Friday, 30 October 2009

BlackLOG finds a voice, out and about London and hair problems

Thanks to OceanDreams the BlackLOG now has a soundtrack (I'm so chuffed that I will even excuse OD for accusing me of being a lady). This now gives you a number of choices:

  • Read in silence;
  • Listen to the music in the hope it will take away from the pain of having to read this garbage;
  • Select different tracks enjoy the music and forget about the Blog.
Instructions for use
Use the buttons like a real Ipod Touch

=  Pause

>  Play

>>| Next Track

|<< Previous Track

If you click on the arrow at the top of the Touch,  under you get to  select any of the tunes that I have currently loaded. (let me know what you think of the choice...)

Natioanal Portrait Gallery
Wednesday Mrs B got invited along to the National Portrait Gallery, by one of her customers. One of those sponsored open evenings, for Beatles to Bowie an exhibition of pop photo's in the 1960's. Since I have always been a fan of sixties music I jumped at the chance of joining her. It was fascinating stuff, especially listing to all the other guests attempting to chat in a knowledgeable way about stuff they clearly didn't have a clue about :-

None descript clueless guest :- "Oh The Kinks, weren't they the ones that were big in America but hardly known over here?"

Me in my head :- "No they were banned from touring America and thus stayed here and developed there unique English sound"


None descript clueless guest :- "Look how rough the Stones looked compared to the Beatles. That's because the Beatles never did drugs..."
Me in my head :- "Other than the pot, LSD, heroin (Lennon certainly)"

We had so much fun that we left rather later than intended. The plan had been to go to 'Oliver's - Jamie Oliver's new restaurant over at Canary Wharf. It was gone 9 when we got there and we were told that the wait for a table was a minimum 45 Minutes. As it was late and we were both starving we decided to cut our losses and go to the Canteen instead. This promised good wholesome British cuisine using the best ingredients. What is failed to say was poorly cooked - very disappointing, we both kind of wished we had held out for the table at Oliver's.....Live and learn

All Pictures in this weeks BlackLOG were taken with my
Nikon D700 using a 70 - 200mm lens
No Pop Stars were hurt during the production of this weeks Blog

I could not take any photo's inside the
gallery so this is as close as I got

Friday and off to Brixton
It was Franz Ferdinand at the Brixton Academy and yet another covert operation to smuggle the beast through security. We had unreserved circle tickets and I planned to get there early enough to bag a couple  front row seats; leaving Mrs B to do her normal - swan in just before the main act hits the stage. Unfortunately, and very predictably, the London traffic had other ideas for me.

Eventually, I managed to park about 5 minutes walk from the venue and was there about 20 minutes after the doors were thrown open (I'm guessing here, they may just have unlocked them and stood back). I had stripped the beast down so it looked more like an average-sized camera. Security gave a brief ruffle through my rucksack and then I was in, racing up the stairs. The front row had already gone but I found a couple of seats in the second row towards the centre.

It was as I sat down that I had that "Wait a minute, this is a gig and this is the BlackLOG feeling" because it had all gone a bit too well. It then dawned on me; my mobile phone - the only hope of contacting Mrs B and letting her know where I was - was sitting in the car. I asked around if I could borrow someones phone, even offering hard cash to use it, but they all either claimed the battery was flat or that they did not have a phone on them.

In truth it would have been of little use as I don't retain Mrs B's mobile number in my head. I'm afraid I have a 3 phone number memory - my work number, my home number and the phone number of my childhood home. For some reason no other number has ever stuck in my head (not even my own mobile), they are all stored in my phone and on my PC. I have tried deleting my childhood number from my memory bank but I can't convince another number to take its place.

I didn't really want to lose my hard fought for seats or attempt to get the beast in for a second time.  It was leap of faith time. I put my coat on one seat and my rucksack (with the beast inside) on the other.


I turned to the group behind me and instructed them to guard the seats, rucksack and coats with their lives. They were Chinese,  I have a feeling they didn't speak English as they just nodded at me enthusiastically. For all I know they probably thought I had just gifted everything to them. I was just about the leave the auditorium when I realised that I had left my ticket in my coat pocket. I glared at the Chinese people with my best

"If these go missing I'm going to stand in front of you at every concert you ever go to" stare.

They nodded even more enthusiastically. I retrieved my ticket and made my way towards the exit with the BIG signs that said

"Strictly no re-admittance under any circumstances".

My heart sank...but I decided to ask anyway.

I explained to the doorman my dilemma - Mrs B lost in the wilderness with no way of contacting me. I didn't hold anything back (other than the fact I had smuggled in the beast). I made Tiny Tim sound like a nasty piece of work, out robbing the poor and not even bothering to pass on any of his proceeds to the rich...

The doorman stared at me as if I was asking him to roast his first born and serve them on a silver platter with a sprig of mint rammed delicately up their bottom.

I may have whimpered slightly.

He caved and called for his boss.

