Midwinter musings from the Shire-tiddely-pom…

28 01 2013

snow‘The more it

SNOWS- tiddely-pom

The more it

GOES- tiddely-pom




And nobody

KNOWS- tiddely-pom

How cold my toes-tiddely-pom

Are growing’


By Winnie the Pooh (with a little help from his friend – A.A. Milne)

 Monday 21st January:  ‘Blue Monday’

It has been calculated that the third Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

blueHow do we know? – Because psychologist, Cliff Arnall, told us so. His scientifically based assertion, first made in 2005, was determined using a complex formula. I’m pretty light on the detail, and I expect only Cliff can properly explain his bizarre equation, which factored in a whole lot of  stuff like: miserable weather, outstanding debt – with Christmas bills rolling in, post-Christmas anti-climax, broken New Year’s Resolutions, short daylight hours,  and low motivational levels, to name but a few.

All very clever but what’s the point? Naming the day as ‘depressing’ is somewhat of self-fulfilling and counter-productive surely? Well yes, but then we learn that the whole notion of discovering a single day when we are all, supposedly, at our lowest ebb was dreamt up by a travel company.

In his letter from the executive editor, Stefano Hatfield of the ipaper picked up on this, dismissing the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ as, ‘a fine example of pseudo-science subverted by marketers …so we can be sold remedies for ‘the blues’: sunny holidays and chocolate to name two.’  

Arnall’s get out response to those who question his claim, is that he is happy that it has stimulated debate around depression and that he is ‘encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day.’ He wants us to use the day, ‘as a springboard to the things that really matter in life.’ 

They just might include holidays and chocolate…

Tuesday 22nd January: ‘Quartet’ falls flat…

downloadIt seems every Tuesday is ‘Supersaver Tuesday’ at Vue Cinemas. I only discovered this last week when Chris and I went to see ‘Les Mis’ – albeit on a Thursday. Anyhow, we are both now fully signed up members with cards to prove it, complete with a promotional code number.

Apparently there is also ‘Orange Wednesday’, a 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Orange mobile or broadband customers – which unfortunately we are not!

Yesterday we used our Supersaver 10% off cards for the first time, hoping that ‘Quartet’, based around life in a retirement home for classical musicians, might help lift the January blues.

Despite a fine cast, of veteran actors and musicians, director Dustin Hoffman’s, debut feature film, a drama comedy, is perfectly pleasant but eminently forgettable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Mis’ – both outstanding cinematic experiences. In all honesty, this ninety minute BBC production (based on a West End stage play) didn’t warrant the  big screen treatment and would have been more at home in a cosy TV film format.

A simple, predictable, storyline based around the relationship between four retired opera singers, ably played by Pauline Collins (Cissy), Tom Courtenay (Reg), Billy Connolly (Wilf) and the obligatory Maggie Smith (Jean) – who is enjoying something of a renaissance since the emergence of Sunday evening period drama, Downton Abbey – and whether they will, or will not, reunite to top the bill at the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

quartetTheatrical temperaments and old rivalries are eventually put to one side and, surprise, surprise, the show, directed by a splendidly eccentric Michael Gambon (Cedric), goes on.

Filmed in its entirety at the charming Hedsor House, in Buckinghamshire, and with added musical authenticity provided by professional musicians, ‘Quartet’ is easy on the eyes and ears. There is plenty of pathos but too little humour, although Billy Connolly raises the odd smile – nothing more.

While ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (set in India, and also starring Dame Maggie – which I thoroughly enjoyed) a similarly bitter-sweet movie, built around issues of ageing and coming to terms with one’s twilight years, maintained a lively Bollywood tempo throughout, with enough humorous high notes to leave me feeling upbeat, ‘Quartet’, by contrast, was more pastoral largo, which left me feeling somewhat flat.

Wednesday 23rd January:  Bill Oddie – all of a twitter…

blue_tit_300_tcm9-139623_v2Flakes, as big as dinner plates, were tumbling out of the sky, as I carried out my Winterwatch duty – trudging to the top of the garden to feed our feathered friends. To quote Alfred Hitchcock (well Toby Jones playing Hitch – in recent TV film, ‘The Girl’) ‘’The Birds’ is coming’

And so they are. ‘Orchard House’ has become a regular winter haven for peckish visitors. I’ve been trying to do a tit-bit to help them through this recent cold snap but it ain’t ‘cheep’. They have already pecked their way through a 12.75 kg sack of wild bird seed – in just three weeks!

imagesNo wonder @Bill Oddie is tweeting, ‘break the ice, clear the snow, scatter the seed, hang up the fatballs. Garden alive with hungry birds. They need us now.’

