Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Captain Corelli's Mandolin at the Rose Theatre

Kingston. Tuesday 07-May-2019.

We squeezed in a trip to the theatre between trips to Penrith, Scotland and doing some decorating in one of our buy-to-let flats.

I was wondering how they would manage to cram an entire book into the timeframe of a play but they did a cracking job.

Arif Akbar writes in the Guardian: 4 * "Captain Corelli's Mandolin review – wartime weepy is shocking and wondrous"
"Director Melly Still manages to both stay faithful to the original and inject it with freshness, while Rona Munro’s adaptation distils key themes, especially the question of whether the “enemy-occupier” in a war is ever free to show love or compassion to the occupied."  Full Review...

Ann Treneman in The Times also gives it 4 * "The 2001 film adaptation of this novel may have been a turkey, yet this true-to-the-story stage adaptation is anything but"
"There are some nice touches. The idea that animals provide a way to the human heart is explored in a playful way: Luisa Guerreiro makes a really rather fantastic goat and Elizabeth Mary Williams will have endeared herself to pine martens everywhere. There is also an excellent performance from Joseph Long, as Pelagia’s father, the philosophical doctor. Bravo, too, to the sheer theatrical nature of it all, the attention to detail and the emphasis on surprise and spectacle, bound together by some moving musical moments. War is hell, of that we are sure, but there is a bit of heaven here too." Full review...
And I agree with The Times, Luisa Guerreiro as the goat was brilliant!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

London Marathon 2019

London. Sunday 28-April-2019.


I finally completed a marathon on my third attempt. Now it really is never again!!

The remarkable thing is not that I completed a marathon but that I was so determined, stubborn even. After two failures (I include Brighton here even if I did walk over the finish line) I might think this was nature's way of saying "give it a rest" yet I persisted.

I do not know why it was so important for me do this but something made me put in untold hours of training. Possibly pride, maybe vanity, even fear of the Grim Reaper, who knows? For this marathon alone 76 training runs since last August totalling 823 km (511 miles).

When you add in the other two marathons and the half marathon it is a total of 221 runs covering 2340 km. I only started running in January 2016 with the distant goal of a marathon and I still can't tell you why but I know I can stop now. Parkrun is enough for me from now on.

I crossed the finish line in 5:16:05 and I'm happy with that; pretty much my expected time based on the training. My splits were consistent, I maintained a steady pace throughout, no hitting the wall. I drank 500 ml of Lucozade sport and ate two Nakd fruit bars.

I was number 33231 across the line out of 42439 finishers. More importantly for me, I was 210 out of 291 in my age bracket of 65-69 which I was pleased with seeing as how many above me were members of running clubs.

For many people the big milestones on the route are the Cutty Sark or crossing London Bridge. For me the first was passing the spot where I collapsed last year and I was feeling OK. The second was passing the 35 km mark which was where I collapsed in the Brighton marathon and I was still feeling OK. Only 7km to go at that point - just a parkrun and a half - and I was feeling fairly confident I would make it but there was certainly not going to be any sprint finish!

Afterwards no aches or pains in joints or muscles, a blister on one big toe but that was it. Last year I lost the two middle toenails which dropped off a few weeks afterwards, this year all are looking good.

I have to thank Blue Cross animal charity whose Gold Bond allocated places made it possible for me to run in both London Marathons. You can support them by sponsoring me if you so wish:

Run/Walk and pacing.

Last year in the 2018 London Marathon I collapsed at 18 miles and withdrew, caught out by the heat and the pace at the start (the latter an error of judgement on my part). I said never again. I lied! This year I planned a less optimistic target of 5:30 and trying the run/walk technique.

Quite late in the training regimen this time I learned about run/walk. Gave it a try and it worked for me so I switched for the last month of training. That included my first ever 35km training run equalling my previous longest ever run (the failed 2017 Brighton Marathon) and feeling fine at the end. I started with a ratio of Run 1 km / Walk 1 min then tweaked that to walk 0.1 km every km when the watch beeped and then run the rest.

Pace runners can be a good way to avoid the beginner's mistake of starting out too fast. In my naivety I didn't know such people existed before I did my half-marathon. For that and for my first marathon they were metronomic and helped me keep a steady pace.

