Monday, 24 November 2008

Gig-a-Blog™ (Barr, Woodrow, Riley, St Anne & St Agnes)

Nick Barr, violin; James Woodrow, guitar; Audrey Riley, cello.

Tippett, Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi

One of those (seemingly simple but actually fabulously clever) 'glimpses of ...' pieces. Short but very very sweet; what a lovely way to start a concert.

Bach, Trio Sonata in G major

  1. Poised, dainty, warm.
  2. Oh this is just gorgeous. Fantastic change of colour.
  3. Happy bouncy jolly, and very nicely paced.

Jehain Alain (1911-1940), Variations sur un theme de Clement Jannequin

Simple theme, then in the variations some exquisitely beautiful moments, tiny corners of variety like little painted miniatures. I can't write about them separately - blink and you missed them. I did try:

  • Lots of space opened up round the tune with interesting harmonic movement "outside"
  • Lovely flow then raindrops
  • Bold, stronger stmnt in vln before cello takes it and makes it plaintive and ...

See the problem? Blink ... miss ... blink ... miss ... this is just too cool, too tiny and too perfect to write about.

Anton Heiller (1923-1979), Kleine Partite für Orgel, "Vater Unser Im Himmelreich"

Though this was arranged from an organ piece, it works so well here that it's difficult to imagine that it was ever meant for anything other than this trio. Intricate and fascinating. Clearly this is today's Intellectual Challenge Piece for Longhaired Music Graduate Cleverclogs Types™ but that's OK because we Blockheads™ (thank you, once again, Mr Dury) can enjoy it too.

Stravinsky, Five Easy Pieces

A quick zap or two of neat, simple, witty tunefulness offsets the Heiller's profundity.

I know I've rabbitted on elsewhere about how well violin and guitar sound together, so can I maybe just add, "... and even nicer with a cello"? What a very vigorous, versatile and at times voluptuous combination. Excellent playing and a really great, interesting and different programme too: nice one.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Gig-a-Blog™ (Anakay Koshka and Alan Brown, St Anne & St Agnes)

Anakay Koshka (violin), Alan Brown (piano)

Brahms A minor sonata, op. 100

  1. By turns warm, dramatic, passionate and poignant
  2. Fabulously poised and beautiful.
  3. Intense and energetic.

Sibelius D minor concerto op. 47

  1. Woo blimey, virtuosic or what? Goodness me, I am all aflutter. I think I've played in this with Salomon (not as soloist you understand). I do not, however, such have a very clear memory of it and in particular I don't remember this level of technical brilliance. Wonderful.
  2. Ah I remember this bit - my "tricky trumpet entry" moment has just passed in the the slow movement - much nicer on piano! (This is a place about which I became obsessionally scared when we did it in the orchestra. Not actually that hard unless you're me.)
  3. The last movement was stunning.

Nice concert!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A non-good moment: very very nearly being late for Remembrance Sunday

Sunday, 9 November 2008


PLPoppies2I was SO nearly late to play the Last Post for the Remembrance Sunday service on November 9th at St James, the big parish church in Muswell Hill. Fool, Vogel, fool.

This self-inflicted Idiocy Wound was so traumatic that I am not sure I can stand writing about it much. Please bear in mind that I like to be at least half an hour, and preferably much more, early for any gig, and that I am the person I know who most goes on about punctuality and The Six Ps and who most frequently quotes this:

Remember - you can be two hours early for Taps but you can't be two minutes late!

- from, the site run by star US bugler Jari Villanueva and dedicated to Taps, the US near-equivalent of the Last Post. I've quoted Jari's line so many times that for me to be nearly late for the Last Post is beyond hypocrisy and actually reaches into some new wavelength out the other side. Gah!

I had had a terrible disorganized morning. I think my brain wasn't working well as I'd got to bed at 4.00am after the Infanta Marfs's 18th birthday party. Not that I was drunk or anything, just tired and a bit frayed round the edges. I made a very stupid decision that the dog's walk, one of my other duties that morning, had to be done before church - oops, no time. The doggie would have been fine with her walk later and I'd have had a leisurely time and still been up at St James nice and early. There's NO excuse for any of this, but none - it's just total stupidity. I left home in a real flap, and as I turned onto the southern half of the Broadway it was 10.53, with the service starting at 10.55 and the Last Post scheduled, natch, for 11.00. Oh oh oh oh oh not good.

Walk faster, Vogel. See, children, the trumpet player is walking fast. See the fast trumpet player walk. See the fast walking trumpet player's red face. (Pant, pant, pant. Wheeze.)

I hit the church with a few seconds to spare. The director of music and the vicar came haring down the nave for a quick briefing and off we went. As last year, the first hymn ran for a few verses then was interrupted for the act of remembrance itself. During these early verses I was still unpacking the trumpet, putting up the stand, taping the music on and so on with a very loud and insistent countdown going on in my head. How marvellously relaxing.

Amazingly, it actually went OK musically despite the fact that I felt very very far from OK. A gibbering sweating wreck, I then went stumbling off for breakfast in Muswell Hill and tried to calm down a bit. Indeed, I am still trying to do so.

I have grovellingly apologized to the church and had charming and very funny replies (apparently I have been a useful source of anecdotal material for the vicar's teachings during the week!) so I think/hope that I am forgiven there. But I tell you I never ever ever want to feel like that ever again thank you so very much. What a twit. Goodness. Remember - you can be two hours early for The Last Post but you can't be two minutes late!

