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.

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.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Benson Row - 07

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. October 2019.

There has been much progress since the last visit. Following advice from our builder the wall between the front bedroom and bathroom has been moved and made good on both sides.

Boarded and plastered. Not only did we gain a meter from the bathroom but also from the corridor; the old bedroom door is now a meter back from its previous position.

The builder put a single base coat of white emulsion to help keep the dust down for the brother-in-law's visit, his asthma is triggered by, amongst other things, dust. It will also make the re-decorating easier for me, one less coat to apply.

The new alcove takes the Ikea shelving which frees up space for the cot-bed that we had purchased for the alcove in the middle bedroom which we lost to accommodate the stairwell.

All ready for our next visitors.

The bathroom now looks like a normal sized bathroom with the moved wall lined up with the bath. The old tiles had a narrow, dated looking border. That and the row of tiles next to it have been chiselled out and replaced by some modern mosaic tiles. A simple trick to make a stylish improvement. Oh, and we replaced all the dripping taps with new ones and installed a new heated towel rail and downlights.

Under the stairs work has begun on preparing the space for the plumber to install the loo and shower.

Boarded and plastered. The shower cubicle will be straight ahead.

The loo will be off to one side.

The plumbing in the cellar is being boxed in (apart from the gas pipe which under current regs must NOT be boxed in). To cut a long story short almost every piece of heating pipework, cold water supply and electrical cabling throughout the entire house has been replaced.

The kitchen is all plastered and given a primer coat of emulsion. Now all the white goods and cabinets are delivered it is getting a bit busy in there. My job is to give is a top coat of wipeable kitchen paint before the kitchen fitter does his stuff.

The stairwell now has walls and a ceiling. Before you could see right up into the loft space were they had to replace the rafters and install a firebreak between us and the flying freehold. The temporary handrails will go and there will be glass panels and new handrails but these will only be fitted right towards the end.

The middle bedroom is now definitely a single as we had to steal an alcove to accommodate the stairwell. Still it is cosy enough.

Just just when we thought the Money pit had a reached Australia our builder said “there is a bit of a void underneath the hallway”. So we had a look and it was space under the cellar stairs that had been bricked up.

So we bashed open a hole. We had a peer and said that will make a handy lockable storage space.

Bashing complete revealed a handy space with stone steps. We will have a small antechamber and door fitted but maybe not just yet.

What this shows is looking up at the underside of the cellar steps. They are made of great blocks of solid stone set into the walls either side. Pretty chunky!

Next visit we should see something more closely resembling a home, apart from the kitchen,

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Real Ale Train at The Watercress Line

Alresford, Hampshire. Saturday 21-September-2019.

The birthday treats continued with a journey aboard the RAT: the Real Ale Train on the Watercress Line. The journey begins at Alresford and shuttles back and forth to Medstead and Four Marks several times with the train swapping ends each trip.

All the stations and rolling stock are done in original, period style as are the staff (volunteers) who are clearly having a good time.

First order of the day, get a round in with our friends Gavin and Tania.

The platform at Alresford; all very "Brief Encounter".

The locomotive coming in for the first leg.

Medstead at the end of the first leg. The station master doing his best skinny "Fat Controller" impression.

Swapping ends at Medstead.

The loco in motion.

Reattaching at the other end for the first return leg.

The bar: four barrels of cask-conditioned ale. Alas I cannot tell you their names but I do remember they were all modest strength, around 3.8 ABV, suitable for full evening's drinking.

Supper was a basic selection at the station buffet back at Alresford: chicken jalfrezi, cheeseburger, chilli con carne and a couple of other choices. All clearly, freshly home made and tasty but they were ultra-restrained on the chilli powder and could have easily upped the heat to some advantage.

 An interior of one of the open carriages.

After several hours and several pints we staggered off home having had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Ian McKellen On Stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre

London. Friday 20-September-2019.

A birthday treat for me was a trip to the theatre to see "Ian McKellen On Stage". It was preceded by a really excellent, pre-theatre supper at a Greek fish restaurant Estiatorio Milos, "one of the finest Mediterranean seafood restaurants in the world" [OpenTable].

"Ian McKellen On Stage" was, unsurprisingly, a one man show and it delivered exactly what you would hope and expect: a combination of speeches, recitations, reminiscences and general banter. The first half started with a reading from LOTR complete with the sword Glamdring and Gandalf's hat.

He continued with more readings and biographical reminiscences. His first job after college was at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry where, amongst other roles, he performed in Toad of Toad Hall.

The first theatre production I ever saw was that very same Toad of Toad Hall at the Belgrade Theatre. At the tender age of nine I was taken by my parents, along with my siblings, to this Christmas show. I now know that the part of Chief Weasel was played by a young Sir Ian.

The second half was based on the complete works of Shakespeare using the plays as prompts to anecdotes from his long career.

All through there were lots of jokes and laughs to be had including a slapstick Widow Twanky sketch.