I went through the whole humiliating routine again, as he looked on impassively. I put my heart into it, reaching to the very depth of my soul, trawling for emotions that not even Laurence Olivier or Sir John Gielgud had managed to master in their heyday.

I'm sure I saw a twitch of emotion spread across his face but on reflection it was probably just a bit of indigestion.

My life was now hanging in the balance with Mrs B left unattended on the streets of Brixton. ....

He left me to sweat for a bit then grabbed my ticket, scrawled something eligible on it and I was out and running for the car.

I grabbed the phone and read the message from Mrs B.

'Train running slow will be late home'

"Nnnnoooooooo!!!!" Mrs B had gone home.

No wait, that was yesterday's message. Mrs B would be arriving around 8pm.

I made my way back to the venue and was relieved to be re-admitted. I was even more relieved to find that my new found Chinese friends were still grinning away and had not tried to unwrap their gifts. There was a bit of a stand off when they were unhappy about losing them but I stood up and glared down at them. They stood up and glared determinedly at my midriff....The matter was settled when they failed to lift the rucksack - victory was mine.

The support "Music go Music" - was mostly notable for the lead singer being in a constant state of different swimming costumes - an interesting choice for a late October evening in Brixton but each to their own.

As for Franz Ferdinand - they were fantastic live. I had seen them earlier in the year, at one of the gigs that Mrs B had missed. I was right in assuming that Mrs B would love them and with the bonus of being able to see it all as well. I'm a bit undecided on this one, however: standing and being able to bop around but with a restricted view versus a good view from the circle but not being allowed to stand. Security were rather hot on this, jumping on anyone who attempted to even stand up for a stretch. Fortunately this kept them so busy that I had plenty of opportunity to rebuild the beast and get some pictures. Rather than just prattle on, I'll let the photos do the talking. I've given up trying to load the video footage.........after waiting 12 hours for the PC to fail to load only 35 seconds of footage is just getting ridiculous.

Alex Kapranos Lead Vocals and Guitar

Alex and Mick McCarthy (rhythm guitar and keyboards)
 I have some excellent video footage of Mick going
mental playing his guitar but unfortunately
Blogger won't load it at the moment

Just before the encore the roadies came on and set up
some drums at the front of the stage - The group then
treated us to some excellent percussion.

Alex giving it some emotion

No, not the shadows

Drummer Paul Thomson - giving us some stick

Getting everyone to sing along

I thought they were going to play musical chairs for a moment

When life tells us that it might be finally time to give up on Christmas
With Christmas around the corner all the miserable people who delight in wallowing around and having an awful time and want to bring the rest of us down have had their dreams answered. Yes - Bob Dylan has released a Christmas Album. Now don't get me wrong, I love Bob's lyrics but not even his mother could love his singing. Warning - these are covers and do not contain any of his own lyrics so it really is the worst of all worlds....

Swimming problems
My hair has been going through bad times recently (due to doing loads of swimming, around 2 mile a week at the moment) and has been changing just like cartoon magic, with the mere wave of a wand producing:


Art Garfunkel (circa early 1970's)


The Scarecrow's hairstyle from the Wizard of Oz


A bowling ball
OK that last one was not my hair but the silicone rubber cap that I am now using in an attempt to retain what little is left of it.

Inadvertently inappropriate comment of the week.

I had just dragged myself out of the pool after a mile long swim and got chatting to some bloke. Not sure how we got around to it but he mentioned a friend of his who had just given up his well paid job in the city and was cycling around the world.

I piped up "That must take real balls to make that choice." A statement which fell on stoney silence

I was frostily informed that it had cost exactly three balls to be precise as his friend had lost both and he himself had lost one to testicular cancer.... and his friend was now cycling around the world to raise funds for male cancer research.

Talk about a strike - just as well my head was in bowling ball mode....

Friday, 23 October 2009

McG under the weather and more gig dilemmas

McG in his leaning Buddha pose :- poor thing
he's been on a diet since he was 6 months old
when he hit a stone - that was over 13 years ago.
He makes Bagpus look lively but we love him....

McG has been under the weather for the last couple of days. It all started when I heard a cat fight outside, thinking nothing of it as our two are so placid that it's just not what they do - after all that involves effort. I looked across at Mischief who was stationed on in her normal position.
Mischief showing her normal distain for everything...

McG was not about but whenever we think he has gone wandering he turns up in a cupboard (favourite place is the back of the airing cupboard) or pops (OK, flops) out of a box. In the last few months he has had a fixation on getting into the downstairs lavatory. He never stays there for long, I think it's to do with not liking closed doors and that one is normally shut.

A few minutes later McG sprung (or as “sprungy” as an aging overweight cat can manage through a now tight-fitting cat flap) into the utility room and proceeded to swagger (not easy for a cat with a large underbelly and short legs to carry off) through the kitchen, without saying hello and sauntered off upstairs. I immediately assumed he had backed the right cat in the fight and made the feline version of a financial killing.
Considering he's old, over weight and ginger
he can be quite cute. Does this mean there is
hope for all of us?