Picture courtesy of The Royal British Legion who, I think it is safe to assume, would prefer their buglers punctual ...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

O-a-blog™ (SAX, Mill Bank & Whitley)

Sunday, 2 March 2008

opic2 This was a great Saxons regional event, down near Sevenoaks. Lovely interesting running in a varied landscape. I ran in my correct age class this time and sadly came, er, last in my rather small category! Oops. Oh well.

My downfall was control 14 - I had trouble, to a ridiculous extent, finding this one despite having (I thought) navigated quite well on the way in. Seventeen minutes! I could not find that thing. Works wonders for your temper. And self-esteem. Tsk.

Do please have a look at the map extract here. I was on the track to the east of control 14, having gone pretty much due E from 13 down onto the track bend and thence to the junction. And yes I cut the corner off but this wasn't enough to disorientate me - or so I thought. Where it started to go wrong was when I couldn't see clearly the veg boundaries to my right, then left, along the track, and once I'd lost faith in that I suppose the rest of it just fell apart quite efficiently. I know that I spent a long time looking for the control too far south. One problem was that there seemed to be dozens of things that could have been that path leading west then south by the control, and I must have checked out most of them once I became unsure where I was. How to avoid a mess like this? I am not sure but I suppose that if I had had a really reliable pace-count it would have helped, though to be fair I thought I had - it just wasn't actually very good when put to the test!

Never mind: great courses, lovely place ... and there's always another week!

O-a-blog™ (LOK, Holmbury)

Sunday, 24 February 2008

opic1I was up with the lark (well, almost) and off to the excellent London Orienteering Klubb (LOK) regional event at Holmbury. As I've mentioned before my orienteering is still not yet that well-organized, especially with regard to entering in advance for these bigger events: foolishly, I'm thinking about them days rather than weeks in advance - this does not work well. So I'd missed the deadline, they'd run out of entries for the correct-age courses I should've been looking at, but I still ended up running (in another class) due to the kindness and good organization of the LOK person doing the entries - he was publishing lists of what maps were still available, confirming by email, and so on, pretty much right up to the last minute.

Running out of my class meant I was non-competitive for that event but it's not a huge problem unless you're into badges and leagues and stuff - otherwise a run is a run is a run. Obviously it would be better if I were in the right class, for plenty of reasons, but no great harm is done by the occasional abberation.

It was a nice setup, with good parking, lovely café facilities run by the local school PTA (tea, cake and burgers, basically), loos, a shop and so on. This is one of the advantages of being at a larger event. I mean I like the little local events too, but there's something nice about the sense of occasion, about seeing more people, from a wider range of other clubs (sometimes there are club banners up in the car park too) and so on - it does give me, unusually, a bit of a feeling of belonging. This is particularly so when I'm greeted, by name, by people from my own club, when I'd assumed that I was probably mostly invisible to them. This happened at Holmbury and was very pleasant.

It also gives a bit of an answer to my oft-revisited worry "do I look a twit for wearing a club top?" I mean, yes, of course I do (as in it I resemble half a ton of pork sausages forced into a nylon pillowcase), and I'm not generally into uniforms, DJs for orchestral concerts notwithstanding. But at orienteering events it does identify me as a club member, and indeed (if you can forgive me the er er meta-ness) as someone who wants to be identified as a club member, which I think probably increases the likelihood of my being said hello to, which can, I feel, only be a good thing.

So anyway (anyway) I wandered along to registration - the parking was all spread out along forest roads so it was a fair walk - and claimed my Course 7 place which had been reserved for me by Mr Nice LOK Bloke, then trekked back to the start. I should maybe mention that registration was beautifully quiet, with no queue - on these bigger events most people are pre-registered and pre-paid, so they can just go straight to the start with no further formalities required. Hence registration only has to mop up some EOD people, those who owe money or need to hire a dibber, oddities like me, and so on.

And off we go. It was wonderful. I've left far too long a gap before writing this, so I can't remember that much detail. I do, though, recall that it was a nice and interesting area, with plenty of variety, and that I enjoyed it very much.

With the aid of a quick look in my Magic O Box Of Facts I can add that I wasn't very fast that day, and that even if I'd been competing in the course/class I did, I'd have only scraped into the top 75% - not hugely impressive. Oh well. I seem to have been particularly slow from 11 to 12: please see the picture above - it's a fair distance, yes, but not that far and I wonder whether I perhaps also got lost a bit en route? Hmmm.

The nice thing about going orienteering south of London is that although it's a bit of a trek compared to my local events in Herts, Essex or wherever, it tends to increase my chances of bumping into my Bruvver especially if he has also trekked a mile or several north of his usual SO patch. (Yes, Tamsin dear, this is a good thing - we have not actually fought physically since about 1962, which seems like a reasonably sound basis for a relationship.) And so it was on this occasion - I was just into some complex sequence of Advanced Mobile Telephony when the person whom I was trying to contact just strolled up thereby rendering redundant my technofiddling and permitting a good old gossip of the traditional face-to-face variety. Yeah man.

Chat duly chatted, it was time to bust up the party and head for home. Nice to see you Dr Dave and thank you LOK for a d*mn fine event.

Mood Swing, or, Speaking to the Lost ...

... Freshly annoyed by some new stupidity or other of my gym I came out a while back in full Muttley mode going sassle frassle etc and stayed in a foul mood right up to the point where I met two charming, young and lost North Americans. These pleasant people were an instant annoyance cure.

It turns out that they were looking for an address in the Barbican area: they were close, but their heading was 180° wrong so I sent them off in the correct direction with many a cheery traditional Cockney cry of encouragement (eh?).