A 2kg bag of Bill’s ‘Really Wild Bird Food’ is currently available, online, for a really wild £10.50 – and we are asked to believe that is a really wild reduction on the regular price of £18.81. While a small plastic seed feeder marketed under the Bill Oddie brand retails at £8.07, or if you’re feeling flush there is a top of the tree, 360mm metal model, for just £19.99!

goodies (1)‘Ecky thump’ It strikes me a bit ‘Oddie’ that the former ‘Goody’, now a high-profile ornithologist and wildlife presenter, has turned ‘Baddy’ by allowing his name to be used in marketing such grossly over- priced products. He deserves to get the bird. On yer ‘Trandem’ Bill, it doesn’t strike me as at all, ‘Goody goody yum yum’.

In true ‘Blue Peter’ style I have made my own large seed feeders out of recycled 2 litre green plastic bottles, fitted with a screw in adaptors costing about £2.50.

Thursday 24th January:  Russian red tape …

communist_ussr_russian_hammer_and_sickle_tie-p151665235024382367en71g_216I spent most of today failing to complete an online Russian visa application. We’ve recently booked Easyjet flights, on their new route to Moscow. No frills by Stelios hopefully a safer bet than Aeroflot! We’re not off until late March, but having secured budget accommodation, at the very Russian sounding ‘Capital House Hotel’, close to the Bolshoi Ballet and a gentle stroll from Red Square, allegedly, I thought it best to sort out the visas sooner, rather than later.

mcdonalds1It soon became apparent that despite perestroika, glasnost and the arrival of the golden arches in Pushkin’s Square, there is still plenty of red tape to cut through, and a hammer and sickle might come in handy.

Having read through the accompanying notes, the first stumbling block announced itself. Every application needs to be supported by a ‘letter of invitation’ or a ‘tourist confirmation document.’ These are readily available, varying, considerably, in cost between a range of internet providers – and I eventually managed to save a few roubles by tracking down a £14.00 per person deal.

???????????????????With tourist vouchers and confirmation numbers winging their way through cyber space – and in fairness they arrived by email within the promised 24 hour turn around, I started completing the visa application.

Everything was pretty straight forward until I hit the ‘recent travel’ section. Please indicate every country you have visited in the last ten years and your date of entry to that country. What?

That’s something of an undertaking! I started with existing visas and passport stamps – where the dates were often barely legible – and from their I had to resort to my electronic travel photograph albums, which luckily I had catalogued by year, together with scraps of information from various travel logs I had invariably started with good intentions but invariably aborted a few days into the journey!

So something of an ongoing process, but when I do finally complete and submit the aforementioned information, my application will need to be accompanied by a postal order (how old-fashioned – whoever uses those these days?) for a visa fee which will be only marginally cheaper than the return flight!

It’s enough to make a grumpy old man turn to vodka!

Friday 25th January:  Chocks away …

16862sUp at the crack of dawn, but my early morning drive across the Cotswolds was rewarded with beautiful winter wonderland vistas. And on arrival in Caversfield, the old Parade Ground was ankle-deep in snow as I helped Nicci move into her newly renovated, 1926, Grade 2 listed apartment – previously living quarters at RAF Bicester.

The 23 acre, former Oxfordshire Bomber Command base, once home to the Bristol Blenheim bomber, spitfire and mosquito, its red-brick architecture heavily influenced by the 1930s Garden City movement, is now a conservation site.

The beautifully landscaped Garden Quarter development is just 12 miles outside Oxford, and 48 minutes by train to Marylebone Station in London, with the popular Bicester Village retail park right on the doorstep. Having halved her daily commute to school, it is an ideal location for ‘Nic’ to take her first step on the property ladder.

So chocks away ‘gel’ and enjoy the flight old thing!

Saturday 26th January: Forest stung by Hornets…

snowDespite the big thaw being well under way in the Shire, there had been significant overnight snow around the north Nottinghamshire village of Papplewick, which caught me completely by surprise, causing no little embarrassment as I swung into Dad’s cul-de-sac and slowly ground to a halt, following a failed reverse  manoeuvre on to his drive. It took two men with big snow shovels several minutes to dig me out, before I was able to slide into a parking spot nearer  the somewhat clearer main road, ready for a slippery get away.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham itself, down by the riverside, the City Ground had received only a light dusting of snow which had been dissolved by the under-pitch heating. But it didn’t stop Forest slipping up against Championship promotion rivals Watford.