Last year the slowest pace runner was 5:00 with a run/walk pacer at 5:30. This year they went all the way to 7:00. I cannot but help think this is a response to lessons learned from last year's hottest ever VMLM. A good thing for us slower runners.

In 2018 my chosen pacer set off too fast. She did the first 5 km at 6:41min/km, equivalent to a 4:42 marathon time. Eighteen minutes faster than the target. Same again for the second 5 km that included a couple of individual 6:16 minute kilometres which is a 4:25 marathon - way too fast for me and the heat of the day. I gave them feedback!

So this year I ran as my own pacer with the aid of my trusty Garmin VivoActive. I set it to beep every km and give me a pace so I could adjust my speed accordingly.


From the official photographers, Blue Cross and snagged off the BBC iPlayer:
At the start.

Run/Walk - running 0.92 km every km.

Run/Walk - walking 0.08 km every km.

The Blue Cross cheering point at 30 km.

Running with the crowd as seen on the BBC.

Approaching the end - on the red carpet.

At the finish - crossing the timing mats.

At the finish - and we're done!

Results and places.

My pace was very consistent, slowing down a little as the race went on but really not by much, a pretty good straight line. The final official results show my average pace as 07:27 mins/km with a narrow range from 07:12 to 07:51. Sometimes I impress myself!

Well back in the overall field but I don't care, I finished.

Given the typical gender difference I was further back in the Male category, no surprise.

But the best result was in the age category which is a source of some satisfaction. Better than the above two percentages.

In preparation for last year's marathon I attended a half day seminar which included a session on pacing. The speaker described how many start off too fast and it is like the tide. In the first half you see your fellow runners rushing away from you but by the halfway mark the tide turns as they tire and they all flow back past you. The stats provided really bring this home.

Even in the first half, because I was with the 5:30 plus crowd, I overtook more than I was overtaken.

In the second half the impact of my steady plodding to conserve energy becomes pretty dramatic. I started overtaking many of my fellow runners and very few had the energy to pass me. I love this graphic!

Many rivers to run.

There are only so many times I can run round Wandsworth Common before I start feeling like a hamster in a wheel. So I’ve taken to running out and back along rivers. They are level and it’s difficult to get lost!

Last year I mostly ran the River Wandle down to Beddington Park and back.

This year I switched to the Thames Path.

Even on holiday the training must continue. Last spring I was in New Orleans with our friends Tim and Sarah so I ran along the mighty Mississippi, following the New Orleans half marathon course. Such was my fitness at that time, and thanks to the time shift, I was able to leap out of bed and run a half marathon before breakfast!

This year in February I was in Rome for a three week language course so I ran alongside the River Tiber.

In Puglia there are no rivers (true fact) so I’ve had to improvise. There is a cycle path along the Aquedotto Pugliese which does go up and down but not too badly.

In the long run.

The last long run of the training plan was two weeks before the big day and I was pleased with how it went. Previously I’ve really struggled to get past 25K. This time I ran/walked my way to 35K. My longest *ever* training run including my two previous marathon attempts. So this technique seems to work for me.

Drove to the Pineta Ulmo, parked up and then a run/walk to Locorotondo and back.

Through typical Val D'Itria countryside dotted with trulli.

The nature of out and back is that you get a very symmetrical elevation profile. Although overall it was uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back as aqueducts naturally flow gently down hill but they can cheat by tunnelling through hills while I have to go up and over. As you can see there were some hills which were hard work.


Parkrun is an integral part of the training regimen. As a spin-off from the marathon training I achieved a Personal Best (PB) not once but nine times.

The Salento Parkrun of 06-April-19 was showing support for Autism awareness by asking participants to shave something or wear something blue. A perfect opportunity to wear my Blue Cross running vest (last year’s as the new one was back in the UK). All this marathon training has clearly helped. Not only was it my 50th parkrun, with cake and candles, but I demolished my PB by an astonishing 60 seconds: 25:36, previously 26:36. Not just for Salento but for all locations. I’ve earned that 50 T-shirt.