I have quite a strong belief that if you see lost-looking people during your pavement perambulations you should consider stopping to see if you can help, as long as considerations of personal safety, punctuality etc are still met. Only in some very small percentage of cases will they be unlost and/or suspect you of being some nasty weirdo. The vast majority will be grateful that you stopped to help and you will have a brief but probably pleasant conversation with some probably pleasant person, who is after all probably pumping plenty of pounds into the local economy. If you are lucky this conversation may even take place in a language you both know. What could be nicer?

Oh, and it fits with my General Theory of the Cosmic Bank of Goodwill™, which states inter alia that if you intend to make occasional withdrawals then you really need to be topping up your account's balance from time to time.


Some Things In Life Get Sidelined ... stilgs.

Gig-a-Blog-a-gone-a-bit-orf™ (various, St Anne & St Agnes inter alia)

Oh dear. The whole Gig-a-Blog™ thing has got a bit difficult to sustain.

[A long and exceptionally boring discussion is here omitted. Phew, eh?]

Executive summary:

  • I've chucked out a load of half-finished ones which had lost their way. One or two might have been interesting but none were really worth saving, now matter how wonderful were the concerts that they represented (or rather, failed to represent).
  • One had a proper disaster, of the many paragraphs-lost-for-ever-sort. Before, it was on its way to being usable, but afterwards it was very much otherwise.
  • I'm going to try to rescue a couple that are almost-OK.
  • I'm not going to try to keep the Gig-a-Blogging™ at its previous level. Life's too short to risk letting a happy diversion start to feel like a millstone. Well mine is anyway.
  • I've been to loads of lovely concerts about which I did or didn't write. I will be going to loads more lovely concerts, about which ditto ditto blah etc. It's not possible to reach any conclusion regarding those that don't get into the blog. They're victims of my time management and memory: it's got nothing at all to do with whether or not I liked them!
  • My idea about the original procedure for St Anne's Gig-a-Blogging™ was that it was just what I wrote during the concert and on that evening's commute home ... if I felt like it. Back to the Rule, d'you think?

I think that's pretty much it. Thank you for listening. Vogel out.

Gig-a-Blog™ (The Loki Consort, St Anne & St Agnes)

Monday, 17th November 2008

Wonderful Renaissance colours from this rather splendid mixed consort. I was too busy listening to write much. Most of my favourite composers of that era were represented along with a few names new to me, ignoramus that I am. Excellent, engaged performances and quite good audience comms too. Well worth rehearing, re-rehearing, and buying the CD.

Great stuff.

Lottie's birthday dinner - Rhodes 24

Wednesday, April 9th 2008

IMG_8724 We were out on this Wednesday night (a little while back now) for Lottie's 21st birthday dinner, London version. Current family logistics dictate a separate Becca-inclusive Manchester event at some later date: watch this space. So this was a Lottie, Jake, Marfs, my Dear Wife Bless Her and myself production.

We went to Rhodes 24, which not unreasonably is a Gary Rhodes restaurant on the 24th floor. Of what, do I hear you ask? Of Tower 42, the tallest building in the City of London. Older persons may remember it under its former name of the NatWest Tower but there's been no NatWest there for quite a while.

You can see me referring indirectly to a work-related visit there a while back: that led quite directly to our booking last night after a pretty unequivocal intervention from the Iarlles Loötës herself.

We met in the foyer and were booked in, given pass cards and processed through quite serious visitor security. I suppose this is surprising for a restaurant, but less so for an iconic tower: after all the BT Tower's restaurant has been closed to the public for many years now, the result, they claim, of security concerns. (Yeah right.)

We zoomed up to the 24th floor and were quickly shown to our table right by the floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The view was incredible.

IMG_8701I will confess that I had checked on the time of sunset, and booked the table for when it would still, just, be daylight when we arrived so that we could watch the transition through twilight to full darkness. If you feel that you detect a note of smugness here then all I can say is yup. It worked like a charm. Even if it had not also been also one of the very best meals I've ever enjoyed, it would still have been worth the (not inconsiderable) cost just to be allowed to watch this absolutely staggering view of London for several hours.

The view contained - well, pretty much everything, really. It's always nice to go "I can see our house from up here" and while it wasn't quite true, you could certainly see the TV mast at Ally Pally. Closer, lots of wonderful things started by looking great then got even better as it got dark and lights came on all over: of particular note here was the "Gherkin", 30 St Mary Axe, which was surprisingly close by and which really did look absolutely gorgeous in its night-time colours.

This being the event it was we started with champagne, and very pleasant it was too. Then with the meal itself we had an extremely passable St Julien. (I understand that some sort of white wine may also have been purchased but I mean good grief Biggles.) Foodwise, sadly I cannot remember what everyone else had but I did make a rough note of mine, and maybe the Birfday Gril will oblige with a commentette on her or her young gentleman's meal?

Anyway, my starter was something exquisite and truly delicious involving smoked eel. I'm always a bit odd about eel. (Well actually I'm a bit odd about lots of food - how long have you got?) I think that over the years eel has somehow got misfiled in "snakes", which is just ridiculous. This was a perfectly fishy, delicate and delicious starter and I'd quite like another one right now please.

My main course was beef rib and cottage pie, the latter an exquisite miniature. One day I maybe ought to stop very predictably going for the nicest-sounding beef dish on any posh menu - but on the other hand, why should I? This rather stolid tactic has served me well in the past and, my word, it did so on 9th April too. Utterly utterly wonderful. Ah yes, I've just been reminded that Jake had this too: I think it was one of those order-for-two/carved-at-the-table things.

