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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Like many people I have a bucket list of things that I want to do and this week I managed to tick another one off the list with a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

I’m sure that if I could go back to my younger self and tell me that one day I’d have a hankering to go to a flower show I would have laughed so hard it would have hurt. However, tastes change and as you mature you appreciate different things – is the line I’m now taking to explain this volte-face! And so it was that last Thursday we found ourselves setting off early to join the crowds of other horticulture aficionados at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

It’s a curious thing, holding a flower show in the grounds of an old people’s home, but that is what the Royal Hospital Chelsea is and there were plenty of Chelsea Pensioners enjoying the displays in their back gardens.

While the hospital grounds are a large area for a few hundred pensioners it isn’t really large enough to accommodate all those that wish to attend the flower show. When we arrived it was comfortably busy and with a little patience and a little light elbowing you could get to the front of the displays. By midday, however, it was heaving and it became necessary to employ more devious tactics. The numbers weren’t helped I suspect by the great weather we had with the sun pouring down making the displays look magnificent, as you can see in this short video.

There is an amazing amount of work goes into all the displays and there is plenty on display that is flowering at what must be the wrong time of year. Having never been before I can’t be sure but I am pretty certain that there must be some sort of floral arms race going on with people trying to out do what others (and themselves) have done in previous years.

There is a good reason to put on a good show as there are prizes but the whole thing did seem to have the feel of a junior school sports day where everyone wins a prize just for turning up. Every stand seemed to have received a certificate or gong of some description.

One worthy winner, however, was this unassuming grey box looking a bit like the Pandorica in Dr Who. There was a queue wrapped twice around the box to get to see what it contained and being typically British we joined the end.

When you reached the head of the line and to the box itself there were three holes drilled at different heights on two sides through which you could look in and see the miniature garden within. It was, like so much else at Chelsea, incredibly well done. You can see some pictures of the inside of the box and many of the other features on display below.

Helped by glorious weather we had a great day and we will certainly go again.


Spain 2016 – Day 5 – Presa De Béznar And Orgiva

Our last day in Spain started at the bottom of the hill from were we are staying where there is the Presa De Béznar dam. We stood at the top of the dam looking down – it’s a very long way and enough to make my stomach curl.

It is a curious thing in that there is an escape for a (very) small amount of water but it seems to be recycled so none leaves the confines of the dam works. According to the notices there it was built to help the environment, provide a reservoir for drinking water and hydro electric power. At least that is what we could make out through the use of Google Translate! 

After lunch on the terrace at the villa we drove out to the small town of Orgiva hitting the mid afternoon lull. It was the most curious place in that the only other people we saw were what can only be described as British hippies. They were all there with their dreadlocks, multiple piercings in interesting places, colourful tattoos and scrappy dogs on bits of string. We fitted right in! I could only assume that there must be some commune nearby and they had all come in to collect supplies.

For our final meal we went back to Lanjarón and to a hotel overlooking the castle ruins. We had a superb meal but the portions were of monumental proportions. Take my starter, which was described as fried egg with Spanish chorizo and fried potatoes, an accurate description but I was expecting a delicate little thing. What I got was a full meal served in a large pan, as you can see from the picture below. The main course was similarly overblown too!

So we have enjoyed our few days in Southern Spain and a bit of early sun but now it is back to the UK and Reading where it has apparently been trying to snow…


Spain 2016 – Day 4 – La Alpujurra and Lanjarón

After yesterday’s traipse around Granada we took it slower today starting with a walk up to the bakers to get some pain au chocolate. As described previously, like all shops, the baker here is carefully disguised as a house lest anyone find it and purchase something. To aid this further all shops also open as infrequently as possible shutting just at the time when it would be most convenient to buy something. It really is like a trip back to the 1970’s or a trip to France… Now.

Breakfast out the way we set off to the La Alpujurra region on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada aiming for three villages Pampaneria, Bubion and Capileria. These were reached up a winding mountain road which Helen treated as some sort of white knuckle ride! We stopped at Pampaneria and went for a wander around the streets looking at the well maintained, white washed, houses. A feature of the houses is the high chimneys on the roofs, each having a little hat presumably to prevent snow coming down.

Rugs seemed to be a speciality of this area and there were examples of all colours, shapes and sizes along the twisty footpaths through the villages (no hiding the wares here!). As luck would have it we have been looking for a new rug for the lounge and to date hadn’t found anything suitable but here, half way up a mountain,was something that appeared ideal and was likely £200 cheaper than we expected to pay. So we bought it, you can see it on the picture below furthest away from the camera, but we were quite a long way through the transaction before the question “how are we going to get this home” surfaced. 

I have form when it comes to bringing home rugs from far flung places. I once brought home a rug in a rucksack from a shop just outside of Agra so I knew that it was possible to do. We were assured by the shopkeeper that it only weighed six kilos but it felt an awful lot more than that when I lugged it back to the car. Right now it appears to be a toss up between the rug and my dirty clothes as to which one makes it back to Reading so check back in a few days to see which one makes it!


