Thursday, June 04, 2020

Benson Row - 13

Penrith, Cumbria. April/May-2020.

The lockdown special. Obviously no progress from the builders but the devil finds work for idle hands.

Mary was bored and she always hated the anaglypta wallpaper that covered the walls throughout the house. Not long after we bought the place I redecorated the living room to tone down the custard yellow walls to a Dulux Nutmeg white. But that was not enough to satisfy Mary so one day whilst bored she attacked the last remaining anaglypta.

Of course Buggins here gets to make good and redecorate. The back wall was in a shocking state. I used almost a whole 3kg tub of Polyfilla (US: spackle) smoothing the wall and the dust from sanding it back down caused a major white-out.

Next up was the "booze box" so named because we used to store all our gins, whiskys and other spirits in it. I don't have a before picture but it was dark oak all over (the colour of the pattern). We have had it over 25 years and it was essentially a bonus purchase. It was part of a job lot at auction where we were bidding for a bridge table. The plant stand, footstool and hat stand that came with it have long gone but the faithful old booze box lives on including re-gluing it back together when it tried to self destruct. 

Cue a bored Mary and the attack of the sandpaper! After a couple of dusty days the lovely original oak, free of dark stain, was revealed. A couple of coats of varnish to protect the surface and box is resurrected.

One side panel was over-sanded in part ruining the even colour but it is amazing what a little improvisation with brown mascara can do when you don't have wood stain.

Meanwhile down in the cellar I was working on a door for the storage space. We bought an old door from Brunswick Yard architectural salvage in Penrith. Unsurprisingly 150 year old stone walls are not straight, level or square so I had to hand craft a door frame.

Once I had done that the door had to be trimmed to fit, hung and the surround made good.

The final touches and a bolt are still to be done but I am pleased with the progress so far.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Benson Row - 12

Penrith, Cumbria. March-2020.

Well I guess that's the Pause button pressed on the works for a while. Prior to our arrival the kitchen fitter had laid the lovely, engineered oak flooring, the worktop company then came to template and went away with a promise to return in a week with the worktop.

They returned along with our fitter to install the worktop. We are hugely grateful that he worked late that day, the eve of the PM's announcement of a shutdown, to fit the hob, sink, dishwasher and washing machine. We can live without cupboard doors!

We had been surviving on microwaveable meals and the soup-maker (a brilliant device). We used to eat out occasionally for a bit variety, now not an option. However doing all the washing up in the tiny handbasin in the bathroom was getting very tedious. Also we used the local laundry which meant trying to build up full loads whilst not running out of knickers and socks. Now we have a viable home we can stay up in Penrith and not have to return to London.

We were isolating ourselves upstairs for the day while the workmen were in to fit the worktop so our kitchen fitter WhatsApp'd us this video from downstairs to show us the work in progress.

The kitchen floor was raised to match the level of dining room. That necessitated a replacement window as the old sill would have been below the new worktop.

Outside that left a gap awaiting a new windowsill once the danger of frost was past.

The new windowsill and gap filled with local stone plus re-jigged pipework for the new sink and dishwasher.

The surround to the new back door (previously a window and before that a door) has been plastered but the final skim will have to wait.

Meanwhile I was not idle. I fitted 15 metres of picture rail all round the upstairs landing to put an end to filling pinholes when Mary decides to rearrange the pictures. I borrowed the builder's laser spirit level (an excellent toy!) to mark out the line from the front bedroom architrave. It really showed up the difference in floor and ceiling heights.

 Of course none of the walls were even.

A panorama of the completed rail.

Pictures hung.

Also on my to-do list was fittings for the downstairs shower and loo.

The access panel to the under stairs void needed painting as well.

And finally we have a fully working downstairs shower and loo.

Until restrictions are lifted and the workmen can return, "That's All Folks!"

Friday, March 06, 2020

The Blues Band at Under The Bridge

Chelsea, London. Friday 06-March-2020.

We first saw The Blues Band at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2017. Featuring Paul Jones formerly of Manfred Mann. This time we went with our friends John and Andrea. This being our eighth time at UTB we knew the score - get there early and queue so you get some of the limited seating available. We bagged four bar stools in the floor area with great views of the stage. Result!