IMG_8729-1 My dessert was that delicious cliché the "trio of crèmes brûlées". I've had a major soft spot for this almost-joke since I first came across it in a lovely restaurant just off the Triangle in Bristol a few years back. On that occasion it was excitingly accompanied by a stern lecture on eating them in the right order. No, really. Gary Rhodes and his Rhodettes didn't go that far but even lacking the drama it was scrumptious anyway. This time the flavours were vanilla, passion fruit and Baileys and they went down very nicely indeed thank you very much.

The service, by the way, was perfect. Perfect I tell you - not just "OK" or even "very good". They had that magical knack of vanishing when not required and reappearing about half a second before you've finished formulating the thought that you want something. Then they very efficiently see to whatever it is that you wanted, with just the right measures of charm, familiarity, formality and so on, and then vanish again. I've been in plenty of restaurants with scarily over-attentive staff and others where, as Tom Waits charmingly puts it, “you can't find your waitress/with a Geiger counter". This place just gets it right and makes it look easy as they do so. I suspect that actually they are using some form of very short-range time travel or at least precognition: it's the only explanation that makes sense.

Even great meals come to an end (what idiot writes this stuff?) so after the odd coffee and/or liqueur we were off back to the Hills of Muswell. Yeah, by cab, you bet: drink had indeed been taken and I can't really imagine how else it would work, as there was no queue of eager volunteers to be the designated driver for this rather jolly event.

What a wonderful dinner, what an absolutely fantastic evening. Happy Birthday that Lottifer.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Eventful WeekenDex™

An eventful weekend V

Monday, 24 March 2008

Woohoo! It's Easter Monday. As well as being a very important day in the church calendar (my first thought on waking) it is a Bank Holiday and I am not at work, yay woo, and we are going to see my Mum and my bruvver and his lovely family and have lunch with them in Lancing and it's excellent.
We pile into Lorraine the much-loved but worryingly-knackered Mitsubishi Space Wagon. Check mixture, advance timing, set airspeed bugs, throttle gating cleared, green across the board, all clear above and behind sir and we're off; as she stands on her tail in a flaming column of pure thrust and we hurtle into the deepening indigo over Muswell Hill I think I notice a slight instabilty in the Hartmann stabilizers (the reliable old K5 model, none of your offworld M-series rubbish) but main engines are kicking in, the push, the push, and the G-blackout is coming ... then suddenly we rotate into freedom, the planet curving above us impossibly bright in the sunshine and I'm ...