A couple of hours later Mrs B came home and went up stairs. The quiet of the night was disturbed by a screech that made me think the cat fight had started up again. Turns out is was a distraught Mrs B calling me upstairs as something was up with McG. I hurried up and found him on the now blood splattered bed spread looking very sorry for himself. A quick check showed that the wounds were only superficial but, for a cat who has religiously avoided any form of exercise that did not involve sleeping or hunting down a warm spot to sleep for 14 years, he was stiffening up nicely. We bathed his wounds in warm salty water (you can imagine how well that went down) and monitored him for a few days.
How did I not notice McG has lost an ear

His loss of appetite lasted precisely one meal, after which he was well on the road to recovery.
McG looking perkier, thankfuly his ear had
just popped out for a breath of fresh air...

Concert: to go or not to go
Not going - I failed to get tickets for a Vampire Weekend concert last week, when they went on pre-sale - by the time I found out about the concert, the pre-sale was over.

Going - I then found that the tickets were going on general sale, so waited for the site to activate.

Not going – The link never did open, the tickets had all gone in the pre-sale - Would have been nice if they had said so on the site rather than putting up a notice saying tickets went on sale at 9am. It was only when I called up to find out what was happening did they pass on this distressing, but valuable, nugget of information....Arrrggghhhh.

Going - Found out that Mrs B really wanted to see them so found some tickets on “Seatwave”, a form of legalised black-market for tickets

Might not be going - Two days before the gig and no sign of the tickets I had bought. I called up Seatwave, who promised to contact the seller and call me back in 20 minutes.

Not going - A couple of hours later, I called back to find out what was going on.

Seatwave - Sorry did we not get back to you. The seller forgot to send the tickets so we can't get them to you. We will give you a full refund...”

Me :- ” Well that's just great, what sort of a shoddy service are you running? So next time I want to park my money somewhere for a week I know where to come…Only lets face it I don’t think there will be a next time….”

Might be going - An hour later I get a phone call – “Hi. It’s Seat wave here. We’ve worked out a way of getting the tickets to you….”

Will be going – Big UPC envelope arrives on my desk at work with tickets actually inside the envelope.

Little victory dance round the office to strange looks from fellow workers – but hey, they’ve seen worse.

Arrived in London and parked practically in the venue. I had brought the beast with me but looking at the security on the door who were practically body searching everyone. I’ve seen Berlin Masseuse do a less intrusive job. I was in two minds on whether to attempt to smuggle (now that’s a joke, that would be like going to the zoo and trying to walk out with an elephant under my jacket*) the camera in. I decided that since ElleGee was so close if they didn’t let me in with the beast I could easily drop it off. I felt attempting to try and hide the camera was not the best course of action and went for plan B, have it out in plain site and attempt to brazen it out.

* Incidentally if you do manage to sneak an elephant out, you can count on it being a very expensive date. They eat rather a lot and I suspect you might need to purchase a number of Cinema tickets. Don't even think about trying to fly them anywhere as I believe even Jumbos have a no Elephant rule these days. Don't blame me I don't make up the rules...

The huge security guard asked me to open the camera case.


I unzipped it

He peered in

He looked at me

He peered back in

I said nothing

He peered at it again

I held my nerve

Burley security guard - “You’re not going to use it are you?”

I said nothing

He peered a final time

Tension mounted

His eyes rolled to the sky and said rather mechanically “If you get caught using it, you will probably be asked to leave.”

‘Probably’ - sounded like excellent odds to me.

Me and the beast on location at V2009, he likes
to get out and about. For anyone who missed
the V Blogs Day 1 & Day 2

I’ve not been to Kings College Student Union before. I can report that with its capacity of just over 600, it’s a fantastic venue. With the floor already heaving and Mrs B not looking forward to being pushed around with little or no view, we spotted some stairs and made our way up to a balcony. Here we found a couple of stools and an unrestricted view of the stage, perfect. The heavy drinkers amongst you will be pleased to note that there was a bar up there with student union prices. Where were you?

The best description of Vampire Weekend’s music that I have heard is "Upper West Side Soweto", with the influence of African pop and classical music making them fairly unique at the moment. There are obvious shades of Paul Simon during his Graceland period. The band are tight - No I’m not moaning that they didn’t buy us drinks all night, for the record they didn’t, but tight as a musical unit.

Snippet of 'Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa' taken
on our Panasonic TZ1

Taken with our Panasonic DMC TZ1, easier to get
into a gig amd not bad but...

Vampire weekend taken with the The Nikon D700, it
really knows how to pick up light

VW Lead Singer - Ezra Koenig

VW Drummer - Chris Tomson

It's off to see Franz Ferdinand at the Brixton Acadamy tonight - hope to get more pictures for next week. Not sure I will get the Beast in, but who knows...

Recent things we wish we had not said – The printable ones anyway

I was reading through the various blogs and making comments when Mrs B turned to me, quite the event considering she was watching Strictly come Dancing which normally takes 125% of her concentration:

Mrs B - ”Are you reading blogs again? You're obsessed....”