Spain 2016 – Day 3 – Granada

Today was the only day of the break where we had anything planned. One of the draws of being in this region was being able to visit Granada, somewhere that everyone who has been there seems to wax lyrical about. We had been warned about booking early for the Alhambra and when I did, a couple of months ago, I was amazed at how booked up it was already, so it is certainly popular. In the end we went for a 14:30 slot which allowed us to explore the town in the morning and the Alhambra itself in the afternoon.

We arrived at Granada at 10am and parked up at the Alhambra car park having decided that this would be the easiest option as reading online it seemed that parking could be difficult in the town itself. After a short stop to collect our pre-booked tickets we walked down into town and it was steeply down too so the walk back up would be fun!

First stop was a cafe for a well earned coffee and a Fanta! That out the way we wandered the streets past some lovely buildings following the stream that ran between the road and the base of the hill to the Alhambra. Ideally we wanted to find the iconic view that you see on so many postcards taken overlooking the Alhambra site but this was to elude us (spoiler alert – don’t look too closely at the header image if you don’t want to know yet if we managed to find it!).

We made the climb back up to our staring point and entered the Alhambra. The site is huge made up of at least four distinct areas including the Nasrid Palace and Generalife. Entry to the former is via timed ticket which avoids there being massive crowds traipsing through the rooms, although it was still busy with parties of disinterested school kids.

It is easy to see why it is so popular as the buildings and in particular the mosaic tiles and carvings are spectacular. There is something deeply pleasing about the Moorish geometric designs.

The outside wasn’t bad either!

In the end we spent the best part of three hours wandering around the well preserved site and could easily have spent more time. It was certainly well worth the €14 each entry fee we paid.

We then caught the little train back down to the town and this time stayed on until we reached the highest point. We got off and went for a wander and somehow stumbled upon the view I had been hoping to find across the town to the Alhambra and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind – breathtaking.

A slow walk back down to the bottom where we had some dinner. In my case the local speciality of plato alpujarreño which looks like an English breakfast with it’s sausage, egg and black pudding and was a welcome treat after a long days walking. By the time we had walked back to the top and the car park we had done over 20,000 steps which is equivalent to ten miles and were knackered but it was a great day.


Spain 2016 – Day 2 – Salobreña

The first challenge of the day was to try and find the bakery. This was difficult for two reasons – firstly the woolly instructions we had been given on where to find it and secondly because shops don’t look much like shops here but more like private houses. It felt like a real triumph when we stumbled upon it. We bought a couple of the largest pain au chocolate you have ever seen – they will easily do a couple of breakfasts but, due to a continuing lack of Spanish, we also managed to end up with two bread sticks when we really needed only one but it was easier to pay up and look big than to try and explain we only meant one!

The day’s second challenge was to try and find the castle over looking the town of Almuñécar and on this one we utterly failed. We did drive around a bit but saw nothing that was remotely castle like so in the end we gave up and went onto Salobreña which had a pretty obvious castle to satisfy our need for fortified ruins!

We arrived just after two o’clock and the town was closed for the siesta with the shops not opening again until gone five. Fortunately there was a nice (but hot) walk around the narrow streets of the old town to occupy us with each street lined with pretty white-washed houses. Half way up we found a bar and stopped for a drink. Once again this was accompanied by a small snack – this time some courgettes in batter, which was really delicious. This is the equivalent of popping into your local pub, ordering a pint, and it arriving with a small plate of unrequested savoury snacks. Of course that wouldn’t happen in the UK as it would eat into the profit margin.

Having completed our drink and snack we went on to the castle. As it turned out the castle itself was best seen from the outside as there wasn’t much going on within so we made our way back down to the car and drove on to the beach front.

After a short walk along the beach we found a restaurant that looked promising and had outside seating. It’s early in the season here and many resturants are still closed but this one was doing a good trade. We ordered and almost immediately a plate of fried fish (we think) that we hadn’t ordered arrived. They like giving food away here obviously. I ordered the grilled fish and was presented with the following. Unfortunately it was heavily doused in garlic butter so that was the predominant flavour which was a shame. 

Tomorrow Granada. 


Spain 2016 – Day 1 – Gatwick

So we are off on our travels again and this time the destination is southern Spain, somewhere we haven’t been before. This meant an early start was required to get to Gatwick for our flight. We have a reputation for arriving places early, something that both our boys find irritating I think. This time, however, we really excelled ourselves and arrived at a time that even I thought was too early. To be fair to us, as good project managers, we had built in a lot of contingency for issues that might arise along the way and of course none of these materialised.

The flight was reasonably uneventful and we landed into Malaga where the temperature was 24 degrees. The weather had suggested that at the hottest it would be 20 degrees. We had planned accordingly and then regretted not bring more shorts!