... What? ...
Oh, sorry, yes, ahem.
We pile into Lorraine the much-loved but worryingly-knackered Mitsubishi Space Wagon and chug off towards Lancing.
Kat kommt mit: she's staying with us, she's more or less family anyway, and I know she'll get on well with the Lancing/Chi branch. So off we go. The car performs excellently down the A40, M4, M25 then on the M23 it quite suddenly blows up while we're zipping merrily along at about 70.
Err, yes.
It didn't literally blow up, by the way: no explosion per se happened. It just felt a bit like that. One moment I was driving along as normal, going quite nicely in lane 2, and the next it was making the most horrendous sound, mechanical and grating and hammering and very, very loud indeed. There was - surprise! - a complete loss of engine power, accompanied by lots of red lights. In the very moment I heard that sound I knew that the car had had it. This was almost a relief - we'd been worrying about it a lot - but a bit startling, as decision-making moments go.
Fortunately the traffic was fairly light so pulling over wasn't a huge problem. I was a bit bothered by all the smoke coming from under the bonnet and, perhaps slightly pessimistically, prepared the troops for an emergency baleout (left side only please and who's grabbing the dog?) but it didn't come to that and the smoke died away as we stopped. We had enough momentum to carry us along the hard shoulder till we were under a bridge, which was handy when it snowed! It was also nice because it had concrete bridge-type bits and barriers and ... stuff ... and it wasn't difficult to feel a bit safer there, and a bit more shielded from the road, once we'd got everyone out of the car.
The AA kindly agreed to send someone out and we waited, a family of trolls under our bridge. A couple of calls to David established that (a) we couldn't hire a car there, it being a bank holiday, but (b) there was a good train service, and (c) David didn't mind my parking the sad wreck outside his house until I could arrange its removal. What all this meant was that the disaster of the car didn't have to mean us missing a nice lunch. What on earth did we do before we had mobile telephony?
We'd also climbed up the side of the bridge to check whether it gave access for David to be able to meet us so some of the party could escape and make a start on the gin and tonic. Sadly it was just a Forestry Commission track connecting two areas of (rather interesting-looking) woodland with big padlocked gates everywhere and no sign of public road access: oh well.
When the AA's contractor, a very nice and helpful bloke, turned up he confirmed that the car was going nowhere under its own power. (We von Neustadts may not be mechanical geniuses hem hem but, yeah, we had got a tiny inkling that this might be the case.) Once that was officially established his priority was to get us off the motorway because the hard shoulder is notoriously not a safe place to hang around.
The gloriously-named Pease Pottage services was just a sneeze and a blink up the road so that was where we were initially headed. We all piled into the tow-truck's massive cab, except for poor Daisy Dog who was not allowed, this being company policy rather than the driver's whim. So she had to ride in the Mitsubishi, a form of discrimination which pleased her not at all. The driver then winched our car, indignant collie and all, up onto the back of his truck and off we went. The kids reported that Daisy was actually howling as we drove along (as in, head up, aroooo etc etc), which is a bit sad, though she did settle down in the end.
At the services the driver very kindly didn’t unload the car but got straight onto the AA, told them our plans, and requested that he be assigned to take us on. This was very nice as they could have insisted on sending out another recovery truck and we’d have had to be unloaded and waited for this other truck and reloaded and so on, but the AA agreed to his sensible plan and he was authorized to get us to lunch without further ado. This he did, we had a nice drive down, and eventually the car was dropped in my brother’s pleasant road near the church, the Mad Collie was reunited with its delighted family, the driver was generously tipped for being a Good Egg (I’m good with common people, see?), patted on the head and bade farewell, and so on.
Marvellous, marvellous. Lunch is served. If you have ever dined with David and Amaryllis you will know that a little thing like your car blowing up is not to be allowed to get in the way. Yum. Also present were my delightful niece Isobel and my Dearest Muvver who was in fine form, and, d’you know what, the whole thing was just splendid. The mild trauma of the motorway episode was soon forgotten in subsequent waves of deliciousness and, guess what, I wasn’t about to be driving anywhere so I wasn’t being incredibly abstemious over my friend Dr Booze – and so on. All very very good.
In the afternoon those of us who wanted to or who were badgered by their parents went up to the entirely lovely Lancing Ring for the traditional post-lunch stagger. This is the great thing about the South Downs – one minute you’re in suburban bungalow muppetland (erm, no disrespect intended ahem) and the next you are on top of something which is actually akin to a half-decent hill and has proper views and feels like a proper place. Fabulous. The Mad Collie Gänseblümchen was persuaded to do her famous trick called “Hey Look I’m Bonkers And Going Round Lancing Ring At Full Tilt” to the joy of the assembled masses.
The point is that Lancing Ring is a sort of dewpond thing, indeed with a bit of luck the wonders of the Interwebs (now on version 2 I’m told) will mean that some linked text will lead to another “Interwebs Page Site”, as we call it in the trade, which will explain better than I. But basically it is a huge circular epis with a fenced-off pond in its centre and what you do is one person holds onto the said collie while the other runs away round the far side of the circle, possibly shouting Woo woo Daisy or indeed Gänseblümchen an ting. The loopy collie is then released with encouraging cries of Kindly pursue his Highness the Count or like whatever and goes completely crazy catching up the runner. If you have more than one runner then it’s even more fun as your mad canine pal may just keep going for several revolutions still at full belt as she laps everyone several times. There’s something irresistible about Lancing Ring which makes her go consistently faster here than perhaps anywhere else, and always has. I love it. When she’s chasing a ball at home she often does that economical lope that they can keep going for miles, but here we see her visibly change gear, settle lower and stretch out, and really go. It is most gratifying and actually rather beautiful to watch, if I can get my laughing and wheezing under control enough to observe her properly.
The other thing we did is the Very Silly Hide’n’Seek Game With Collie™ which is pretty much like Ordinary Human Hide'n'Seek except that in this game the seeker has much better hearing and sense of smell than everyone else, can run fast (see paragraph 93 above) and probably saw you hiding anyway. Strangely, when she finds you, usually in about two seconds, you then react as if she has just done something slightly cleverer than outlining the theory of relativity while playing the last movement of the Appassionata. But hey.
After a few more minutes of hilltop hilarity we went back down and spent the rest of the afternoon on chat, possibly a bit of sly kipping, tea and cake, and emptying the car. What was worth salvaging filled a big rucksack and another overnight bag even though we chucked away quite a lot. Most galling was that we'd filled it with petrol that very morning so we were losing the best part of sixty quid's worth. Aargh, but also ho hum - can't win 'em all. I said a fond farewell to the car: more, perhaps, about this in another blog-writey-thing sometime.
All this done, we were ferried in two relays down to the station. Remember yesterday when I said I was coveting David's new car? Well I now had the same sort of symptoms, only much much more so.
We did look a bit of a collection of bag people with our miscellaneous luggage and dog. There was a certain period of hysteria (adding my kids together sometimes has a strange, subtractive effect on their mental ages) but eventually we settled down and reached Victoria reasonably sane and in almost-good order. With luggage and doggage we couldn't quite face the Tube so we piled into a cab: given the number of us this wasn't even so expensive, and it got us home in a reasonably low-stress state.
And that is pretty much that. A strange and rather unexpected twist to the journey had ended up in a very nice day out. We weren't that upset about the car, and we'd had a great time with the family and here we were home safe. All rather acceptable, actually.
This all happened on the Monday. On the Friday the car was removed from David's road by the excellent Scrapcar, car scrappers to the gentry. They don't pay but they don't charge you either, which seems about fair to me. They also guarantee that it's properly disposed of with regard to recycling, dealing with environmentally nasty stuff and so on and so forth. All very efficient and friendly: recommended!


