Saturday, January 25, 2020

Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall

London. Friday 10-January-2020

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cleaning The Wandle January 2020

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

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

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

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

That's me in the black baseball cap.

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

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

Official report from The Wandle Trust:

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Parkrun Tourism Part 03 - 2019

All over the place. 2019.

Parkun tourism continues with another 7 locations added in 2019 (showing location, date, my time and number of participants) bringing the total to 20 unique locations.

We are opportunistic parkrun tourists. There are some who plan their trips based around parkruns they want to tick off. We, on the other hand, if away for the weekend, will check out if there happens to be one nearby that we could do but that’s as far as it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary power walking over the finish line.

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

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

Even the dogs were getting into the festive spirit.

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

Friday, January 03, 2020

Benson Row - 09

Penrith, Cumbria. December-2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

EFG Jazz Festival 2019

London. November-2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our third time of seeing Mario.

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

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

Friday, December 06, 2019

Benson Row - 08

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. November-2019.

For me the week in November was all about painting. In a feeble attempt to save money I did decorating, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, a full week of roller and brush. I painted the ceilings in the kitchen, dining room, stair well and upstairs landing in Dulux Brilliant White. Then changed to White Mist and went back round again doing all the walls!

Allen, our kitchen designer, was also having fun with paint. Mary found a bendy spatula that was just the right shade for the kitchen units. It matches nicely with the Dulux colour Country Sky. Unfortunately normal emulsion is unsuitable for spraying, you need special paint with the right viscosity and added hardener and that changes the colour. Scanning the shiny-surfaced spatula didn't work and getting the dry paint to match the colour we want is an ongoing challenge. This is causing significant delays to the kitchen installation.

The doorway into our bedroom had a curious second lintel which, on the reverse side, was showing cracks. Removing the boxing revealed an oak lintel which we suspect was inserted when the middle and rear house where knocked into one. The builder declared the cracks to be of no consequence. We are going to leave the beam exposed rather than box it back in again.

There was damp at one end of the upstair corridor wall. Poking our heads up the loft hatch only gave a view along the front and middle roof spaces. The space above our bedroom was blocked off by what was once the back wall before the third dwelling was added on. The only way to see what was going on was to cut a hole in the ceiling. The roof space was dry and well insulated, the builder reckons the damp was condensation.

Slow progress in the under-stairs shower room. The walls are skimmed and painted. The last screed is down and the lino on top. Still to do are plumbing in the shower, sink, loo and towel rail.

Several people suggested using the space under the cellar stairs for wine storage. You spoke, we listened.

Next update in December.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

There will be wine (and beer and more wine)

Champagne and Sparkling Wine.

Philglas and Swiggot. Battersea. Thursday, 31-October-2019.

A walk around tasting of champagnes and sparkling wines and from around the world. Some very knowledgeable presenters made it an informative evening. In particular, for me, it highlighted the huge variety of grape varieties used to make sparkling wines. Champagne may use pinot noir, chardonnay and a little pinot meunier but producers of presecco, cava and Tasmanian sparkling have others grapes at their disposal. Our three favourites bottles were:
  • Antonij Rupert L'Ormarins MCC Brut NV
  • LLopart Brut Reserva Cava 2016
  • House of Arras Tasmania 'Grand Vintage' 2008
11th Wandsworth Beer Festival.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, Wandsworth. Saturday , 02-November-2019.

Our third WBF at the wonderful gothic pile that is Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. It was the last night of the festival and beers were running low. Our friends who arrived half an hour after us got in for free because so many barrels had run out!

I focussed on porter and stout as I dislike this current fad for overly sharp pale ales. I started at the back of the catalogue hoping to catch some beers still on offer as I am sure many start on page 1. Even so only half the dark beers were still showing. I had enough to provide a satisfactory tasting but might think about an earlier start next year.

Afterwards we went with our friends for a lovely Italian meal at the family run Dan and Angel, named after the owners two children.

Wine Society Dining Club 277th dinner.

Drapers Hall, London. Tuesday, 05-November-2019.

At the other end of the spectrum from the beer festival is fine claret at a black tie dinner in the elegant surroundings of the Drapers' Hall.

The WSDC proposition is that the members of the main Wine Society buy wines for laying down and some years later consume them when they are ready for drinking.

The theme was "The Three Leovilles". We had an informative introduction to the wines, a lovely meal with superb wines and talked to charming strangers.


Sunday, December 01, 2019

Our 26th wedding Anniversary

Royal Albert Hall, London. Wednesday, 30-October-2019.

We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary by ticking off one of Mary's bucket list items: a hospitality box at the Royal Albert Hall.

Last year for the big one, our 25th, we made it just the two of us in a hotel in the Lake District with a very nice meal. This year might have been similar but Ronnie Scotts decided to celebrate their 60th anniversary with a special concert in the RAH. As a member of Ronnie Scott's Mary gets advance notification through the mailing list. She saw this event and was able to grab the last available hospitality box.

The box seats eight. The first four were easy, my best man Pete and his wife Amanda, Mary's matron of honour Geraldine and her husband Alisdair. That's left two seats and too many siblings. So we invited Mary's old boss, and now friends, Grant and his wife Helen to complete the set.

The floor of the house was set up cabaret style, like a giant version of Ronnie's club.

Geraldine and Mary.

AJ Rahney at London Jazz News writes:
"On stage the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars house band quintet led by Pete Long, and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, accompanied a terrifying cast of talents, each of whom brought their own personal connection to the club." Full review...
Artistes included: Judi Jackson, Ian Shaw, Natalie Williams, Curtis Stigers, Liane Carroll, China Moses, Nigel Kennedy, Ezra Collective, Kinetika Bloco, Courtney Pine, Kurt Elling, Imelda May, Roy Ayres, Madeline Bell and Van Morrison. One of the more surprising performances was Nigel Kennedy playing Jimi Hendrix but apparently he has been doing this for 20 years [Google "Nigel Kennedy Jimi Hendrix"].

Ronnie Scott played the tenor sax and so were many of the early artists he booked. As a tribute the final part of the evening was 60 sax players on stage and parading around the hall.

We had our own dedicated waiter and ample food and drink included in the price.

A great way to celebrate our wedding anniversary in style with the best of friends.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Winter Droving 2019

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 26-October-2019.

Our fourth Winter Droving in Penrith. The usual fun mix of craft and street food stalls, live entertainment throughout the day with acts on several stages and itinerant performers.

An innovation this year to encourage the wearing of masks all day - a checkpoint with fast track for those wearing masks and winding barriers for those bare-faced, policed by suitably officious border guards.

Our friend Kate had no problem at Mask Control!

Lunch was some very tasty lamb merguez in a bun from the jolly staff at Hallsford Farm.

Live music at the bandstand, one of several acts we saw.

Lots of laughs at a regular feature of the day: The Drovers Cup featuring the tray-of-beer relay race, the hay-bale and sack of potatoes relay race, and ...

...the egg hurling.

The highlight of the evening is the giant lantern parade.

Groups of marchers.

Illuminated brass band.

Drummers and the giant stag.

Supper was in a newly opened tapas restaurant La Casita which warrants a return visit. After supper our friends went for a nightcap at Fell Bar but we peeled off and went to bed after a full day.

Looking forward to The Winter Droving 2020.