Our destination wasn’t Malaga itself but a small village some distance away so we had to pick up a hire car. Collecting a car is never a stress-free task as the agents are trained to up-sell as much as they could. Do you want a bigger car? How about sat-nav? Additional breakdown cover? And, of course, collision damage waver. We felt pretty smug having taken out excess insurance in the UK  on hearing the couple next to us part with (and then regret) 400 Euros for the hire companies own equivalent – we paid about 40 Euros. This out the way we were able to hit the road.

The first few miles were pretty stressful as we went the wrong way (twice) while we got to grips with the sat nav on my phone. We were both tired and hungry by this point so pulled off at the first opportunity and found our only dining option was a McDonalds but needs must and all that. Visiting an international fast food chain does have its advantages as the words “Big Mac and fries” are pretty universal – although there was still some difficulties when we were asked the inevitable question about meal deals.

The rest of the drive along the A7 was pretty uneventful and finally we reached our destination. The instructions we had been given were, let’s say, woolly and so we drove round the village three times before discovering that that was both an upper and a lower village and we needed the lower. And finally we were here.

After unpacking and getting our bearings we decided to go for a walk and to try out the local bar. Armed with only a small phrase book, Google Translate and wild gesticulations we managed to order a wine and a Fanta, which thankfully was what we went in for! The drinks were accompanied by the odd assortment of goodies you can see on the plate below.

Tomorrow the holiday begins proper.


Are You Listening? Festival 2016

Although it has been running for four years this is the first time that I have gone to the Are You Listening? festival (AYL) in Reading. AYL is a one day music event that showcases (mainly) local music in bars and event spaces around the town (so no mud and getting wet) in aid of the charity Mencap.

Starting at 2pm there are over 70 acts through the day at nine venues. And there is something for everyone from rock to folk to DJ sets and even a bit of close harmony.  

Like all festivals the quality of the bands on offer increases the later in the day it gets and it was the same here. During my limited time yesterday I saw all of the following:

  • Mickey & the Milkshake 
  • Amya-ray
  • The Royal Harmonics 
  • Jazz Morley
  • Khamsina 
  • Big Zero

Big Zero were a bit of a revelation and an unexpected find. I had been “invited” to come and see them by the band themselves and having nothing else planned for their time slot went along. 

The lead singer had such stage presence and he knew it. He could work the audience better than a lot of hardened pros I have seen over the years. He also suffered for his art cutting his finger and leaving a slick coating of blood on his guitar strings. 

The acid test is would I buy and for Jazz Morely and Big Zero I probably would. 

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Record Store Day 2016 – Not Like a Virgin

Last weekend it was Record Store Day and for the second time I set off early to get to my local store and pick up some limited vinyl. Having already enquired earlier in the week I was pretty certain that what I wanted would be available long after the Saturday but queueing up before the shop opens I now regard as something as a badge of honour!

This year even though I set off (slightly) earlier I ended up in roughly the same position in line as last year only this time it was spitting with rain which made the wait less pleasant.

The friend that I met in line last year also came back and joined me in the queue which meant the two hour wait to get to the front of the line was more bearable.

I had gone along with two items in mind: Quincy Jones’ The Dude and a picture disc version of Del Amitri’s first single. Now, the observant amongst you will have spotted three items in the picture below. This is one of the dangers of RSD. When I made it to the front there in a box right in my line of sight was a import version of the Dandy Warhols first release. How could I resist that? So that went into the bag too.

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At the cash desk I was told that the total cost was £70. A sizeable amount to spend on vinyl but at least the sum was lower than last year and a lot less than someone in front of me that had spent £400.

Given that these are all limited editions of about 500-1000 copies I do sometimes wonder whether I should be playing them but what’s the point of spending that money and not getting any benefit from them? Also if I didn’t play them I wouldn’t get to see such a thing of beauty as this Quincy Jones yellow vinyl.

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Here’s to RSD 2017 then!

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If the government thinks it’s a good idea why are we voting on it?

So our copy of “that” leaflet arrived this week and no amount of petitions or Eurosceptic postmen was going to stop it arriving. I wouldn’t say that it was a right riveting read but it made its case clearly and concisely and in big print which is always welcome for me these days.

In my case it was preaching to the converted of course but it did get me thinking that if staying in is so obviously good that the government supports it why are we voting on it?

The answer, of course, is that this has got nothing to do with us voting public and everything to do with David Cameron trying to get the dissenters in his own party to pipe down and we are caught in the crossfire. That’s not to say that a significant proportion of the electorate don’t want out. The current polls show that it really is 50:50 – not that polls seem to be a reliable bellwether these days.

Whatever the outcome it is going to be horrendous. Somedays I just want to curl up in a ball and hide until it is all over, which, if the out vote wins, could be ten years or more. What sad little isolationists that would make us.