They did a solid Chicago blues style set.

You just can't beat some live music.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Message in a Bottle at Peacock Theatre

West End, London. Thursday 20-February-2020, Thursday 05-March-2020.

So good we had to see it twice. Mary was so knocked out by this show that on the bus home she booked to go back and see it again. One first viewing it was spectacular but on second viewing I got so much more out of the storytelling. Helped by the fact that we were closer to the stage and able to see their expressions very clearly.

Lyndsey Winship in the Guardian gives it 4 stars: "A compelling cast pour their hearts into Kate Prince’s jukebox tale of civil war, trafficking and three siblings separated as refugees."
"The blistering cast attacks Prince’s sharp, tight rhythms, laced with pops and power poses, with a huge amount of heart, their technical tricksiness thrown off with casual grace.[...] Overall, though, this story of loving, losing and finding your way again is moving and hopeful. It has clarity, immediacy and mainstream appeal, and there’s no denying that the songs are great. Most importantly, it has an infectious, pressing energy that boils over the edge of the stage. It should be a big hit." Full review...
Can't argue with that. What was good was that although they said no photography or recording during the performance they encouraged you do to so at the curtain call.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Brubecks play Brubeck at Ronnie Scotts 2020

Soho, London. Wednesday 03-March-2020.

The second time we’ve seen the Brubecks play Brubeck at Ronnie's. We enjoyed it so much last year that it was well worth a second visit. The band consists of three Brubeck brothers Darius, Chris and Dan with Dave O’Higgins on sax. They played music from their father’s repertoire (clue in the name!) And they’ve clearly inherited his musical talent. Excellent musicianship.

We had superior seating and opted for a table on the raised section. It was a table we hadn’t sat at before and belatedly realised why - there is a pillar in the way! We requested a move to one of our favourite tables, lesson learned.

The set started with Blue Rondo à la Turk and ended, inevitably, with Take Five. Ronnie's seem to have taken to Live Streaming some gig's which means we can rewatch this concert:

As it was a mid-week concert we got two sets from the band - excellent value.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Mary's 50th parkrun

Bushy Park. Saturday 29-February-2020.

Mary has quite got into parkrun and it is all Nigel's fault! He started doing Couch to 5K and I thought how hard could that be. Easy, peasy as it turned out. Then he started doing parkrun so I signed up as well and started parkrunning at Tooting Common.

Nigel and Kate came to visit us in Italy in June 2018 with their friends Sarah and Andrew. Sarah is a keen runner and said “let’s do a parkrun”. “There isn’t a parkrun here” we said. “Oh yes there is” they said. Cue pantomime style banter. And they were right!

Salento Parkrun had only just started five weeks before. It was a bit of a drive, 1 hour 15 minutes, but we thought we'd give it a go. Drove down there to discover that our carful was 50% of the park runners that day, four out of the eight participants. Sarah was first lady!

While we were in Italy that summer it became a regular habit: I ran and Mary power walked her way around the course talking to Luana, the Run Director's mum, tail walker and cake baker. After a couple of weeks Saverio, the Run Director, persuaded Mary to sign up so she could get a bar code and an official time which means that Salento is Mary‘s home parkrun. She sometimes volunteers there as camminatore di coda (tail walker) which means she gets to practice her Italian.

Now if we go to a UK parkrun and they ask “Any visitors?” Mary can put up her hand and say “Yes, Southern Italy!”

Now she's hooked. Wants to do the alphabet. Always checks out where the nearest parkrun is whenever we are away. When she read that February 29th 2020 was the first ever Leap Day parkrun since it began and the last until 2048 she was super keen to complete her 50th parkrun at her home location of Salento on Leap Day.

We had booked the flights, the car hire and, as a treat, a Stansted hotel for the way back because of the late landing. The coronavirus put the kybosh on that. With two ageing mothers and a weekend cottage booked with a group of friends we could not take the faintest risk of transmitting the infection nor having to self-isolate on our return. So we binned the flights and cancelled the car and hotel.

That left the question of where to do Mary's 50th if not her home event. After some discussion we decided it really had to be the "mother ship" at Bushy Park. We absolutely could not risk missing the 9 o'clock start so rather than use public transport we Uber'ed our way over.

