Hungary 2014 – Day 1 – Arriving

I guess for some London Stansted is a really convenient airport. There must be some people who say “I know let’s leave this dreary English weather behind and jet off somewhere sunny. Stansted is only just down the road”. Those people don’t live in Reading. For us Stansted means a trek along major motorways of the South of England. Including such stationary wonders as the M4, the M40, the M11 and, of course, the beauty that is the M25.

We had booked a room at the airport ready to make a quick getaway in the morning. At check-in was a bemused group who were being told that they hadn’t confirmed their booking and so their rooms had been released and now the hotel was full. A night in the car no doubt awaited them so I was thankful that wasn’t us.

I’ve said this in the past and I think its worth repeating – travel is time consuming. What with the hanging around at the airport, the flight itself and losing an hour the time quickly gets eaten up meaning that we didn’t arrive at our hotel until 4pm. However, it is worth it for what you find when you get to your destination, such as the parliament building shown above.

There was also a little home from home just around the corner from the hotel!



Salt Dough Roasted Turkey Crown with Butternut Squash & Chestnuts

We have some good friends that we see regularly and they always seem to put on a great meal for us. Just recently they have upped the ante a bit and it has become a bit of a recipe arms race as we try and find something to out do them!

Last night we did Salt Dough Roasted Turkey Crown with Butternut Squash & Chestnuts, from a Lidl recipe. This is a turkey crown encased in a pastry wrapping and looks amazing. The pastry keeps the turkey moist and with the herbs below makes it taste great too.

You can see pictures of it in various stages below and can see the recipe here.


Planting Poppies at The Tower of London

Back in August I managed to get up to London to see the Poppies in the Moat installation at the Tower of London and thought that it was incredible. Then Helen came home from work saying that others had volunteered to plant the poppies and that we should too, so we applied.

Our first choice date in early September was already full and so we were allocated the morning of 31st October. October 31st! So we got out our waterproofs in readiness for what was obviously going to be a cold and wet morning in the moat of the Tower. They day before the forecast was for 21 degrees and even then I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it and so took a coat and sweatshirt. As it turned out it reached 24 degrees (October 31st!) and it was definitely tee shirt weather.

After a orientation video our “team” was taken to the spot where we were going to be planting. It was a long way as you can see from this video, in fact it was as far away as you could get from the entry point. It did give us an opportunity to see the whole installation at very close range.

We were split into two “teams” – one planting and the others putting together the stems (“small washer, larger washer, spacer, cap”). There wasn’t anything taxing about the planting but the poppies aren’t all at the same level so we had to make sure the changes in height were smooth but apart from that it was a doddle. Assembling the stems was another matter however. The washers were a complete sod to put on and the spacers were drilled with ever so different sized holes and I quickly became able to spot those with a larger hole.

It was while we were assembling stems that others on our table started looking over into the distance and whispering. “Isn’t that Nicholas Witchell?”, “Who’s he?”, “You know, off Radio 4″. A look over quickly established that it was in fact John Humphreys from the Today programme. He came over and interviewed a couple of others in our “team” before having a go at assembling a stem and planting. When he struggled with assembling the stem our team leader showed him a quick way which he had neglected to show us…

Here is Humphreys including a picture I took but not attributed as the BBC said they would.

If you have been wondering why I have referred to our team as “team” that’s because it became obvious that some weren’t happy to act as a team. Poppy planting is what everyone had come to do. It was fun and not terribly hard work. Making stems was not what we had signed up for and was hard work (comparatively speaking) and so some chose not to come and swap at the allotted times and there was some dissension in the ranks at this. Notwithstanding this we raced through our allotted poppies and were able to leave an hour earlier than we had expected which was a bit of a relief.

Poppies in the moat is a fantastic piece of art and incredibly popular: there were crowds of people above us watching while we planted, the volunteering was over subscribed and every single one of the poppies has been sold. A tremendous success all round.

Of course it is there to mark the death of British and colonial soldiers in the first world war, one poppy for each death. With it being a time of relative peace now and with modern warfare not based on the deployment of so many ground troops we are unlikely to see so many combat deaths again. At least I hope that’s the case.

Tracks Added – October 2014

Quiet month this month and one of the five shown is actually from last month!.

This months additions are:

  • Fish – A Feast of Consequences
  • Peter Maxwell-Davies – Symphony 10 (SoS)
  • Jef Neve – One (SoS)
  • OK Go – Hungry Ghosts
  • John, Paul, George & Ringo – 4

The observant amongst you will note that I missed an entry last month and rather than go back and change it I have simply included it here. That means that when excluding this and the Society of Sound downloads I have only two new entries this month.

The first of which is the new OK Go release which came via Pledgemusic. This is full of the typical OK Go tracks and are accompanied by their usual over the top videos, the latest of which is embedded below. I was convinced that this had to have been CGI’d but they say not.

I’ve been a Marillion fan since the very first record, Script for a Jester’s Tear, but haven’t really followed Fish since he left the band. However, I came across his latest release and really liked it – so much so that I have now booked to see him when he comes to Reading in December.

Those above marked (SoS) are from a subscription service called Society of Sound which is curated by Real World Records, Peter Gabriel and the LSO. This provides members with two downloads a month of which you get no choice. This means that some months you get something that you really love and other months not so.