The Salentino Parkrun is set in a large nature reserve and is a lovely flat course.

My fellow runners on this milestone run.

Running for Cats.

I ran in memory of all my furry companions: Blue, Peaches, Cleo, Oscar, Oliver, Cristal and Spielberg, and on behalf of Blue Cross.

Blue Cross animal hospitals and pet care clinics provide free veterinary treatment to sick and injured pets when their owners can’t afford private veterinary fees. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/veterinary.

I have been lucky enough to be able to afford to go to the vets. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to give away your pet or have it put down because you cannot afford the care needed. Too horrible to contemplate.

Please donate to Blue Cross by sponsoring me if you so wish:

Thank you for reading this far. A bit of a marathon post *groan*.

That's all folks.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Benson Row - The Second Week

Penrith, Cumbria. Saturday 12-April-2019 / Thursday 24-April-2019.

This visit to Penrith involved some fairly bonkers logistics due to our itinerary. We started in Italy, preceded Penrith with Gloucestershire for a 50th birthday party weekend, and followed it with Easter in Scotland visiting the mother-in-law then back to London via Penrith in time for my mother's 92nd birthday. Then the London Marathon! Blog post on that to follow...

This meant we had to pack for all three locations a whole month beforehand having everything ready to go before flying out to Italy in early March. We started in Puglia on Saturday with an early taxi to the airport, flew into Gatwick, went straight home, threw everything into the car and were on the road again an hour and 10 minutes later, arriving at the Gloucestershire party house just in time for pre-dinner drinks. A great weekend with old friends celebrating the birthday of the "baby" of the team.

Monday it was off after breakfast to drive to Penrith via B & Q to purchase decorating supplies.

Tuesday I painted the living room nutmeg white while we awaited delivery of tables and chairs followed by a meeting with a kitchen designer.

Wednesday it was assembling IKEA wardrobes while we were waiting for the delivery of two single divan beds.

Front bedroom.

Middle bedroom.

Twin beds for front bedroom.

Thursday it was the turn of the sofas to be delivered plus meetings with a second kitchen designer and a building surveyor to discuss possible reconfiguration of the stairs to see if we could squeeze in a downstairs toilet. The sofas wouldn't easily go through the door so I has to massage the cushions past the door frame while the two delivery men did the heavy lifting.

A three seater and a two seater from a local store.

In amongst all that, a couple of trips to the tip to dispose of the huge quantities of cardboard involved in all this furniture delivery and assembly.

Friday morning it was another crack of dawn start to drive up to Scotland for Easter with the mother-in-law.

Part two of the visit included calling in to Penrith for two nights on our way back to London. This involved more shopping, changing the locks (front and back doors), reconfiguring the IKEA wardrobes into a single unit, installing a TV bracket, taking delivery of a secondhand hi-fi and setting up the music system.

Waiting for the retirement relaxation to kick in!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Hairy Bikers at G Live

Guildford. Thursday 21-March-2019

An Evening With the Hairy Bikers provided pretty much what you would expect. Si and Dave on stage chatting away regaling us with anecdotes from their career. Assorted video clips of their early days, misadventures and outtakes. A cookery demonstration, of course, with two guinea pigs selected from the audience as on-stage diners. Then a break and the same thing all over again.

There were also questions from the audience. Some of these were clearly the usual suspects as they had clips ready to roll to answer them. Others seemed novel and evoked some of the funnier stories. The evening finished with a song featuring Si surprisingly good on drums and a guest bass player.

The train back to Clapham was relatively painless but even so I might try driving next time

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

George Ezra at the O2 Arena

London. Tuesday 19-March-2019.

George seems like a jolly nice chap. I like an artist who comes across as being glad to be there and appreciative of the response from the audience.

We were not able to get two seats together and so bought separate seats in adjacent blocks quite some way back, such is the size of the venue and the popularity of the artist. I sat in someone else's seat, next to Mary, until they showed up and then moved a couple of rows back to a "no show" seat so that worked out ok.

The excellent support act was Sigrid who did an energetic and enjoyable set as she bounced about the stage. Then George came on and did a fair bit of chat introducing each song which I always enjoy. He sang all the hits from both his albums. As we have his first but not his second we only knew some of the songs but enjoyed even the unknowns.

