Getting Back Into the Groove

So a while back I went to my local record shop for Record Store Day and bought some hideously expensive vinyl on which I had nothing to play it. Wind forward a month or so and I got fed up of looking at the boxed set and wondering what it would be like to hear the needle hit the groove so I went onto eBay and bought a second hand deck.

Gone are the days where I have heaps of room for lots of audio equipment so the two requirements were that the deck was to have a small footprint and that it needed to have a built-in pre-amp so that it could plug directly into my powered speakers. I quickly found on eBay a Aiwa PX-855 which ticked both boxes and was only £30 so reasonably priced too.

It arrived and I was keen to get it set-up and running but I was immediately blocked when I discovered that the deck had hard wired phono plugs for output and the speaker was expecting a 3.5mm jack. So the next purchase was a lead to correct that. And finally we were up and running…

I would love to say that I was immediately blown away by the sound, the richness of the timbre and the warmth of the bass but it wasn’t to be. It was more of an experience though and I am really into experiences.

There is something ritualistic about vinyl and, of course, I’m not getting any younger and it is a strong reminder of my youth. Compared to CDs an album is massive and at least it exists as something you can hold, unlike MP3’s or Spotify. You can really appreciate the artwork and I can read the lyrics!

There is also something extremely satisfying to listen to something impure with all those bumps, crackles and scratches.

So I find myself scouring all the local charity shops in the hope that I might find some gems amongst the Cliff and the Shadows and The Bachelors. So far I have managed to find quite a few Genesis records and I am writing this to my favourite: Selling England by the Pound. Perfect!

I doubt that I will ever get back to the level of records that I once had but I hope to have a small collection of favourites and spend a happy evening carefully pulling out the black disk from it’s sleeve, feeling the resistance as the static holds it in place and then delicately placing it on the turntable and hearing the needle drop into the groove with a satisfying click.


Ten Years a’blogging

I missed an anniversary in January – ten years since I have been running my own blog. I did blog prior to that, sporadically, on Blogger but this was the first time that I took it seriously, firstly using Greymatter and then transferring to WordPress.

Over the years there have been some ups and downs and I even considered quitting completely after one particularly nasty attack with the hacker trying to extort money out of me to get things back online. I refused and rebuilt everything on a more secure platform.

Looking back across all the posts they have seem to converged onto a couple of themes: music and travel, which seems to accurately reflect my interest. Although other passions (technology and Williams F1 Team) are dealt with elsewhere.

The blog is really here for my enjoyment rather than yours which is why I don’t bother much with SEO, finding the right post title or any keyword analytics. In fact it’s pretty amazing that you are here at all, did you stumble upon the blog by mistake? Well thanks for looking you are in a select band of 50-60 people that stop by every day.

I enjoy bashing out the occasional post so I will continue. Here’s to the next ten years!

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A Day at the Races

It’s been about 35 years since I last went to the horse races. On that occasion it was Ripon and I was too young to bet (well, directly anyway. I do seem to remember bets being made by proxy). However, I was given a pair of tickets to go to Newbury for last night’s meet and so off we went. It was a lovely evening for it but given we were in the premier enclosure a jacket was in order which was a little warm but I did feel smart.

I was surprised at how many races there were – seven in total – one every half an hour. This meant that by the time you had selected “your” horse, placed your bet and watched the line up that half an hour went pretty quickly.

We watched the first few races and investigated how the betting went before we placed any bets ourselves. Given it was all a bit of fun we selected horses based on spurious criteria and placed (very) small bets to win on the tote. We lost a total of £7 in the end (the last of the big spenders) but had some fun doing so.

Had we not been given the tickets it would have cost us £25 a head and while it was a good night out I’m not sure that I would say it was worth that to me. So while I might not leave it 35 years until I visit again I probably won’t be racing back…

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London Zoo Sunset Safari

It was last year, I think, that I first saw London Zoo advertised and thought that it sounded like an interesting idea – to open up the zoo in the evening over a few weeks in the summer and to lay on other events and food too.

Tickets are cheaper in advance but, of course, you also take a chance with the weather. We rolled the dice, booked early and got a beautiful evening. That was just as well as we had decided to walk from Paddington, a trip of just over two miles along the beautiful Regent’s Canal.

The first thing we noticed on arriving was just how quiet it was. We had really expected it to be heaving with people but despite being told later that it was busier than during the day, it was still possible to easily get to the front of each enclosure.

After a quick pit stop for food (there was a huge choice of fried offerings at inflated prices) we hit the animals, so to speak. First off were the penguins which were as adorable as ever. Next, at the butterfly house one in particular took a great liking to me and I carried her around until I had to shoo her off at the exit!

In the end we did a complete circuit taking in many different animals but the best bits were when you could go into the enclosures and be with the animals, particularly the monkeys. It was a photographers paradise although we were warned that one or two monkeys had a penchant for whipping phones and cameras! I held onto mine tight and get some great shots, which you can see below.