Heather Neil in The I gives it 5 stars: Ian McKellen on Stage, Harold Pinter Theatre, review: crowd-pleasing entertainment of the highest calibre.
"Reviewing Ian McKellen on Stage is, in one sense, like appraising Mount Everest: he is a phenomenon. In another sense, Sir Ian is not like that at all, going out of his way to be available to the adoring patrons filling the theatre, apparently enjoying every minute of up to three hours, from a jokey Gandalf-geared beginning to shaking a collecting bucket at the door as the audience leave. Apparently indefatigable, he can even be found chatting to punters in the stalls during the interval." Full review...
As does Mark Shenton writing for The Stage:
"An unadulterated love letter to the theatre, to the actor's life and the prose and poetry that fuel both, Ian McKellen's latest one-man show is a thing of sheer joy and utter wonder: an act of selfless generosity and warmth in every regard. [...] McKellen is a consummate stage actor, able to speak directly and intimately to every single person listening to his rapt delivery of this rich language." Full review...
On the way out as Sir Ian himself was shaking the charity bucket. As I dropped in our contribution I told him that Toad of Toad Hall was the first time I ever went to the theatre. When I confirmed that it was, indeed, at the Belgrade he shook my hand and said "Good Man!" So that was nice.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Benson Row - 06

Penith, Cumbria, UK. September 2019.

The Penrith money pit is getting deeper and we are still digging! We might as well replace the boiler while we are at it. And put in underfloor heating. And straighten the bathroom wall to take out an awkward kink in the front bedroom. And strengthen the kitchen beam so the bedroom floor doesn’t bounce. And close up the old kitchen door to brace the end wall of the house. And put in steel rods to strengthen the cracked side wall of the house, which is also getting repointed. And the stopcock needs replacing. And the guttering that overhangs the neighbour. And we might as well run a couple of Ethernet cables to the back of the house while the electrician is in. And... and...

The kitchen units will be a full U-shaped taking up the entire three sides. We chose to put in underfloor heating because there will be no walls to which we could attach a radiator.

Cement going down. Once it has cured, this will be followed by self-levelling screed to take out the undulations. Then an "engineered" oak floor.

While admiring the new floor a discussion about the heating lead to a decision to replace the boiler. Looking at the somewhat dated current boiler I would say that was the right decision but was yet another item in the spiralling costs. The old boiler is already gone, the vent filled in and plastered over ready for a new Worcester Bosch Greenstar 30i.

The lovely oak beam in the kitchen was boxed in so we exposed it. As you can see from the crack it was not as sound as it could be and the floor above bounced. A couple of steel flanges fixed that.

The back wall was showing signs of movement with nothing to brace it. The structural engineer's recommendation was to fill in the kitchen door and tie it in to the back wall. Each course is pinned alternately to the wall or door with steel rods and epoxy resin.

We are reusing the old kitchen door in the newly re-opened doorway opposite the new staircase.

You can see the crack in the side wall cause by the movement of the back wall. It explains the damp in the bedroom wall that was causing all the paper round the window to peel off.

It look to me like there was once an upstairs door for an external staircase, now blocked up. This whole wall was badly pointed using cement. We are having it raked out and re-pointed using a more sympathetic material. At the same time a number of horizontal steel Helifix bars are being installed to stabilise the whole wall.

The large front bedroom was divided into a rather too large bathroom and an awkwardly shaped bedroom by a previous owner. The old Y-shaped stair configuration meant a kink in the wall to accommodate the bathroom door without stepping direct onto the stairs.

With our new flat landing we were at liberty to straighten the wall. Our builder suggested we go one step further and steal dead space from the bathroom and create a useful sized niche to accommodate our wardrobe. The blue lines in the ceiling show how much we have re-jigged the wall.

The work to put in new downlights in the bathroom revealed the dodgy nature of the ceiling so that had to be replaced along with the front bedroom because it is all the same original ceiling. Oh, and we have to move the bathroom radiator to the new wall.

Both the internal stopcock and the stopcock in the street were jammed so we had to call in the water company to fix the latter. We are close to a junction with two mini-roundabouts so they had to install temporary four-way traffic lights. How to be popular with the neighbours!

With the external tap fixed the builder could replace the internal one. While he was at it he upgraded the internal pipework from 15mm to 22mm to improve water flow.

Going next door to inspect the guttering repairs needed we had a fascinating view of the side of our house which gives more clues as to the sequence of construction. Not that we have worked it all out yet but look at those lines in the stonework. The back house and the upper roof of the middle house are clearly added later.

We went round into our back neighbour's garden to inspect the ivy up our wall which needs removing. The lean-to on the right is our side neighbour's property.

We have no outside space, only the right to pass and re-pass over the small yard at the side of the house. We would love to buy the bottom half of the back neighbour's garden. It would give us a wonderful outside space.

In other news, the loft is missing a fire break between us and parts of the neighbour's loft space. We are fixing that. While we are up there a lot of the wiring is being tided up including adding emergency lighting in the event of power failure (also in the cellar where the fuse boxes are).

All the original roof timbers are great big, gnarly oak beams. I love them!

We are also extending the telephone copper wire down to the living room and running an ethernet cable from there to the cellar where a switch will distribute to three other locations around the house. With great thick stone walls a wi-fi router sometime does cut the mustard!

We joked with the builder that we should have a syphon to connect our bank account directly to his!