An eventful weekend IV

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Wonderful JK orienteering! You can read up on the annual Jan Kjellström International Festival of Orienteering here or here but it's a great big international orienteering event, one of a small handful taking place annually in the UK. The biggest O event I've been to, by a long way.
JK 2008 took place on four days over Easter at four sites in Surrey and Sussex. Sunday was in the very beautiful Ashdown Forest.
The drive down was a bit horrendous. Snow, tending towards heavy at times; bad visibility. I had unexpectedly to fill the car with oil and water before leaving, so was feeling (quite unnecessarily) anxious about time. And so on.
The last part of the drive was on a tiny narrow road through forest and the whole thing was really very much like a Christmas-card snow scene. Absolutely beautiful but not perfect driving conditions as it was still (very picturesquely) chucking it down.
Got there safely, parked. All very efficient with two shops, two cafes, loos, JK souvenir mugs (yeah I got one), a commentary box with radio controls, a huge collection of club tents, spectator areas, and so on.
Although it was such a big event, it didn't really feel any different once you got going. I don't really know why I'd thought it might: there's no real reason why the people-per-hectare-per-hour count should be any different as long as the course design and starts are working properly. Erm. Is there? I think that's right but I still feel a bit suspicious of my logic. Oh well.
The orienteering was great. It was still quite snowy underfoot, and indeed it snowed a fair bit more while I was running. Very pretty but it does slow me down since I can't see where I'm putting my feet and I don't want to fall over.
I did fall over (of course) but not badly. It was all good challenging interesting stuff and mega-enjoyable despite the dodgy weather.
The very end was hard work. Firstly, I gave up navigating a little prematurely, oops: I could see the finish from about three controls before and there was pretty much a constant line of runners between me and the finish. I did check, roughly, the general direction but, duh, of course that was OK - so I just slotted into the queue. This was a mistake: actually everyone did not have the same penultimate control and mine was a good 50m off the obvious one, for which most people were heading. This threw me a bit but I realized what the problem was in a mere hour or two and was soon on my way to the last control, or rather cluster of controls since all the routes really had united there and it and the finish both had quite a few control boxes so that competitors weren't forced to queue.
From the last control to the finish was a wide taped route, quite a climb over open ground. The earlier steeper part of this felt about the same angle as the side of a house and I was relieved that I wasn't the only one to walk up this bit.
It flattened out a bit as it turned across the hillside in front of the spectator area, towards the finish: like many others I was forced by my pride to run, or at least stumble, along this bit. Strangely, the commentators didn't pick me up. Huh, don't know class when they see it.
Let me explain about radio controls, at least as I understand them. (If you understand more than me, which would not be hard, then please feel free to correct me.) As this was the first event of this size and significance that I'd seen, it was also the first chance that I'd had to see them in use. There were two opportunities for the commentators to pick up individual competitors: one was the finish which I've just described and the other a "spectator control" where on certain courses (not the ones that I do!) a loop of the route is brought back to the assembly area so that the control is under the gaze of the spectators. Thus the competitors dibbing at that control are, like those at the finish, liable - if they are interesting! - to be picked up by the commentators.
The question then arises - how does the commentary box know who's dibbing? Do they know off by heart the appearance of every significant competitor? Well, maybe they do for all I know, but what I do know is that they've certainly got help on hand from the radio controls. As well as recording the competitor's visit in the usual way, these also transmit the details on to the commentary box. Some clever interfacing of systems, I imagine, then tells them all the competitor's details and how they're doing now, and so on. It's all pretty cool.
Having finished I then met my brother David, who wasn't running due to his being ill that weekend, chiz, and we both waited for his daughter Isobel who came storming in like a good 'un. Once I'd dropped some stuff off at my car I went back to meet the group, now augmented by my sister-in-law Amaryllis, and we all went and got lunch from Wilf's Café, one of the two caterers on site. Wilf's is famously good and I've been hearing about it from David for years, so it was great finally to experience it. Wilf's had plain wholesome delicious food in large quantities, nice staff, and ferociously efficient organization, so that the large and initially daunting queue was actually snaking through at an impressive rate. I had delicious chili which was very much just what the doctor ordered.
This was also very nice because we were sitting in their new car, a Toyata Prius (or Pious as Becca's Bad Car Dude friends would cruelly but amusingly have it) and it was good to have a chance to admire (and indeed covet) it.
Eventually it was time for this pleasant interlude to end and for us to go our separate ways - David's family back home and me off to help as I had signed up to do.
My job was to help with relay team entries for the next day. Lots and lots of relay team entries. Many had already been done online but there were amendments to these, as well as late entries and cancellations, so actually there was a huge stack of forms to check and enter.
I must admit that the remainder of the afternoon was not one of the most pleasant of my life. On the positive side, it was very good to be involved and to feel that one was actually helping the JK to happen. There was also a nice sense of cameraderie and teamwork among the helpers, who included several acquaintances from my club, HH. On the negative side - well, everything else really. It was cold and miserable in the tent and when the wind blew it wasn't just a bit blowy, it made you question whether the side of the tent was coming right off. The work itself was OK but the computer system was giving the poor IT people a lot of trouble (hoho, I'm off work today!) and so we had lots of waiting to do. My hands got so cold that they really hurt. It was a great relief when we'd entered and checked everything that could be entered or checked, and were told we could go - so I did. A worthwhile but not pleasurable experience. (I'd do it again, mind you.)
I found my way out, this time avoiding the tiny road which, it turns out, was forbidden to competitors - oops. (Boring discussion deleted.) The Mitsubishi tanked round the M25 like a new car and in no time (crob crob went the mighty chromed twin exhausts etc) I was home and regaling my enchanted family with my dramatic orienteering tales, er, or something.
I ran in the JK! I, me, Vogel, fat'n'fifty, ran in the JK! I am seriously chuffed! Yeah babay.

An eventful weekend III

Saturday, 22 March 2008

What happened on Saturday? I haven't a clue!
Obviously it was very eventful, then.