Me - Sorry, Mrs B, but exactly how many episodes of Strictly Come Dancing 2 is that you are in the middle of watching?

Mrs B’s reply was a rather sheepish grin….

An almost perfect sense of direction
As we came out of Warren Street station making for Tottenham Court Road, I took one look around and set off.

Mrs B - “How do you know where you are going?”

Me - “Natural sense of direction I guess!”

Mrs B - “That's very impressive....but isn't that Tottenham Court Road over there?" showing me, rather vindictively, a sign pointing in the opposite direction.

Me - “Grrr”

Anyone else want to step up to the plate and admit to things they wish they had not said recently?

Hatfield Forest
Thought you might like some more autumn shots to to end with. Till next week, have a good one.
When Geese go bad - Distressing reports have
reached the BlackLOG that a goose has been seen
flashing in Hatfield Forest

Bull rushes on the edge of Hatfield Forest
lake, opposite the shell house for those
who have been there.

Am I being fussy or are the autumn colours still a bit muted?

What are you still doing here go outand enjoy yourself ....But only after you have left a comment.... You know you want to

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Grand Design A.K.A how to grow poor rapidly - featuring Shakespeare and fine dining

It was off to the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) in Birmingham last weekend for the Grand Designs Live Exhibition. Mrs B has plans (grand plans) for chez Black.....Eeeek that sounds like it's going to be expensive.

Within 20 minutes of getting through the door my worst fears came true and poverty was staring us in the face as Mrs B found the sofa she "just had to have". (Those 20 minutes included 15 minutes spent waiting for a coffee that never materialised). The sofa was:

(a) designer (i.e expensive);


(b) an Italian import (i.e.even more expensive).


The cost of replacing the standard feet it is supplied with is more than the average punter spends on a sofa from DFS. We still had another 7 hours and 40 minutes at the exhibition to go. At this rate of spending I was worried that I might actually have to start working for a living. Fortunately things calmed down after that.

Other than the financial hole that it left in our now decimated bank balance and the coffee incident (don't get me started), I have to begrudgingly admit that I quite enjoyed the show. It was a real mixed bag - loads of electrical items i.e huge Plasma TV's (my plan for a cinema room is on hold for the moment) 68" with a picture that I would gladly sacrifice my readership for. (Don't feel down, it had a truly fantastic picture and I would think about everyone of you, each time the lights of Bishops Stortford dimmed when I press the power on button). OK, so I admit that's another pipe dream........Don't worry there will be quite a lot of convincing of Mrs B before I start having to sacrifice any of you.

Some of the products on sale looked like they were rejected from the shopping channel. Let's face it, if you can't sell an item to drunken punters at 3am what chance to fairly sober people wandering around a giant warehouse near Birmingham...?

"What do you mean you add the word "Designer" to the product description?"

"You claim it imported from where?"

"Did you say Italy?"

"and you charge over the odds"....sniff, sniff

OK, moving swiftly along...... without even mentioning the designer vacuum cleaner or designer light fittings. Neither of which, and I stress this, were imported from Italy or anywhere close to Italy.

Let's make a weekend of it.
As we were 200 miles from home we decided to make a weekend of it. Mrs B found a fantastic B&B in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was not cheap but sometimes it's worth paying a bit more (It was not designer either, or Italian........Just let it go!). Our hosts, Decima & David, were utterly charming and made us feel very welcome. We have stayed in some places which are so regimented that unless you make it to the breakfast table within 30 seconds of your allotted time you will go hungry and don't even think about staying out after 9:30pm if you want to spend the night in the room you have paid for.
Cross o' th' Hill Farm we highly recommend it

This B&B certainly attracted a better class of clientele. Before you ask, I was Mrs B's guest and she is universally welcome everywhere - and just about makes up for me....
Mrs B on our Balcony - Shakespeare meets BlackLOG

Mrs B Juliet - "O, Romeo, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo?"

Me Romeo - "I'm down here, scraping off some cow dung....Bloody countryside....It's unhygienic I tell you!"

I have never stayed anywhere where your hostess produces sketches of rabbits after breakfast and gets you to compete against your fellow guests in a watercolour paint off. (Well, not since I was four and I think that was with crayons). The fact that I was judged joint winner, along with Mrs B and another guest leaves me with a warm feeling (no, I did not wet myself with all the excitement - the damp patch on my trousers was where I spilt the paint water) and happy memories.

I'm not sure what I would have felt had I lost but looking at the pictures I don't think the art world will be beating down any of our doors any time soon...... Perhaps I can pass the damp patch in my trousers off as something arty....
This year's entries for the Turner prize prompts
art judge to exclaim "Art might not be dead but
if this is its future it might as well be!!!"

Stratford-upon-Avon - Anyone for Shakespeare?
They seek him here they seek him there but unlike the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel old Shakey could be found everywhere........

Almost every house, shop, park or restaurant had a plaque claiming the Bard or one of the fruits of his loins had slept, stepped, owned, fallen over, passed wind or died on these very premises. The hardest place to find was his grave and that had huge signs pointing the way.

