "Unfound" so we bought two, one for us and one for our friend Delton. Lucy patiently recorded a little message for Delton and I posted off his CD as a surprise gift.


Due to a terrible timetabling clash Lucy was on at exactly time as Martin Harley who we had seen at Ronnie Scott's supporting Lucky Peterson. We were pleased to see that he was on the line-up here so Mary went to see Martin and I went to see Lucy.

General view of the Reds stage which paradoxically was hosting the Blues acts.


Storm Warning. The day continues.


Nine Below Zero.


Grainne Duffy


Dr Feelgood, headlining again.


All good stuff.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Peter Donegan Band at The Half Moon

Putney, London. Sunday 13-January-2019.

Mary got an email from The Half Moon mailing list announcing that Peter Donegan (son of Lonnie Donegan), booked to play the following weekend, was about to appear on The Voice. So we watched The Voice and decided to pop along. Despite national TV exposure, there were still tickets available for the princely sum of £12 (or £14 on the door).


A meal beforehand in the pub then into the room for the support act who was actually one of the band. Unfortunately I didn't make a note of his name but he did a good set.


Then the man of the hour.


He did remark that a few days before he had played to six (6!) people at a gig in Scotland. I am glad to say this was a lot better attended.


At the end I went to buy the latest CD. When I like the music I always like to do that, not just to listen to the music but to support the musician; they get the money direct into their pocket with no middlemen nor distributors.


His friend / manager / business partner insisted on borrowing my phone to take some pictures and who am I to disagree.


Nice man, good music, excellent evening.

Monday, January 07, 2019

New Year's Eve Road Trip 2018/2019

Various locations. Monday 31-December-2018 / Monday 07-January-2019.

Several things came together to create a second holiday road trip. We had already planned NYE in the New Forest with Bob and Lynn. Then we got tickets to see Mary Coughlan just outside Dublin on 4th Jan. So rather than return to London and fly from a London airport we imposed upon our hosts, stayed on an extra day and flew out from their local airport, Southampton. When Tim and Sarah heard that we were flying back into Southampton they insisted we visit them on the Isle of Wight since Southampton is practically on their doorstep, so that is what we did.

Monday 31-December-2018 New Forest

New Year's Eve involved the usual eating and drinking and a walk in the New Forest on New Year's Day to walk off the hangover.

Tuesday 01-January-2019 New Forest

Except there wasn't really a hangover due to the quality of the wine and the leisurely pacing of the meal. But no reason needed to stroll around such a lovely part of the UK.


As usual the New Forest ponies are wandering about ignoring the humans as they are well used to our presence.


Wednesday 02-January-2019 Dublin

Another night at Bob and Lynne's then it was a short drive to Southampton Airport to park up the car whilst were were were in Dublin. Southampton is a small regional airport and as such a pleasant change from Gatwick and Heathrow.

Dublin has a number of statues most of which have nicknames. This is Oscar Wilde known as "The Fag on the Crag"


Phil Lynott is a new addition to the pantheon of statues. Not sure what his soubriquet is yet but I am sure the Dubliners will provide.


Thursday 03-January-2019 Dublin

We went out for lunch with a friend who lives in Dalkey just outside Dublin.

Friday 04-January-2019 Dublin

We know Dublin well so mostly guided ourselves around but Mary spotted a guided tour that was history and pints. Instead of the usual, somewhat tiring, three hour walk we got two hours walking with a history lesson told through the personalities that shaped it and the places where major events took place followed by an hour sitting in a pub, drinking and learning about Guinness and the Irish beer industry. Definitely Five Stars for Nils, the guide.

The Mary Coughlan gig was excellent and gets its own post.

Saturday 05-January-2019 Isle of Wight

The flight back to the UK was so uneventful that we did not need the contingency we had built in to catch the car ferry to the Isle of Wight. We had 45 minutes from when we cleared immigration so called the ferry company, switched to the earlier ferry and scooted down to the port with 5 minutes to spare. According our friends they are fairly relaxed about latecomers, not like RyanAir - none of this "Boarding closes 20 minutes before departure" rubbish. Less hanging around, more time with our friends. Result!

Supper at The Taverners, just one minute's walk away!

Sunday 06-January-2019 Isle of Wight

Rather like the New Forest, this visit was a mixture of eating, drinking and walking, this time with added dog.


A relatively short walk along the cliff tops as our hosts' Labrador has dodgy knees and it would be unkind to make him walk too far.


A pub lunch at The Buddle Inn and then a short walk back home.


More relaxing, eating and drinking.

Monday 07-January-2019 London

A quick bit of shopping to buy black garlic; there is a lot of garlic grown on the IOW. Then an uneventful ferry back to "The North Island" and home via Mum's house in Fanham to check all is OK, no burst pipes nor post to pick up.