Matej_2847972They were stung three times by the Hornets, twice by Czech goal machine Matej Vydra. Incisive on the break and ruthless in their finishing, they made Forest look very ordinary. On this less than tricky showing, promotion is neither likely nor desirable for the Trees this season.

Despite playing three up front Forest looked heavy footed throughout and were never really at the races after going behind. A lack lustre showing saw them booed from the pitch and left Big Eck pulling no punches in his post-match assessment.

I’m sure he’s no quitter, but given such an uninspired display by what, on paper, looked a pretty decent side, the level of post-match abuse levelled at him on social networks, erratic recent behaviour by the owners and their apparent inability, up to this point, to make appropriate bids for the players he has identified as needed to strengthen squad, he must be feeling up against it on all fronts.

Given the current inconsistency of performance, irrespective of any 12th hour signings before the January transfer window slams shut, on Thursday, the best The Reds can hope for is a mid-table finish.

For me, the owners got it horribly wrong, switching to a new manager mid-race. I fear the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, will be levelled at them time and again between now and the end of the season.

 Sunday 27th January: Here we come a wassailing…

Wassailling ceremony - Clive's 27.01.2013It was up to the ankles in mud at Clive’s Fruit Farm – hardly living up to its Frost Fair billing, with adjacent lanes once again threatened by flood water, from a River Severn swollen by snow-melt.

There was a slippery ascent up through the orchard, in the wake of the Faithful City Morris Men, to the site of the traditional wassailing ceremony, in which the wassail tree is hung with pieces of toast, and anointed with cider, as the fruit trees are awakened and evil spirits frightened away by much banging and 150958_10152479288095113_1900707116_nshouting. The ancient pagan proceedings, with touches of Christianity thrown in for good measure, were concluded by three welly squelching circuits of a spitting bonfire – all good rustic fun to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples and pears next Autumn.

Earlier I had made haste to the newsagent to pick up everybody’s favourite red top – at least in the Aldridge family – as just two weeks into her new job, journalistic Gem had scooped her first ‘Sunday Mirror’ front-page splash, and an exclusive at that: ‘Fury at Ben (Kinsella)Killer Compo – cops forced to pay £20,000 over murder hunt raid.’

An amazing start to what I hope will be a long and successful career as newspaper journo, providing a warm and satisfying glow at the finish of just another midwinter week in the Shire – tiddely pom!


100 years of the bra – an uplifting celebration!

20 01 2013

Madonna+in+the+1990s“So Mary Phelps made the blueprint for one of the most successful items of clothing ever invented. She called her maid to bring her two hankies, some ribbon and a needle and thread …and voila! The over-the-shoulder boulder holder was born.”

Gemma Aldridge (features@sundaymirror.co.uk)

It is an ‘In the bleak midwinter’ kind of Sunday in our corner of the Shire. The chill factor is up, the pathways are paved with ice and the rooftops are laced with lingering snow.

tom jones 320x240Olde Upton on Severn may be known for its literary association with Henry Fielding’s bawdy 18th century 1167029529_originalromp ‘The History of Tom Jones’ (a scene is set in The White Lion Hotel – ‘a house of exceedingly good repute’) but today there is more of a Dickensian film-set feel about the place.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that the annual Frost Fair and Wassailing at Clive’s Fruit Farm has been postponed until next week, due to icy conditions!

I’ve just returned from a brisk trek into town, to pick up the papers, my usual ‘Sunday Observer’ with a copy of the ‘Sunday Mirror’ tucked inside – discretely hidden from public view. Pure snobbery I know, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone!

I even felt the need to justify this deviation, from my normal Sunday reading habits, with the lady in the shop. Well, actually it was more an opportunity to exercise parental bragging rights. Because today, daughter number two, journalistic Gem, a graduate of the local Hanley Castle High School*, made her debut in the Mirror.

One_Canada_Square-pictureAfter two years making her mark as senior features writer at the weekly ‘Love It’  magazine, from a small office tucked above ‘Starbucks’ in old Holborn, she has been lured away to dizzier heights, the  22nd floor of 1 Canada Square – Canary Wharf.

It is a great career move and quite a nostalgic occasion for me. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the ‘Sunday Mirror’ when it was under the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ banner (prior to re-branding 1963) and it was our Sabbath day paper of choice, during much of my youth.

imagesI was surprised, but pleased, to discover that  Andy Capp is still going strong. Evidently, some things never change.