The modern equivalent of holding up your lighters is waving your smartphone torchlight, an impressive sight with so many; read about the origins of this custom.

The show was well designed for a large venue with the big screens and a visual, animated backdrop for the stage. The sound quality was good - not always the case in a big venue. Now all the O2 Arena has to do is sort out the very limited air-side catering and hiked-up drinks prices!

All in all a fine show.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Benson Row - The First Week

Penrith, Cumbria. Monday 11-March-2019 to Tuesday 19-March-2019.

The latest acquisition in the M&M Enterprises property portfolio is a holiday home in Penrith on the edge of the Lake District. Mary has been saying she needs a project to keep her busy and stop her from getting bored. This is that project.

When we sold Trullo Azzurro last year we started by looking for another property in Italy. Somewhere in, or on the fringes, of Cisternino old town. Somewhere without stairs for when we get old and our knees are going. We also wanted some outside space. This was proving impossible even ignoring the budget. There just aren’t many properties that fit the bill, if at all, never mind on the market.

So instead we repatriated the money and started looking in Penrith which we know and like. When we found this property last October, we made an offer which was accepted but kept it quiet from most of our friends as we expected a certain amount of stick from them. We broke the news to family and a few close friends shortly before completion which was then, of course, delayed.

It is a three bedroomed house with a decent size cellar but no outside space at all. We have right of access across the courtyard to get to our back door but that is it. It is an early Victorian mid-terrace house that was once two back-to-back houses, now combined into one. It is the one with the burgundy window and door surrounds. The middle door is an alleyway to a small yard.

The plan is to use it initially for ourselves, family and friends but eventually (especially after the kitchen refit) to put it on AirBnB for others to rent.

Floor plan

Living Room

Dining Room

Kitchen. This is a major component of the project: a complete kitchen redesign. We have two local firms currently producing designs for us to review.

Back Bedroom

Middle Bedroom

Front Bedroom



We finally completed on Monday the 11th March. We drove up that morning with the car stuffed to the gunnels including two single bed frames strapped to the roof and two vacuum packed, Swiss roll mattresses in the car along with all manner of other stuff. The first thing we did on receiving the keys was to assemble the beds release the mattresses and go down to the pub for a beer and meal with our Penrith friends.

Tuesday was delivery day for a whole load of bedroom furniture that we had bought from Barker and Stonehouse in the January sales. They were very good at holding back on delivery until we had access to the property. So Tuesday was literally a case of making my bed and then lying on it.

Wednesday was spent assembling the rest of the bedroom furniture: two wardrobes, two chest of drawers and a bedside cabinet. Fortunately I have had plenty of practice with IKEA furniture and a decent power screwdriver made the whole thing relatively painless although still tedious.

The rest of the week and weekend was more shopping for furniture and useful items like a fridge and microwave, a Dyson and various kitchen bits and pieces. Also visits from various trades to get quotes for works identified by the surveyor most of which it turned out were not needed!

  • The builder reckoned the damp was condensation and the damp specialist confirmed that. 
  • The roofer said the felt we could see was a sign the roof had actually been repaired and no work was required. 
  • The timber treatment man said the colour of the soft timbers showed it had been treated and the rest was solid oak which woodworm blunt their teeth on. 

And what timbers they are too. Magnificent, gnarly bits of old oak. Not neatly sawn, they just have to be recycled timbers from some older building, the Victorians would never have been that cavalier with their roof timbers. Another clue to recycling rather than purpose-sawn was one rafter that didn't reach the ridge and was held up by an oak prop.

Saturday was Penrith Parkrun, more shopping and then in the evening a dinner party at a friends' house. Andrew makes delicious home-made limoncello and arancello which we sampled possibly more than was strictly necessary!

Monday was, joy of joys, a trip to Gateshead IKEA to choose and buy furniture for the other two bedrooms. IKEA should patent their special time dilation secret they clearly have whereby it seems hundreds of years pass inside the store and you come out to discover that only a couple of hours have elapsed in the real world.