Sporting her Italian "Arriva un parkrunner" T-shirt she power-walked her way round in a respectable 44:12.

The semi-obligatory photo frame shot.

The course is very pleasant and one giant hourglass-shaped circuit. It was a bit muddy that day but full of people from all over celebrating that they were where it all started. We met a coach party of ladies from Notts Women Runners and an RD from Gorey in Southern Ireland.

Achievement unlocked! Red 50 T-shirt earned. Now Mary was counting the Saturdays to see how quickly she could get to her 100th however COVID-19 has scuppered those plans.

Benson Row - 11

Penrith, Cumbria. February-2020

The game is afoot! After a few false starts, the kitchen installation has begun. The carcasses and side panels are in, the entire assembly is attached to the walls and one of the ovens is in place.

The boiler is boxed in and will have a door.

Now the flooring can begin. The base layer is in place and the engineered oak boards have been delivered. They need a little while to flatten and equilibrate with the ambient moisture and temperature.

I hung a number of the pictures we bought last month or brought up from London so the house is looking more like a home. We also picked up one of the framed prints from Alan Stones and it now has pride of place in the living room.

As previously mentioned, the three back to back houses originally had a step down between each property. We raised the kitchen floor to match the dining room and put in underfloor heating.

That meant the new worktops would be above the window sill. We put in a new shorter window which left gap outside to be filled. That will take place when all danger of frost is passed.

It is clear that there once was a door where the kitchen window is now but when, in the complicated history of this property, who can tell. We recently found a map from 1852 which shows our house was already in existence and the fact that it was three separate properties (just below the 'N' in Benson Row):

More research will surely follow.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine’s Day in Dublin 2020

Dublin, Ireland. Friday 14-February-2020.

This year was our seventh Valentine’s Day trip to Dublin. It’s become something of a tradition and a very fine one too.

It started when Mary was working out in Dublin for three years on and off. One year (2004) Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday so it seemed an opportune time for me to visit her. The client would pay for Mary’s return flight to the UK. Sometimes we’d flip the flight and I would go out and stay with Mary.

Then a couple of years later, when Mary was back in the UK, Ryanair offered a very cheap deal over the Valentine‘s weekend so off we went again and so a tradition was born. Now we are retired we are less constrained by it needing to be on the weekend and can do a mid-week visit.

Wednesday 13th.

This year we stayed in the Old School House hotel recommended by Mary’s sister, Sandra. Easy walking from central Dublin by the canal. Very pleasant: lovely old building, friendly staff, good food and a very popular bar.

And of course there was plenty of Guinness to be drunk (mandatory).

Thursday 14th.

By now we have done all the usual tourist sights in Dublin but we managed to find one not previously visited - Kilmainham Gaol. Absolutely fascinating and added to our understanding of Irish history.


Religious graffiti in one of the cells.

IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, was right next to the gaol with an exhibition on Derek Jarman that sounded interesting. So we lunched in the prison cafe and then went round the exhibition.

An essential part of the Valentine’s weekend is dining at Bloom Brasserie which we discovered several years back and always book well in advance.

Saturday 15th.

Mary was on a mission to do her 50th Parkrun on the 29th February, the first leap day parkrun since it was inaugurated. That meant she was committed to doing a parkrun every Saturday without fail. Therefor we had to do a Dublin parkrun despite Storm Dennis. Poolbeg parkrun was our closest, down on Dublin Bay along the coast and horribly wet, cold and windy. But it had to be done!

The evening's entertainment was meeting up with our Irish friend Danielle for a drink, some comedy and then a meal at Rustic Stone.

Sunday 16th.

On the Sunday we went for a 13k walk round the bay. Partly on the parkrun course, we went out to the Lighthouse and back round. To say it was windy would be something of an understatement, Storm Dennis was definitely still in action.

The lighthouse.

Graffiti on the lighthouse.

And more.

In the afternoon we went for some live jazz: the Honor Heffernan Quartet at Lost Lane. Then off to the airport and home.

We are thinking that maybe next year we will try some other part of Ireland. We are assured that there is life beyond Dublin!

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Yelfris Valdes at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Thursday 06-Februay-2020.