Andy and his wife Flo were created by cartoonist Reg Smythe in 1957 to help boost ‘Mirror’ readership figures in the north. Smythe’s cartoon strip about the somewhat dysfunctional, bickering, but ultimately loving couple, was based around his own parents, and their working-class life up in Hartlepool.

Although Smythe died in 1998, and despite turning 55 last year, Andy continues to be a ‘Mirror’ ever present, and long may he continue.

My old Mum, who used to knock off  ‘the Mirror’ crossword as part of her daily routine would have been so proud to see her granddaughter’s by-line above today’s centre-page spread,‘100 Years of The Bra’ – ‘from 2 hankies and a ribbon to Katy’s cupcakes…’

It’s an altogether uplifting centenary celebration and just my cup of tea – a 36D cup that would be!

downloadAnd as is if the sight of everyone from Marilyn, through Raquel Welch, Madonna, and Eva Herzigova, to Kelly Brook, bursting out of their lacy, racy bras were not enough, to raise my somnolent Sunday spirits, there’s even a decent length report on yesterday’s East Midlands derby – ‘Chris Bliss – Cohen strikes after tough week at Forest’ – but more of the Championship ‘match of the day’ in a post to follow…

I seem to remember a 70’s advertising slogan, ‘If you really want to know look in The Mirror’. I guess I’ll be taking them up on that from here on in – well at least on a Sunday!

200px-RightHoJeeves100px-HanleyCastleHigh*Hanley Castle High School (formerly Hanley Castle Grammar School), one of the oldest in England (circa 1326), has a couple of noted connections with authors of well known literary works.

It features in ‘Right Ho Jeeves’, as Market Snodsbury Grammar School – attended by Bertie Wooster. There is an accurately drawn description of the old school hall (now a library). ‘Plum’ had an aunt who was wife to the vicar at Hanley Castle Church – just 60 metres from the school.

A more recent alumnus of ‘HCHS’ is celebrated author David Mitchell whose novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, now a recently released movie starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.

Life in, 1982, Hanley Castle, provided the inspiration and setting for his follow-up novel ‘Black Swan Green’ – ‘the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire.’ 

‘Twelfth Night’; or ‘What You Will’ – a whole mess of beanz…

6 01 2013

12night‘Twelfth Night’ – Bard sound-bites:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

images (2)

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite 

may sicken and die.”


Twelfth_cupid_smsp_AW“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”


“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”



“In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”

Shakespeare wrote his play ‘Twelfth Night’, or ‘What You Will’, around 1602 – an entertainment for the close of the festive season. In medieval and Tudor times, Twelfth Night marked the end of the Winter Festival, which began on Halloween.

It was a day of reversals, presided over by a Lord of Misrule, where the world was turned upside down. The King and all those in high office would become peasants and vice versa.

A special cake was baked, containing a bean. Whoever found it assumed the role of bean king and ruled the feast until midnight when the natural order of things was resumed.

7400809-venice-carnivalThere are echoes of this topsy-turvy behaviour in Shakespeare’s play, with Viola – a woman dressed as a man, and Malvolio – a servant who imagines he can become a nobleman.

Twelfth Night also marks the feast of Epiphany, a celebration of the Adoration of the Magi – a big event in countries such as Spain – which ushers in the carnival season, culminating in Mardi Gras.

art-1cHere in ‘the Shire’ (and other cider-producing counties) it also heralds the traditional season of orchard wassailing, an ancient custom of drinking and singing the health of fruit trees, to awaken them and scare away evil spirits – ensuring a good harvest in the following autumn.

Splash_2At ‘Clive’s’, our nearby fruit farm (Upper Hook Rd – WR8OSA) this ceremony will take place on Sunday 20th January – led by the local, Worcester based, Faithful City Morris Men – as part of an annual Wassailing and Frost Fair.


For most of us, however, Twelfth Night is about remembering to take down the Christmas decorations, for fear of tempting fate and causing bad luck to descend upon our homes in the year ahead.

This morning was, therefore, spent clambering up a rickety ladder to stash away glass baubles in the loft, and dispatching our ‘special’ tree, with its crooked top, for recycling.

monkey-christmas-6inch-4There was also an emotional farewell with the PG Christmas Monkey – who only sees the light of day for a couple of weeks each year!

With journalistic Gem already back, hard at it, in the big city, working her notice on ‘Love It’ magazine, before embarking on fresh and exciting challenges at the ‘Sunday Mirror’; and teacher Nicci departing for Oxford, this afternoon, bracing herself for a busy Spring term, the Christmas holiday will soon become a fading memory.