Tuesday we drove back to London for a quick turnaround and then out to see George Ezra to recover from an action packed and productive week.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dave Robinson, The Story of Stiff Records at The Half Moon

Putney. Sunday 10-March-2019.

Back in 2017 we really enjoyed the talk and Q'n'A session with Bruce Iglauer, founder of Alligator Records so when we saw "Dave Robinson, The Story of Stiff Records - If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A F...k" advertised we just had to go along.

For the first half Dave gave us an insight into his biography pre-Stiff records as a photographer and how he got into the music business. Then followed a series of tales of the artists he signed, how he found them and video clips of them performing. For a small independent label the calibre of artists is truly impressive including Elvis Costello, The Damned, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Lena Lovich, Madness, the list goes on...

What came across very strongly was the ethos of the company, of looking after the artists, unlike the big labels. It was a family affair; they made a real effort to promote all of the bands and look after their welfare.

After the break it was more stories including how he promoted the bands using The Stiff Tours and then taking questions from the audience. He let us know that he is working on a book which will doubtless be worth adding to the Christmas list when it comes out.

This was the first of a proposed series of Eight O'Clock Rock Chats to be hosted by The Half Moon. Ones to watch out for.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Arturo Sandoval at Ronnie Scotts

Soho, London. Thursday 07-March-2019.

Packing in visits to Ronnie's while we were in the UK. This time, as it is a weekday, we got a support act as well as the main act.

The support act was the Kate Williams trio: Piano, bass and drums. They were fine but didn’t really excite. We have heard a number of similar trios and they’re all good and competent musicians playing jazz standards well but what makes one stand out from the other. I couldn’t put my finger on it but they did not really do it for me although the Guardian thinks otherwise: "Kate Williams is a very good jazz pianist anyway – crisp, incisive and totally at one with the rhythmic ebb and flow."

The drummer had the most minimal drum kit I have ever seen: A snare drum, bass drum, normal (crash?) cymbal and a hi-hat. I have realised that I am, for some reason, irredeemably biased against the wire brush approach to jazz. I tend to associate it with late night, easy listening jazz. Not that it’s lazy drumming, it goes back to the 1920's and clearly involves a lot of skill and technique but it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Arturo Sandoval and his Cuban band were superb. Arturo gave us a masterclass in trumpet playing and general band leading. The band were certainly high energy especially the drummer who was doing his best to resemble Animal from the Muppets.

At some point they played a tune which I eventually recognised as "The windmills of your mind". I only knew it as a novelty single from Noel Harrison (1968). I was surprised to learn that it has some heritage being written by prolific French composer Michel Legrand as the theme tune to The Thomas Crown Affair.

Another song which I recognised but could not have named until now was The Peanut Vendor which I had to look up on Wikipedia:
"Together with "Guantanamera", it is arguably the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. "The Peanut Vendor" has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78 rpm single of Cuban music." 
You live and learn.

I hadn’t fully appreciated how steam punk an instrument the saxophone is. All those levers and valves and certainly this band's sax was not a gleaming and polished example of the instrument. It looks straight out of some typically Steam Punk themed anachronistic Victoriana.

Another fine evening. Ronnie's never disappoints.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hotel at the Peacock Theatre

London. Thursday 28 February-2019.

A last minute decision to slip in an extra bit of culture at Sadler's Wells West End venue, The Peacock Theatre, Cirque Éloize performing a new production called Hotel.

Amanda Reynolds at LondonTheatre1 writes:
"The visually impressive Art Deco hotel full of chrome surroundings and bright lights is a great setting for this innovative show. Unlike other circus productions Hotel blends a mixture of dance, comedy, music and acrobatics to create a fresh take on the traditional circus. Although mostly aimed at adults, this production is well-suited to all ages and families will enjoy this unique show.
Overall, Cirque Éloize’s Hotel may not offer anything overwhelmingly shocking or new but what it does offer is a clever fusion of dance, acrobatics, circus skills and music to create something fresh. With an outstandingly talented cast, it is an entertaining show to sit back and enjoy whilst marvelling at the feats performed onstage." Full review...
Clever and entertaining. And Mary particulary liked the bit of business with a small carpet that they made act like a dog called "CarPet".

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.