We spent about three hours at the zoo including feeding time (for us not the animals!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, helped enormously by the great weather. A couple of other things that help, I think, were that the evening had a more adult theme to it, no pesky kids (not even our own) and it reminded me of being in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, somewhere we have spent many a happy hour over the years.

Sunset Safari is on for just a few more weeks this year otherwise you will have to make plans to go in 2016.

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A Welsh Adventure – Day Three

Having read in the National Geographic that the drive from Hay to Abergavenny was a “castle-dotted route” that “brims with vistas” it sounded too good to be true. However, there are two possible routes and no clues were given to help us pick the right one.

Given that one route was an A road we decided that probably wasn’t it so elected to go along the other, along the Gospel Pass. I say “pass” but that was a bit of a misnomer as pass was one thing that it was very difficult to do it being so narrow. Fortunately we met very little along the 20 miles of road that takes you from the bleak, sheep strewn, hill tops to verdant low lands.

We stopped a few times along the way to take pictures including a longer stop at Llanthony Priory which was an incredibly peaceful place. There you could hear nothing but the birds and the breeze. A great contrast to what I can hear now writing this at home with the usual Sunday night M4 drone in the background.

On a business trip a few months ago I went through Caerleon and I thought how pretty it was so, given that we were passing so close to it, we decided to make it the final stop of the day. This proved more difficult than expected due to many roads being closed for the Velothon Wales. In the end we decided just to dump the car and walk into the town.

There were a few townsfolk stood road side waiting for the cyclists (they had no where else to go as the town was cut off due to the road closures) but the centre was deathly quiet. We walked to the amphitheatre and round the walls before heading back out. I stood and waited for the race to come past (you can see some pictures here) while Helen made her way back to the car.

All-in-all we have had a great weekend and will definitely be going back to Hay again in future.


A Welsh Adventure – Day Two

Some years ago the utility room in our house was full of shelves overflowing with books. Then along came the all powerful triumvirate of kids, kitchen and Kindle and all the books went (along with all my LPs). Over the years there has been a pang of regret for the loss of both books and records and now with the children leaving or taking up less space we are beginning to reverse the process.

Hay is famous for one thing and that is the abundance of second hand book shops and so a trip here is a quick and easy way to restock the shelves. After a hearty full breakfast at the Bear we set off out to see what we could find.

There are about 20 book shops in Hay, with some specialising in areas that weren’t of great interest to us, but we still managed to visit 90% of them. To my mind the best of the lot is Booth’s which is the original shop that started it all. Not only has it got a great selection of books it is well laid out in an interesting building. In the end we returned there at least three times and bought on each occasion.

I had a list of items that I wanted to find whereas Helen was just happy to browse. It was surprising how little I managed to cross off the list in the end but I did increase my H.E. Bates collection as you can see from the picture below.











At the final reckoning we ended up with 12 books and 2 LPs which will make a small step towards rebuilding the library. No doubt we will be back to Hay again in the future to top it up!


A Welsh Adventure – Day One

Despite stopping overnight close to the “classic” Severn Bridge we elected to enter Wales further North thereby avoiding the £6.50 toll, money that clearly isn’t spent on repairing the road surface on the crossing. This was a much more pleasant way to get to Hay, our ultimate stopping point, than a blast along the M4.

We have been on a health kick lately and I have managed to meet my step target for the last three weeks so I really wanted to make sure I continued that trend. To do that we needed to find a walk of several miles. A quick search online turned up this walk which was only five miles and a circular route starting from the car park in Hay.

The instructions for the walk were pretty good but as soon as they are committed to print (or blog in this case) things change. Trees grow, fences are put up, steams choose a new path etc. and so you have to be constantly vigilant that you have remained on the right path.

So we found ourselves on a number of occasions not being entirely sure that we were where we were supposed to be. In these situations it becomes very easy to find yourself making the landscape around you fit what you want, nay need, it to be. To make matters worse one stile looks pretty much like another. We spent an interesting five minutes looking for a set of “distinctive metal railings” which we eventually found more by luck than judgement.

Clearly given that I am writing this blog (from the really excellent The Bear Bed & Breakfast) shows that we did make it back successfully.

Tomorrow we hit the books shops.

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Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

I have always been a big Doctor Who fan (I cannot decide if I am a Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker man) and we have done the exhibition in Cardiff and London. This weekend was something a little different – the Symphonic Spectacular at Wembley where a 100 piece orchestra (BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Chorus of Wales) played a series of pieces from the latest revival series and it was pretty great.

I always think of Dr Who as being a children’s programme so I assumed that we would be in the minority as lone adults there without children. As it turned out while the event was geared up for kids, with walk on parts of various monsters, actually there were plenty of adults, a number were dressed up as a Tardis, Dalek and assorted Doctors. Of course what I was forgetting was that the show has a 50 year history and so a lot of kids that watched it are now adults. Like me, only without the cosplay.

If you want to get an idea of what the show was like take a look at the video below which two pieces stitched together including the reworked theme. The show is well worth seeing and you probably won’t go to somewhere where the acoustics are as awful as Wembley Arena!