To find Shakespeare's grave just follow
the yellow brick road. Hang on a second
who's levitating the bricks? Harry, Ron
put them down at once, or I'll have to
send you to Dumbledore....

From a cultural point of view and much to my relief we unfortunately managed to pick the only weekend that there was no play on at The Royal Shakespeare Company. (They were between sets and the curtains had been sent off for their annual clean.) We had to make do with "The Spirit of Sheep Street Experience" - a one man ghost show. This involved being taken through a Tudor-age house in almost total darkness, while a resting actor told us local ghost stories.

Very entertaining, especially the local woman who took in every word, becoming almost possessed as each tale unfolded. She got cold as the tour leader told us the room we were currently bumping our way through never got warm because of the presence of spirits (try turning the heater on you tight git) and jumped to order whenever he dropped anything or stamped his foot. I'm pretty sure she was not a plant (no leaves being the main indicator) but not even Nicholas Cage can act that bad and he regularly practices...... The darkness was a nice touch but I suspect more because they had failed to pay the last electricity bill.
Rather disappointingly William refused to sign autographs,*
which makes him no better than Virginia Wade in my eyes
(long story involving her refusal to give a young boy her
autograph in 1977, the year she won Wimbledon. It's not as
if I said that I loved her or even hit her or anything.
Needless to say I supported Betty Stöve that year, which
probably accounts for Ginny's win. Before you ask, No Ginny
did not write to thank me.......How ungrateful)

* It's not surprising when you learn that of the eight
authenticated Shakespeare signatures the man employed
six different spellings...

Dining out
We had been recommended two restaurants in Stratford, both in Sheep Street

- Lambs and Vintners.

We were planning to eat in Vintners on the Friday night. Just before going in, however, I said to Mrs B let's just check that we can get a table for tomorrow night in Lambs. We dragged ourselves the 30 yards down the road and tried to book a table. There was absolutely nothing available unless we wanted to eat at 5pm. Did we look like children or Americans? Lambs did, however, have one last table available at that very moment, so we jumped at the chance. The food was just sublime, so good in fact that we ended up having three courses, which is most unusual for us.

I'm sorry to report that despite having my camera with me I was enjoying the food too much that I forgot to take any pictures. As we waddled back down the road we dropped into Vintners and managed to book the last table available for the following night.
Even the sign looks good enough to eat. I'll
have mine done rare with a little herb butter

At first we thought we had got a bad table, it was right by the front door and we assumed we would get disturbed all night. Far from it. Within moments of sitting down we discovered we had got the best seats in the house. It was equally heartbreaking and satisfying to see couple after couple look at the menu outside and get excited by the prospect of the fantastic food within. They would push the door open and enter, all big smiles, the odd few salivating in anticipation of the fine food, only to have their dining plans dashed on the rocks of "Saturday night should have booked ahead" blues.... I don't mean to be mean but somehow it makes you feel really good, especially when you know that you grabbed the last table.... For the record we managed three courses again and thus wobbled away for the second night running from yet another fantastic meal.

Missed picture opportunity
I have let you down and missed a fantastic photo opportunity. We had gone for a walk down by the River Avon. A woman walking her dog coaxed (ie threw) the poor thing into the water in an attempt to clean off the mud that caked it from head to foot. It was not keen, especially as a rather large swan was hanging around and making menacing moves towards anything that took a slight interest in the water. I mentioned to the woman that her dog was bound to get his own back. Sure enough he jumped straight out, ran up to her and shook himself dry, absolutely soaking her in the process.

I was laughing so hard that I missed the opportunity of the shot, that in truth I knew was coming. Doh! Must remember take shot first, laugh later....So I'm afraid you are left with the following -

I can't work out if this is Zeppo & Harpo
in 'Duck Soup' or Groucho & Chico in
'A Day at the Races'?

The duck equivalent of musical chairs, when
the music stops they all try and sit on her.
Who says romance is dead?

1,2,3,4,5 coming ready or not....

Some National Trust pictures
Since becoming Life members of the National Trust (NT), about 10 years ago, we have managed (if you exclude Newark Park , where we are privileged to be invited as guests) about 3 trips to NT properties. This is partly due to the fact that the nearest NT property to us is about 30 miles away and more than that, whenever we vacation in the UK, we invariably forget to take our membership cards. The NT in England are delighted to charge you again but will not provide refunds. Compare this to our treatment in Northern Ireland - when we asked if they did refunds for members who had forgotten their cards they told us "No" but then promptly waived the entrance fee.  Now that's service for you...

Incidentally, the only time that our lifetime membership was acknowledged was a week after we coughed up the readies, when we received a letter asking if we would like to give them some more money. If memory serves me right we spent the next six months fighting the cats for their leftovers, so declined the NT's splendid, if speculative offer. I'm not sure we could afford the stamp to send them another cheque anyway.  Now I'm not expecting them to bow and scrape whenever we produce our lifetime membership cards (or invariably the little hand written note from our parents saying 'yes they are lifetime members but left their cards at home') but surely a little tug of the forelock wouldn't go amiss... ? For the avoidance of doubt I have a lot of respect for the work that the NT does, plus they generally do very nice cakes, not quite up to the standards of the WI (Women Institute) but not far off....