I took time today to gather up presents, still scattered around the house, and spend a few moments appreciating them. We had made a family pact, we would cut back this year, but I still seem to have been the lucky recipient of many thoughtful gifts.

archie_-_tweeting_is_the_new_bleetingFrom number-one daughter, Nicci, a card – but no ordinary card:

“No ifs or butts… this is a great gift – a goat!

Dad, I know they must be missing you in Africa, so now they have a replacement! This guy is just like you … always bleating on about something (just kidding!) Happy Christmas x”


From number-two daughter, Gem:

hd_14a7ba6c6a1a1ffbc90e21f8a1ccf15da signed, Pictogram rock poster by Swedish designer  Viktor Hertz – David Bowie www.victorhertz.com

an ‘On The Road’ travel document case, from the British Library, where we recently saw Jack Kerouac’s original 120 feet long manuscript scroll,

and a Moleskine diary/notebook.

I had my present from Chris back in September – a Tricky Trees season ticket!

dandy_1091434tBut there were still a few surprises under the ‘special’ tree, including the 75th Anniversary ‘Dandy’  Annual and a Heinz Baked Beanz book – with recipes, history, trivia and more…

Funnily enough, that brings us full circle. Apparently, today, 6th January (Twelfth Night) is National Bean Day in the US of A.

So in keeping with the whole bean king/Lord of Misrule role reversal thing, it seemed only right that I should try out an ‘original and best’ Henry J Heinz recipe – chilli bean con carne with cheesy scones…

Serves 4


  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter – diced
  • 50g strong Cheddar – grated
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 50ml milk


  1. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl
  2. Rub in the butter and add cheese
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and milk
  4. Mix the dough until it comes together
  5. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of 5mm
  6. Cut out 8 rounds – 5cm across – & place on a baking sheet
  7. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven (200˚C) for 12 mins (or until they sound hollow when tapped)

Chilli con carne

heinz beanz

  • 415g can of (Heinz) baked beanz
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves crushed
  • 500g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 large red chillies – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for 5 mins – until softened
  3. Increase the heat to high and add the mince
  4. Fry for five minutes – until browned all over
  5. Stir in the tomato purée, chillies, chilli powder and mixed herbs
  6. Cook for a further five minutes
  7. Add the tomatoes and beanz
  8. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes – until the beef is tender

034-chillicheeseTop with sour cream. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the scones and separate bowls of grated cheese and jalapeño peppers.

Buen Provecho!

‘There are places I’ll remember…’ – Liverpool

15 09 2012

‘There are places I’ll remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I’ve loved them all.’

(Lennon & McCartney – 1965) 

Liverpool has dominated the news headlines this week – and rightly so. After 23 years the truth surrounding the Hillsborough disaster is out. As a result of the tragic events, of April 15th 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters never returned from an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest – victims of catastrophic failures in public safety and a subsequent grotesque campaign of lies, by the British establishment, in order to cover-up. 

As a Forest fan I had hoped to be at the Sheffield Wednesday ground that afternoon. As luck would have it, it was one of the few big match occasions, during the Clough years, for which I was unable to get a ticket. I can vividly remember tuning into the radio that afternoon, expecting to follow the match commentary, and being stunned as reports of the tragedy unfolded. 

It is scandalous that it has taken until this week for the Liverpool fans to be exonerated and to receive an unconditional formal apology from the Prime Minister for a ‘double injustice’. This after an independent enquiry into previously unseen documents had made it clear that the South Yorkshire Police, guilty of critical errors of judgement leading up to and during the tragedy, had, in its aftermath, systematically falsified reports to shift the blame for the 96 deaths on to their fellow supporters. 

It is high time that those found guilty of gross negligence, and complicit in this outrageous deceit, pay the price.  

Chris and I were in Liverpool on Sunday and Monday of this week, totally unaware, at the time, of the imminent, dramatic publication of the independent panel’s findings. 

My previous visits to the city, two or three times during the early ‘70s, had all been football related – with a Liverpool supporting student mate, David Dodds, but universally known by the highly original nickname, Scouse!

I remember being wedged into the world-famous Kop, swaying in unison, a sea of red and white scarves held aloft, belting out the club anthem, ‘You’ll never walk alone…’  It was the Bill Shankly era, and a Liverpool team that boasted Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith, Steve Heighway, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. As I recall, on the occasion of my first visit, a tidal wave of red shirts swept Chelsea away, 3 nil.          