Eating, drinking and having a good time again! Yelfris Valdes: with our friend Kathy. As usual we have premier seating and try to get there early enough to nab a corner table. It is a bit crowded for eating and has one seat with its back to the stage but when the music starts you can comfortably squeeze three into the corner of the banquette.

A fascinating support act from Chiminyo aka Tim Doyle a drummer, percussionist and Electronic Music producer. His set-up is one where each strike of a drum of cymbal triggers an electronic sound or sample.

Then Yelfris and his band were on. "Yelfris is a Cuban artist, composer and trumpet player, who mixes the latest electronic technics with the spiritual chants and mystic rhythms from the Orishas." [1]

He played one long set, no interval. Obviously very talented with a great band. You can actually watch the entire show we saw as it was live-streamed and is now available to rewatch:

Another fine evening of music, food and drink!

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Wine Society Dining Club 278th dinner

The Apothecaries' Hall, London. Wednesday 05-February-2020.

The WSDC dinners are mostly in various guild halls, this time the Apothecaries' Hall.

An elegant building with dark panelled rooms lined with portraits of the great and the good.


The WSDC has been going since before I was born hence they are up to a large number, 278 to be precise.

The Wine Society Dining Cl1:Jb THE 278TH DINNER Wednesday 5th February 2020 at7.00pm Guest Speaker Marcel Orford-Williams In the Chair Jo Ryan The Apothecaries' Hall Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EJ

The theme was Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The food, of course, chosen to match the wine rather than the other way round.

Menu Artichoke Hearts, Brown Shrimps and Iberico Puffs Whipped Herb Butter, Wild Garlic Oil *** Filet Mignon of Roe Deer Red & Green Grapes, Tarragon Veronique Root Vegetable Rosti, Caramelised Leeks *** Shipwreck Apple Tart Cider Brandy, Clotted Cream *** Fairtrade Coffee A Selection of Teas and Infusions Handmade Chocolates and Sweetmeats

Artichoke Hearts, Brown Shrimps and Iberico Puffs
Whipped Herb Butter, Wild Garlic Oil
Filet Mignon of Roe Deer
Red and Green Grapes, Tarragon Veronique
Root Vegetable Rosti, Caramelised Leeks
Shipwreck Apple Tart
Cider Brandy, Clotted Cream
Fairtrade Coffee
A Selection of Teas and Infusions
Handmade Chocolates and Sweetmeats

The food was excellent, one would expect no less.


Grahams NV White Port
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Blanc 2013
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe 2000
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Clos des Papes Avril 2000
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Clos des Papes Avril 1998
Chateau Suduiraut 2001

The aperitif was delicious: white port with tonic and mint. I cannot remember the last time I had white port, it needs to go back on the drinking list. The Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Blanc was fine but the red 2000 had some bottle variation. Mary and the gentleman opposite her were served from different bottles which made it easy to taste and confirm.

I have a soft spot for Suduiraut which we visited many years ago. A delicious neighbour of Chateau Yquem at a fraction of the price, it did not disappoint.

A wonderful meal.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Kaiser Chiefs at The O2

London. Saturday 01-February-2020

It seems that most of our concert going entails a nice meal beforehand and this was no exception. A pre-gig meal at Craft London. We, as often, opt for a set menu which was very tasty and reasonable value unlike the wines which had a hefty, not to say greedy, markup. We were there in plenty of time to allow for a leisurely meal and then wandered in just as Razorlight were starting their set.

Razorlight were okay but our enjoyment was somewhat spoiled by the two women in the seats next to us who decided to dance through the whole performance blocking our view as a result. Basically they were going to have a good time and sod anyone else.

Kaiser Chiefs delivered an good concert, better than the last time I saw them. Ricky Wilson makes an excellent front man pogoing about the stage with great energy. With these big arenas it is nice to have not only the screens showing what’s going on the stage but also a light show behind to provide visual interest.

At one point Ricky disappeared and emerged onto a small podium in the middle of the arena floor much to the delight of the groundlings. He performed for a couple of songs and then returned to the main stage.

Lots of greatest hits delivered so we were happy. We snuck out as they started the encore in order to beat the stampede for the tube - a wise move for what looked like a sell-out concert.