Fortunately this time we remembered our cards as the area is awash with NT properties. We even managed to visit two of them Charlecote Park and Upton House .

Stairway to Heaven at Upton House - The Led
Zepplin version, not the Rolf Harris. While
Rolf has his place in the music industry it
should not include murdering rock classics.

Pan in the grounds of Upton House

Charlecote Park

I appreciate that times are hard for the
National Trust but using pensioners to
cross pollinate the flowers?

The grounds of Charlecote Park

Reminds me of the secret garden.
The grounds of Upton House

"There's no place like home". Just two clicks
of Mrs B's sparkly red shoes, plus a two
hour drive and we were home...

The Gull
Thank you to Kathryn (who writes a brilliant daily Blog - I would however recommend that you Don't go there, as I fear you will never return for my meagre once a week offering) for my one entry to last week's bird question. A game effort but not even close I'm afraid.

For those of you who laughed and thought why is he asking about what is obviously a seagull, I have managed to establish, it is not a seagull. No, I have not become a twitter, tweeter or twitcher (whatever the term is) overnight. It's just by chance we ran into a BBC producer of Natural History programs, Stephen Moss (who by coincidence just happens to be the producer of Autumn Watch, the very TV program I just happened to mention in last week's blog - how spooky is that?) He was with his friend Nigel a publisher of bird (the feathered variety) books and their respective wives, who were staying at Cross o' th' Hill Farm . I learnt a number of interesting facts.

For instance the Gull has two outfits - pulling and non-pulling gear

i.e Black head plumage = Come and get me

Apparently my picture in last week's BlackLOG was of a Black-headed Gull in "I'm sorry I've got a headache" plumage.

Despite its name, the pulling gear is in fact brown....

OK. That's enough education for one blog, I don't know about you but I could probably do with a bit of a lie down.

All that remains is for me to apologise to J.K.Rowling (author of Harry Potter), Shakespeare (author of some badly spelt plays. At times he makes even me look like an academic...) and L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz) for the misuse of their work in this weeks BlackLOG.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Don't put Mrs B on the stage Mr Donovan....

It was off to the West End last Friday night to surprise my Big Sister for her birthday. The plan had been to arrive at the theatre around 7pm and ambush her in the bar. Mrs B was coming straight from work while I had the joys of driving into London.

Mrs B made it in good time and 'Tom Tom' predicted my arrival, at my parking place of choice, as 6.30pm (just as the parking meters go off duty, excellent), with a 15 minute walk to the theatre it was looking good for the surprise ambush. A crash on the North Circular - not even a road that I was using, had a knock on effect to the M11, which conspired against me and the time started to ebb away. It was only after 7pm and with some distance still to my destination that I could at last manage to make use of the bus lanes and speed past the occupants of stationary cars, who thankfully doggedly refused to use the bus lanes (even after the lanes have knocked off for the evening and no doubt joined the parking meters who are already sozzled in a nearby bar). This also tells you that I had missed the 7pm meeting time and worse still was looking like missing the start of the play at 7:30pm. As I slewed to a halt in Lincolns Inn Fields I had only 7 minutes to make the 15 minute walk.

It was going to be squeaky bum time as I set off at a brisk pace that would have given Usain Bolt a wake up call. At this point I was regretting bringing "the beast" (Nikon D700 with 70-200 lens) as I had already missed capturing the surprise on my sister's face, it sounded like it was a truly classic moment. Our friend Lisa, who had instigated the whole surprise theatre trip, dragged Big Sis into the crowded theatre bar. Mrs B was sitting at a table with four chairs, a bottle of Champagne on ice and four glasses. (Despite the four glasses, she lost count of the number of times people asked if the seats were taken. "No,no, I'm an alcoholic trying to pretend that I've got friends" ). My sister saw what she thought was a free table and rushed over. Seeing the glasses and champagne she looked through Mrs B and said "Oh, damn someone's sitting here!". "Yes" piped up Mrs B " I'm sitting here". Big Sis turned and said "Sorry" to the, she thought, complete stranger and started to walk away, and then suddenly realising who it was, let out a huge scream of excitement (I guess it's a girly thing...) that deafened half the bar.

While this had been taking place I was now involved in a battle through the streets . I thought the traffic on the road had been bad but every tourist from miles around seemed to converge on my route. I ended up dancing through a herd of large, slow moving ladies, hurding Japanese tourists and politely telling anyone else who swayed, rolled or sauntered in my way that "Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry and could you clear the Effing way" I tried to be polite as possible. I would like to think, if filmed, it would have been like watching those street runners - jumping off buildings, diving through doorways, back flipping off walls etc...- sadly I suspect it probably came off as more like the Keystone Cops crossed with Benny Hill. As I dashed through theatre security I explained " Yes it is a big camera but there is no way I would be using it in the theatre....!!!. With seconds to spare I got into the auditorium. I probably could have done without running my rucksack over the heads of the row in front, as I made my way to my seat, especially as I came in from the wrong side and managed to get most of them. Fortunately the show started on time and saved me from a lot of grief, I collapsed in my seat and took huge breaths as I started to recover.