This time around, Chris and I were taking advantage of a remarkable Premier Inn offer, £19 for a night, in a tastefully converted red brick warehouse, overlooking the Victorian, Albert Dock – now a World Heritage site. 

As lifelong Beatles fans we had pre-booked places on the colourful Magical Mystery Tour bus, a thoroughly enjoyable an informative late Sunday afternoon trip around the parts of Liverpool which shaped and inspired the group.

It was a brilliant two hours, worth every penny, taking in the childhood homes of John, Paul, George & Ringo, and places which famously featured in their songs: ‘Strawberry Field'(s) – the former Salvation Army children’s home, St Peter’s Churchyard (opposite the church hall where John and Paul first met) – site of Eleanor Rigby’s gravestone, and Penny Lane – complete with barber shop, bank, fire station and ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout.’ The only thing missing was ‘a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray’!  

The tour wound up at the most famous club in the world, the cradle of British pop music, The Cavern Club (in Mathew St) where the Mersey-sound and Beatle-mania were born, while Cilla Black served espresso in the coffee bar.‘Surprise, surprise’, it wasn’t licensed back in the swinging ’60s!                        

On Monday morning, we strolled around Albert Dock, with its moored narrow-boats and tall ships, and along the regenerated waterfront, passing a remarkably life-like statue of another Liverpool pop icon, Billy Fury (the former tug boat deckhand who made it big as the British Elvis with hits such as ‘Halfway to Paradise’) and a pair of grazing superlambananas, before taking a return ticket from Pierhead to Seacombe on the ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ – immortalised in song by Gerry and The Pacemakers.

As we stood on deck admiring the famous Liver Building landmark, there was even time for a quick reprise of the theme tune from Carla Lane’s popular ‘70s comedy series The Liver birds  – ‘Are you dancin’?’ ‘Are you askin’?’ ‘Well I’m askin’,’ ‘Then I’m dancin’!’    

After a full English breakfast bap and coffee we managed to squeeze into ‘The Beatles Story’ ahead of an excited school party – a near miss! The award-winning exhibition, complete with headphone commentary, video and musical interludes, really brings to life the phenomenal rise of the Fab Four – well worth a visit.

There was also time to visit the dockside Liverpool Tate for the ‘Turner Monet Twombly’ art exhibition, and to take in a few of the splendid sculptures on display – including the controversial ‘Jacob and the Angel’ by Epstein ( Sir Jacob, not Brian) and Salvador Dali’s trademark ‘Lobster Telephone’! 

Finally I rounded things off with a spin on The Liverpool Echo Big Wheel, which affords spectacular views along the river and across the city, including its two cathedrals at either end of Hope Street – the gothic Anglican (5th largest in the world) and the modernist Catholic, affectionately known by the locals as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’!     

A brilliant short break, and hopefully I’ll be back in 2013-14 to see the Tricky Trees playing at Anfield and Goodison Park – but then again perhaps that’s wishful thinking!    



Queen Bee Visits The Hive…

18 07 2012

The sky is fifty shades of grey and it’s tipping it down again. I honestly don’t recall such an eternally dismal ‘summer’ as this.

‘The Shire’ is awash, its landscape engulfed in a sea of lush green vegetation. I’ve dialled 999 for the ‘tree surgeon’, to operate on our conifers, and hawthorn hedges that are spiralling skywards – out of control. He’s currently sheltering in his van, nursing a mug of tea (with three sugars).    

Although you would never guess from the weather, the end of the academic year is nigh and we stand on the verge of  the school summer holidays. Our Italian ‘lodger’, Valeria, is on an end of term class trip to ‘Cadbury World’ today. Hopefully, she’ll return laden with free samples!

This evening, we’ll attempt to cheer ourselves with a bar-snack at the ‘Rose & Crown’ – Severn Stoke – if it’s not, yet, floated away downstream.

It will be a farewell meal. After seven months, Valeria is returning to sun drenched Bologna. It will be too hot, at 38 degrees, she tells us. She is now used to, and rather likes our temperate English climate. Well there is no accounting for taste!     

Chris has just returned from her final Italian class. There was not quite the same buzz of excitement this week, as last, when the Queen (with the grand old D of E in tow) popped into their lesson, during her Royal Worcester visit.

The Queen, still in the pink despite her never-ending Diamond Jubilee road-show, had just officially opened the ‘the Hive’, and was receiving a guided tour, when she happened upon their study area.