All my music is held in a web-based music streamer called Subsonic, a roll-your-own Spotify if you like. This provides statistics on number of tracks and size of collection, as you can see below.

1,249 artists
2,728 albums
23,876 songs
253.64 GB
1,930 hours

Somebody doesn't get the web

This is a real letter that was sent (yes, printed and sent, not emailed) to some of our friends who have a child at the school.

What I love about this is that the sender has clearly recognised that having to type in that long URL is going to be tedious and error prone so rather than providing a short link they have had the bright idea of providing a QR code. Now I have been in IT for 30 years and I don’t have a QR code reader on my phone so I do wonder how many others would.

This is what they should have done:

2014_10_19_13_58_02 2

Oh and the link doesn’t actually work.


Italy 2014 – Day 6 – And back again

Last days away are always hard as you have to balance the time you have available to do something meaningful with an eye on the clock to ensure you leave enough time to make your flight. Today was one of those days although with a flight not due to leave until 17:20 we had plenty of time for one last bit of sightseeing.

Behind the hotel where we were staying was a park housing the Villa Borghese and this was one of the few areas we had yet to venture so this morning we went for a wander through it along with numerous runners making the most of the fine weather and traffic free roads.

Speaking of which the roads in Rome are a nightmare and certainly not designed for pedestrians. Pavements are few and far between and those that do exist are narrow. Of course the streets are teeming with tourists who have no idea where they are going and no sense that there might also be a car sharing the road. Despite this Roman drivers are highly tolerant. You very rarely hear the sound of a car horn. If it was me I’d have my hard firmly resting on the horn!

Stopping for a coffee in the Piazza del Popolo proved to be an expensive business with one bitter lemon costing the same as the pizza we had enjoyed yesterday lunchtime. To be fair that’s the only time during our visit that we felt we had been stung. The hotel proved to be especially good value as drinks were always accompanied by nibbles of some sort.

We elected to take a taxi to the airport as the cost was only a few Euros more than the trains and decidedly more comfortable, although our driver was clearly auditioning for the vacancy at Ferrari – a regular Michele Alboreto! At one point he took off from the motor way to join a narrow pitted track. I thought that we were being abducted but it turned out to be a shortcut!

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time which turned out to be a mistake as our plane was delayed by over an hour due to high winds in London. Not a good sign after a week of lovely, fine weather but at least we had a fun time and some late summer sun!



Italy 2014 – Day 5 – The Vatican

Another walking the streets of Rome and today we headed towards the Vatican.

We have been told that the weather back home has finally turned but it is still lovely here with the top temps getting into the mid to high twenties. Despite this the locals were already beginning to wrap up with scarves and coats while I was feeling hot with just a tee shirt and shorts combo!

Like the rest of Rome the architecture at the Vatican and St. Peter’s square is a wonder given that it will have been all done by hand. We didnt go inside this time but there was a long queue of people waiting to do so. Instead we found a quiet back street and had some lunch.

I have to admit that by this point in the holiday we were beginning to feel a little jaded and by the time we reached the botanical gardens we were running on empty.

In the evening we found a lovely looking restaurant just a few streets from the hotel. The waiter, rather than presenting us with printed menus brought a board with no translations. Up for a challenge we both chose things that we thought we recognised. It transpired that it was a fish restaurant which would explain the hand written menu. Our selections were fine but I really wanted a simple pasta dish and not this fancy tuna!



Italy 2014 – Day 4 – MC Escher

Today was a bit of a departure from the norm in that while we did all the usual touristy things we also went to a museum to see and exhibition of the works of MC Escher.


His work fascinates me and is some of the most accessible art that I have come across. Part of what I love about his work is the symmetry of it. The tescilating, regular patterns seamlessly moving from one form to another without your eye really noticing. Really striking. More enjoyable than the Spanish Steps too, which I have always felt were overrated.

Something that isn’t overrated is the Coliesum. A marvelous building on a grand scale. It is even better at night when the air is cooler and there are fewer people around.

We had a meal at a cafe in a good position overlooking the Coliseum but as I have been warned previously – never eat anywhere that is known for something other than its food.

After a stroll around the whole of the building we made our way to the Forum but this didn’t seem to be lit so we grabbed a taxi and made our way back to the hotel.



Italy 2014 – Day 3 – Ostia Antica

Today we ventured further afield with a trip to Ostia Antica, the old port town of Roman Rome which had been recommended to us.

To get there required a couple of tubes and an overground train. Coming from London it is always a shock to find a major city with only two tube lines, in Rome imaginatively called “A” and “B”. This means that large areas of the city aren’t covered but what is there runs well and is pretty cheap too. An all day pass was only €6 which seem pretty good value.

Ostia is a sleeply little place half an hour from Rome and the Roman town is huge, dwarfing the Forum by some considerable margin. Once in you could wander the grounds freely going absolutely anywhere and that included traipsing over the beautiful mosaics of which there were literally dozens.

Had this been in the UK the place would have been under the watchful eye of English Heritage and I suspect that you wouldn’t have got anywhere near many areas.

The place is a fascinating insight into the Roman way of life with the small, low status, buildings right up to the marble lined and mosaic floored high status areas. It really has to be seen to understand the extent of it.