The show was fantastic, 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' starring Jason Donovan and Mrs B.....Yes you heard me. 20 years after her last appearance on stage, Mrs B made her surprise West End debut. Just after the interval the chorus line flocked down from the stage and dragged (quite an appropriate term considering the contents of the show) willing and un-willing volunteers onto the stage. Mrs B's Protests :-

"No, no, no, oh OK, alright then....Do I need make up?"

were short and unconvincing.

Mrs B (far left) circling
a much bigger role...

I'm afraid I broke my promise to theatre security and whipped out the beast, in an attempt to get a couple of clandestine shots of Mrs B ' s big West End opportunity. I wish I had been a bit more composed but trying to get the beast out of the bag and setting it up, all without being caught by the prowling theatre staff was no easy task..... All too soon Mrs B was ushered back into the audience - no doubt at the insistence of Mr Donovan who was probably petrified that he was going to be upstaged after hearing about Mrs B's impressive track record with the Tadworth Local Amateur Dramatic & Luvvies Society. No one who saw her play third goat from the left in Animal Farm or witnessed her being praised for her excellent Welsh accent whilst performing as a Liverpudlian bus conductress, will forget Mrs B's acting career. Her Statue of Liberty performance still brings tears to the eyes.... certainly to the poor guy who was at the back of the stage and got too close to the torch.....

All those wanting autographs please form an orderly queue, Mrs B will be out shortly......No Sir, she does not sign expandable body parts...... you can go to the back of the queue for suggesting such a thing....

It was not as large as her goat role, but
Mrs B was just easing herself back in slowly

Look at that professional bow, if only the
sod in front hadn't stood up. Clearly West
End audiences aren't as sophisticated as
they used to be... Mrs B claims that he is
giving her a standing ovation. While I think
he was nipping off to the loo

Some photos to keep my non-readers happy
Mrs B was on a shopping adventure on Sunday, with her mum and sister, leaving me to my own devices. As no one was about for a cycle ride I went for a swim (just over a mile in 37 minutes) and then took the beast out to try and capture a flavour of Autumn.... Autumn appears to have gone into hiding for the moment, so please expect Autumn Watch style pictures, without the Autumn or Bill Oddie for that matter...

Sunset Bishop's Stortford style

Recently I've been looking at a Blog with
fantastic pictures of Eagles and what do I
get to work with....this nondescript little
fellow. Any twitchers out there know what it
is....? Yes, yes, I know it's a bird but
what type...?

He did his best to act like
a hunter, but I think he was
just washing his feet....

Not bad for a water run off area
at the end of our development.

"It's time for bed" said Zebedee, "Sod that!"
said Dougal,"I'm enjoying the sunset."

What all the best dressed moons are
wearing this season, a slightly
mottled effect.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Good food, roll reversals and even more live music

Around 8 years ago when we got our 36” TV, we were ahead of the game. Combined with 7.1 Kef Coda surround sound speakers and the ridiculously expensive (but worth every penny) Denon digital theatre amp, it was impressive enough to warrant a launch evening. A friend of ours, Paul, still mentions the impact it had on him when he first saw this behemoth in the corner of the living room. While you certainly could not hang it on a wall the weight gave it the advantage that nobody was going to break in and run off down the road with it - not unless they had at least 3 very large and strong friends with them.

This is the TV that Mrs B broke down in tears about when I showed it to her in the shop. (Well actually not quite, as I only showed her the 32" version as a warm up. We only had a 21" TV at the time and that was going to be "one huge step for
mankind...") This set the plan to get a big TV back by 6 months. That was along time ago now and the thing still works perfectly well, other than not being HD compatible and twice the size I would like it to be (Mrs B keeps telling me size is not everything and assures me it's what you do with it. I'm not sure what she means....) I have been toying around with the idea of a replacement but nothing has made me ready to jump ship. In fact, in a rather bizarre twist, it is now Mrs B who wants a large and expensive flat screen TV, while it is me now dragging my feet. What has brought about this roll reversal? That would be 'The Deal .....'

The Deal
Mrs B - "You can have as big and as expensive a flat screen TV as you want as long as you buy me a Diamond ring for the equivalent amount of money. "

Me - "OK.................."

Thought process
Mrs B - 'Whoopee, I'm getting a big diamond ring........'

Me - 'OK, the prices of electrical consumer good are still coming down, new improved TV's are being released all the time, the behemoth is working need to rush into this........'

That all changed last Saturday night.....