HM did exchange a few private words with Chris. If I told you what was said, I’d have to kill you… or more likely she’d kill me.  

‘The Hive’, ten years in the making, is the first joint university and public library service facility in Europe. The landmark, ‘honey comb’, building is a distinctive and imaginatively designed public space. It houses a quarter of a million books, over 26,000 records, and 12 miles of original archive documents.            

Hopefully there is sunlight at the end of the tunnel. I have heard the words ‘heat wave’ whispered in hushed tones by weather forecasters.

I certainly hope so. I’m off to The Oval this weekend, for the First Test between England and South Africa, and in just nine days time the greatest show on earth will be upon us.  

Talking of which, surprisingly, there is still limited availability for certain events. If the sun’s going to shine, I might just browse the official London 2012 web-site and see if I can pick up a golden ticket for the women’s beach volleyball…    

Torch fever in the Shire…

25 05 2012

‘Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,

How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?

Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;

God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,

God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.’

(Music by Edward Elgar, Lyrics by AC Benson: 1902)

We are the champions – my friends

And we’ll keep on fighting ‘till the end

We are the champions

We are the champions

No time for losers

‘Cause we are the champions of the world’

(Queen – 1977)

The Torch is coming…

And with it the Countdown to, the greatest show on earth – the London 2012 Olympic Games … 

Torch fever is sweeping Great Britain. Today is Day 7 of the 70 day Olympic Torch Relay – a meandering 8000 mile journey around the British Isles, during which 8000 inspirational torch bearers, aged between 12 and 100 will carry the flame.

Lit in Greece, the cradle of democracy and the spiritual home of the Games, the Olympic flame – symbolising peace, unity and friendship – will pass within one hour of 95% of the population in the UK.

It will shine a light on the best of Britain and is an opportunity for everyone, who wishes to, to be touched by this once in a lifetime event.

I just cannot understand the party poopers. Even for those who have no interest in sport, this should be a period of enormous national pride. The Olympics will be a brief moment in time when the whole world is focussed on our small island – a show case for Great Britain.

If people can’t get their heads around the potential benefits, I feel sorry for them and I’m not going to spell it out here…  

Last Saturday, Ben Ainslie, three-time gold medal winning sailor, had the honour of carrying the torch for the first leg, from Land’s End.  Since then we have seen Chelsea’s Champions League winning striker, Didier Drogba, striding out through Swindon, and fireworks, in Bristol, as the torch passed over Brunel’s iconic, Clifton Suspension Bridge.  

And that was just the start…

On Wednesday an estimated 10,000 spectators, flocked to Cheltenham’s, Prestbury, Racecourse, where the Queen’s grand-daughter, Zara Phillips, added a seal of royal approval to proceedings, holding the torch aloft, astride her chestnut gelding ‘Toytown’, as she rode the final 300m of Day 5, to enormous cheers.    

But the Olympic Torch Relay is really about the participation of ordinary, deserving, people, nominated to represent their various communities.  It was therefore great, for me, that the flame was passed to Zara by someone I actually know.

The well-deserved honour went to Steve Fisher, a stalwart teacher from Tewkesbury, who founded the local primary school sports association 35 years ago, and has been chairman ever since. Countless children in the area have benefitted from his selfless work.    

I must say, I’ve found it quite distasteful, that a few bearers have already auctioned their Olympic torches on eBay. It is an honour to have been nominated to carry an Olympic torch and I find it difficult to comprehend why anybody would want to cash in on, what should become a, treasured, family heirloom.

An acceptable exception might be where the proceeds are donated, in their entirety, to charity.

I do appreciate the argument that times are hard, bearers were required to pay, if they wanted to keep their torches, so some may view it as a providential wind-fall, cashing – in, to ease their financial burdens. As things stand, they are perfectly within their rights to do so, but for me making money in this way rather demeans the spirit of the occasion.       

With a little more forethought, the current, it’s yours, do as you like, situation might never have arisen. The torches could, I would say should, have been presented, free of charge, to bearers, together with a legally binding agreement that they are not to be resold for personal gain. Grump over…                   

From 08.00-10.00, this morning, torch fever swept through Great Malvern. The stately old spa town has rarely seen such pomp and circumstance since the days of Elgar.

Sir Edward, a true Olympian amongst great British composers, had his back turned to the ‘torch kissing’ proceedings, but someone kindly provided him with a golden balloon – one of a thousand, released for the occasion.

Nearby, his statue, the local Malvern Chase School band, treated the crowd to a rendition of Queen’s,‘We are the Champions’. I guess, the sentiment of the lyrics is not million miles away from the triumphalism of ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’ 

To be honest, the arrival and departure of the Olympic flame, was over in a flash. But, the atmosphere of rising anticipation and the street entertainment, during the build up to its arrival – at least on a sunny morning such as today – was enough to paint a flickering smile on every face.  

And let’s be honest anything that does, in these times of austerity, is a plus.


I spy from the London Eye…

17 03 2012

‘The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That’s the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London.’  

Richard Rogers (Winner of the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize)

‘Earth has not anything to show more fair;

Dull he would be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty

The city, now doth, like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare

Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie

Open unto the fields and to the sky’

‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ – by William Wordsworth (1802)

‘The Thames at Westminster Bridge’- by Claude Monet (1871)


Amazingly, my Dad was born only 55 years after Monet created his impressionist painting from Westminster Bridge.

A few weeks ago it was his 86th birthday. He had not visited the capital city since his retirement 20 years ago. He wasn’t sure he would be able to manage it now, but he’d always fancied going for a spin on the ‘London Eye.’

So I went into ‘Jim’ll Fixit’ mode and set about arranging a belated birthday treat that, hopefully, with my help, he would be able to take in his octogenarian stride.  

On Monday we left the Shire around 8.00 am, taking a leisurely drive, across the rolling Cotswolds, shrouded in early morning mist, and arriving in plenty of time for the 10.01 London bound train from Oxford

At 11.05 we drew into Paddington Station, and 25 minutes later, by way of a not too busy Bakerloo Line, we were standing on the Southbank gazing up, into a cloudless blue sky from which the giant gleaming Eye was winking down at us –  a Ferris Wheel, resembling a huge spoked bicycle wheel, that has become such a recognisable feature of the London cityscape.  

A few years ago, when I took my first ‘flight’, it was the BA London Eye. It is now powered and illuminated by, and bears the name of, Britain’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, EDF – an iconic attraction central to Mayor Boris’s Green500 scheme for reducing the capital’s CO2 emissions.

EDF will also provide power to the Olympic Park, while the Eye will display the Olympic symbol for the duration of the 2012 Games, and provide the focal point for a spectacular, opening ceremony, firework display. 

The London Eye was constructed at a cost of £70 million pounds. Weighing in at 1700 tons and at a height of 135m, with a wheel diameter of 120m, it was the World’s tallest wheel, when erected back in 1999. It still remains Europe’s largest, but has now been surpassed by the Star of Nanchang (160m – opened in 2006) and the Singapore Flyer (165m – opened in 2008).             

The Eye, a European construction, with components from six different countries, was designed by a team of seven architects led by David Marks and Julia Barfield (husband and wife) and is now the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the UK.     

By June 2008, it was reported that 30 million people had already ridden on the Eye. Judging by the lengthy queues, on a Monday morning in early March, there are no signs of its appeal diminishing, and the 50 millionth passenger can’t be too far away! 

Luckily I had pre-booked tickets and in no time at all we were climbing above London in one of the 32 ovoidal passenger capsules (symbolically, one for each of the London boroughs). The wheel rotates at 22cm (10 inches) per second and never actually stops, but at such a speed my Dad had no problem hopping on board.

The capsules are spacious and, with one complete revolution taking 30 minutes, there was plenty of time to admire the panoramic views, and pick out so many famous landmarks, including the, under construction, Shard soon to be unveiled as the tallest building in the city.   

Having disembarked, we enjoyed a gentle stroll along the shady Southbank, soaking in the splendour of the Houses of Parliament, bathed in early Spring sunshine, before taking the tube from Westminster to Tate Modern, which affords a wonderful city vista, across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s and the Gherkin. 

Before making our way back to Paddington for the 16.22 there was time for a Starbucks rendezvous on Old Holborn, just beneath the ‘Love It’ office, from which journalistic Gem escaped for a late lunch.    

By half past five we were back in Oxford and driving across to Nicci’s flat, to whisk her away for a more than welcome pie and a pint in the White Hart at Headington.

We eventually made it back to the Shire, for the 9 o’clock news. It had been a very long day and Dad had done remarkably well. He had thoroughly enjoyed what he guessed would be his last visit to London, the Eye experience, and, probably most of all, meeting up with his two granddaughters!

Oh yes, and he was massively impressed with his Oyster Card (I loaned him one of the three that Chris has managed to accumulate during our London visits!)