We had been invited to dinner by a Thai friend of ours who had been threatening to cook us an authentic meal for quite sometime. Very nice, Mam had even toned down the spices for Mrs B, not that it helped much as it still took the roof of her mouth off.

Yellow curry, similar to Green curry and Red
curry only it's well, Yellow......Oh, and has
the ability to bring tears to Mrs B's Eyes.
Impressive, I had to use a whole 32" TV....

I had started to get a bit of gadget envy when I entered the house, I have never seen so many amps, pre-amps post-amps, I think there were five in all. There were also huge B&W speakers decorating the living room. To be honest 'menacing the living room' would be a better description. This was at odds, however, with the fairly small (albeit flat screen (note to editor you are obsessed with flat screen)) TV that they dwarfed. I assumed that the speakers were for music and thought little more about it while I concentrated on scoffing the fantastic banquet that Mam put before us.
- the dishes just kept coming.

After the meal, Ray - Mam's husband, asked if we would like to see a film. Never one to turn down such an offer we settled in front of the TV. Suddenly there was a huge rumbling noise and a projector screen slowly dropped down from the ceiling, covering the entire wall of the living room and hiding the TV, like a David Blaine magic trick. (Shut your eyes for two minutes and you would never have known where the TV had gone). The next thing the screen was filled with a gorgeous, large than life HD picture. We never did get to see a film as Ray proceeded to attempt to show us the best bits from various Blue ray discs. All very impressive but very frustrating as, despite have a top end Blue ray player, it still takes about 2 minutes to load each disc. Not a problem if you are watching a full film but a pain when seeing snippets. One of the snippets was the animated "Cars" - not a film that left a great impression on me when I first saw it but had a wow factor when the picture seems to totally surround you. Ray had warned me that when the cars raced passed it would feel like you were really there. Sure enough the power of the speakers gave the impression that the cars were actually passing inches from me. Poor Mrs B, who had taken up her normal snooze position, almost bounced out of her seat.

When we got home the Behemoth now looked like a small portable. I have seen the future, only it is unlikely to make it into Mrs. B's living room. The phrase "Over my dead body" springs to mind. My thoughts are now turning to getting a spade and digging... No,No,No don't be daft, I'm not talking about burying Mrs B, I'm thinking basement, with fully integrated cinema room. I suspect Mrs B's diamond is now getting to the size where it would be too heavy to put on her finger and for the record Mrs B has hidden all the spades......

Florence and the Machine
I had managed to talk Mrs B and our friends Joe and Kirsty to get to Shepherds Bush early, so that we could get a bite to eat and see the support band - The XX. Some support bands are incredible, even better than the main act -

Terrence Trent Derby making Simply Red look ordinary

Bare-naked Ladies making the Beautiful South look second rate

The XX did not turn out to be one of those groups. All their songs seem to start off promisingly but quickly stalled, like an old Ford Fiesta. Just at the point they should be pulling away from the lights they coast to a halt. The effect on my three companions was to almost put them to sleep. In fact I was having to support Mrs B to stop her slumping over. Not what was needed on Sunday night in West London.
Joe spotted that the group probably only
called themselves XX so they use the cool
but cheap lighting affect.

Fortunately, when Florence took to the stage that all changed and the venue came to life. She has a wonderfully distinct voice and immense stage presence that makes it difficult to keep your eyes off her. I do worry about her mental state though. When she fluffed the cue for the second song, she kept going on about it all evening, even at the end during the encore. I fear, like many stars, that she is quite a fragile individual and lives off a nervous energy, like a modern day Kate Bush.
I just hope that she manages to keep it together and does not burn out À la miss Bush. Despite Kate having a fantastic reputation for singing live, I believe she only managed to performed about 28 gigs....

Kiss with a fist - Thanks Florence but
I'd rather have none....Besides I've
heard about your boy building coffins

I have a feeling that Florence may have read my Bloomsbury Ballroom review for she was determined to get some mosh pit action. Not good news for the poor sod who was half way through the crowd, attempting to deliver four beers to his three friends, just at the point when Florence made the announcement that she wanted the entire audience to jump up and down. It was only going to end one way. The only other person who failed to join in was the large pratt behind me. As the entire place erupted I found myself being pushed forward. I turned to see this huge guy sulking, while his girlfriend tried to explain he didn't like being crowded. I felt fully justified telling him that if he had an issue with crowds a gig was not the best place for him to be. I should have told the girlfriend that she might be better off finding someone with a bit more life in them but figured she could work that out for herself. Besides he was clearly a w*nker and so she might be able to put that to good use at least.....

I love that my friend Kirsty thought the song was "Dark days are over" and would not believe me for ages that is is Dog days. And no I have no idea what dog days are?

Hospital Beds, I hope Florence has learnt to
do the corners properly otherwise matron will
have her Lungs for Garters....

Despite the temperature being 17C I was voted down 3 to 1 and so had to drive home with the roof up. Within 5 minutes I found myself on my own in the car as my three companions drifted off into the land of nod. I would have put the roof down but was worried their harmonious snoring might wake up the neighbours.....