An eventful weekend II

Friday, 21 March 2008

IMG_8676 We had Eggs Benedict for breakfast! Completely delicious. Ty Rosa has a wonderful breakfast on offer and it was very tempting to just start assembling your own version of the Full Welsh from the impressive list of possible ingredients. What then really caught the eye, though, was the opposite page, bearing an impressive collection of Dishes With Proper Posh Names, with the said er er Benedictine deliciousness prominent amongst them. I am sure that you know what Eggs Benedict is, but I didn't, so for the record (and with particular regard to my failing memory) this was a muffin (a proper English one, please see this) with bacon and a fried egg stacked on it, then on top of everything a generous ladling of piquant, lemony, lovely hollandaise sauce. Oh, and a portion was two of these, which is very pleasant.
IMG_8653 After breakfast, a brisk walk down to Cardiff Bay which these days is the height of regeneration and trendiness, assisted by a barrage which holds the water back at permanent high-tide level. Not fair on mudflat-loving birdies but excellent news if you like steel and glass restaurants with balconies and shiny tables and chairs out the front. I must admit that, despite my sympathies with the birdies, I do rather like the bay in its present form. Some of the new building is terrific, and the dockside heritage stuff seems to have been well-treated and is a wonderful part of the townscape. We admired the waterfront, visited IMG_8657 Torchwood's sculpture and the area of its invisible lift (couldn't find it), got nearly blown over by high winds, and had a coffee in the spectacular, inspiring Millennium Centre.
On the way back my childishness about a road name caused us to stop to take a photograph.
Back at Ty Rosa it was time to bid a regretful farewell to the lovely Stuart and Paul - but we'll be back! - and set off for Schloss Lottie.
The rest of the day was a blend of packing, dozing, another very nice lunch at the Grape and Olive, and, eventually, setting off back to London with Lottie, Kat and a certain amount of Lottie's stuff, though not a monstrous quantity - that'll be the summer get-out! The car, by the way, went like a good 'un all the way home.

An eventful weekend I

Thursday, 20 March 2008

IMG_8643 I took a day's leave: after Deb finished her morning teaching we drove down to Cardiff. There was bad traffic and we were a fair bit later than we'd hoped. The car was a bit worrying, not so much at speed but much less trustworthy when stopping and starting. Its very rough low-speed running and tendency to stall made city centre driving a bit more interesting than I really wanted.

We went to hear an excellent concert, from the Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society, at St David's Hall. Wagner Meistersinger Overture, Strauss Four Last Songs, Brahms Requiem. Fantastic soloists, choir and orchestra very good, Tim Taylor in the driving seat with his usual efficiency and good communications. This was a very nice, musical, enjoyable concert and I'm very sorry that, with Lottie finishing at Cardiff soon, it's probably the last such that we'll hear at that particular hall.

I'm not sure if it's bad to have favourites. However, whilst the two big pieces were excellent (and I know that Deb was particularly taken with the Brahms), it was the Strauss that really melted my heart: a stunning performance from the fabulous soprano Gail Pearson, Taylor and his fine band.

We also heard the college song, which is actually quite fun, and an extra work by Alun Hoddinott, the latter inserted as a tribute to the composer, who had died very recently and who was a former head of the Cardiff department.

At the concert we also had the pleasure of Kat's company, she having arrived in Cardiff on Wednesday.

After this terrific evening's music we went our separate ways, the young persons to the post-concert party and Deb and I to our B&B.

IMG_8644 The said B&B was utterly excellent. Billed as "Cardiff's Only Exclusive & Gay Boutique Bed & Breakfast", Ty Rosa is a pleasant house, with Tardis-like properties, in a quiet street. I so wish I'd discovered it years ago as I would never have stayed anywhere else. Hosts Stuart and Paul are really nice people and we appreciated their kind, warm welcome. Oh and their dog Max is a sweetie. He's some kind of rather large black labrador cross and is the perfect chap for amusing and schmoozing the guests, but is also extremely well-behaved and knows when to stay away: I suspect that if you were dog-phobic, and mentioned it, you would probably never see him.

We'd got the impression that our late arrival at the B&B meant we'd only be able to have bar snacks, having not ordered dinner. (We'd hoped to eat earlier with Lottie but had run out of time, just seeing her for a minute before the concert to say hello and to meet Kat.)

However, as soon as we'd arrived, Stuart was offering us pretty much the whole dinner menu and brushing aside our concerns about the lateness. Thus reassured we ordered a sumptuous, delicious dinner: Deb had a slightly-spicy lasagne and I had a beautiful, creamy chicken and tarragon pie, the memory of which is still making me smile right now. Yes indeedy.

Our room, right up at the very top of the house, was as comfortable and cosy as you could wish - oh, and wonderfully quiet too. The house is not on a major road, but it is a bus route, albeit not perhaps a frantically busy one: nevertheless it was very peaceful there, and in particular it was more so than at home. Very nice.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

How to pronounce Reveille ...

How to pronounce Reveille - in the context of the bugle call, at least - is apparently a big draw for this blog. Or so my friend Mr Google and his trusty Analytics tell me. I am a little bemused by this but I think it's rather nice too. If you popped in just for this purpose, welcome, and especially if it is around 11th November or 25th April.

So, to save you faffing around, and if you really don't want to read through 74,000,000 pages of me ranting about annoying companies, yoghurt, nice walks, etc (how could you not?) then here is the link which will take you straight there:

Reveille, the bugle call, how Vogel thinks you should pronounce it (clue: not in French...)

I hope this small public service has been useful to you.

PS Please note that I have not here opened the Can-o-Worms™ which could be labelled Really Reveille? or perhaps A Rouse By Any Other Name. It will only frighten the horses. Really.

PPS I've added a note on pronouncing Rouse; hope it helps.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ - the StoneDex™

Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ day 4

Thursday, 21 February 2008

IMG_8529-rev We weren't in a great hurry to leave the comfy, welcoming cottage or the wonderful oddity that is Avebury. So in fact we didn't hurry but packed up, locked up and wandered along the village and round some of the stones for one last look. We had a coffee in the National Trust cafe and another look round the shop (I still managed to resist all the tree books) and eventually it was time to get moving.

IMG_8574-rev Soon enough we were back in London. This was a truly great break: thank you Lottie for sorting it out and everyone else for being so nice about our absence!


Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ day 3

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

IMG_8552 Deb took Daisy on a short walk round some of the stones while I bimbled around at the cottage a bit. One rather major thing that they saw was the National Trust making preparations to remove a tree from the edge of the ditch, quite near us, in the southeast quadrant of the circle. There are quite a few trees around the earthworks and they look rather gorgeous but apparently this one was too close to the edge - indeed a bit over it - and, as signs all over the place bear witness, there is an erosion problem. This particular tree was presumably part of the problem and had to go. Deb and Daisy watched them doing loads of work, getting ropes onto the tree and tensioned by a pair of Land-Rovers so that the tree would go the right way once felled: this was presumably to avoid it falling into the ditch which I suppose would perhaps be bad in terms of damage to the site, and would certainly be a big problem when it came to removing it.

Sadly the walking party missed seeing the tree felled, because they'd got fed up waiting and walked on. So it was a great irony that, doing nothing much back at the cottage, I suddenly heard a great noise outside and looked out of the window just in time to see the whole thing come down. It was quite a sight, and most unfair that Deb missed it. (I am not sure, however, that Daisy minded too much.)

With all that fun and games over it was time to set off for today's walk. Having done Avebury in detail on Monday and a lovely walk with lots of, er, Neolithicism yesterday, we decided to do something a bit different today. This was Country Walking's route 2473, Stairway to Heaven, which mildly amusing title will be explained in a paragraph or nine. The walk was a circular route starting in Devizes, the pleasant market town visited briefly on our first day. It was nice to have the opportunity to see it again.

One entertaining if slightly confusing element of this walk was that Country Walking had rather cleverly managed to publish the GPS waypoints in the wrong order, so that if you were foolish enough to use them as your primary guide to the route (which would actually be difficult as well as unrewarding) you'd find yourself doing the whole route backwards. However, I usually only use the GPS data for backup and reassurance, as the map leaflet is nicer and more informative. So the bad order was a bit disconcerting for a moment or two, but not more. I assume that the ability my GPS has, to reverse a route, is common - so once you have realized what the problem is, it is pretty rapidly sorted.

I should add that I did drop Country Walking an email about this once we were back. Most amusingly part of it was written backwards, aha, and in fact the magazine were so amused that they were clearly too busy laughing to reply. Aha. Marvellous.

IMG_8455 This was actually a rather good walk. We parked in a nice place by the canal then walked through Devizes' very attractive town centre (market place, pretty alley with old houses, churchyard) then out into the countryside. When a walk includes a town of any size, it's pretty inevitable - unless you're very lucky with its layout - that it will involve a perhaps slightly boring suburban bit and so it was with this one. Not dreadful or anything but a bit of an interlude between the charm of the town centre and the beauty of the countryside. Soon enough, however, the road becomes a lane then a track and peters out into a footpath and suddenly you're out of town. This was very pleasant - not spectacular but just nice open views over broad valleys and low hills.

Particularly good moments on this walk included a rather pretty school in a converted mill and, close to it (and perhaps connected?) a field with two llamas, or alpacas perhaps, in it. These fascinated Daisy and indeed us, with their synchronized movements so they almost looked as if they were connected.

IMG_8486 After that there was a lot of very pleasant open walking on old tracks, and Daisy at one point went off after deer, but came back like a Good(ish) Dog. Next, in the village of Poulshot, we visited a lovely pub, The Raven, where they serve excellent beer directly from big wooden kegs behind the bar. Despite the date it was easily warm enough to sit outside and we had their lovely stone-walled beer garden to ourselves. A delightful pause.

Then came the walk's final and (for me) crowning glory, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal. As a kid I did a couple of sponsored walks to help fund the K&A's restoration. As far as I can remember this was because a friend of Dad's at work was involved; whatever the reason, it seems to have triggered an abiding interest in canals. Naturally I still have a particular soft spot for the K&A. When I knew it as a kid some parts were navigable - I remember a nice bit near Bathampton, where they offered boat rides - but other places were quite dry, sometimes little more than a broad green ditch. Thus it is a great pleasure to know that it's now entirely navigable so you can get to Bristol from London, via Bath, in a canal boat. This is very, very cool.

But even as I was doing those walks and wondering when this pound or that aqueduct would be restored the Caen Hill flight always seemed to be the big issue. This group of 29 broad locks had been derelict for decades and it was always clear that its restoration was going to be a massive challenge. Well, fast forward a bit and it's done - you can stand at the bottom and look straight up this long flight and imagine the effort and money that it must have taken to get it back into use.

It's a very imposing site but not conventionally beautiful. I know other flights of locks, probably on older canals, which curve their way down pretty hillsides and seem quite integrated into the landscape. Caen Hill does not do this. It just blasts through, straight up the side of the hill with not a hint of a curve: it reminds you that the canals, notwithstanding their present-day quaintness, were an industrial development, and time was money. This flight, built I think later on in the canal development era, doesn't apologize for anything as it charges confidently, perhaps even arrogantly, up the hill. It's very impressive.

IMG_8500 It's also straight and regular enough that you get interesting and weird perspective effects as you look up it. To really capture these I'd need a better camera and then the better camera would need a better photographer: however I will put an attempted photo here so you can at least see what I mean. Apparently LTC Rolt remarked that it looked like "the backbone of a huge fish". (I wish I'd said that.)

We stopped to eat lunch once we were about a third of the way up the flight. Each lock in the central group of 16 has a huge pound off to its side, because otherwise there wouldn't be enough volume in the short stretches between each lock and you'd be unable to regulate the water level sensibly. I think that what I mean by this is obvious, but if it isn't, please say so. Anyway, it means that the total expanse of water is huge, and it gives you these very nice pond-like things to sit by or admire. So for our lunch break we crossed over by some lock gates and found a comfortable bit of wall to sit on, and it was all very pleasant.

IMG_8498At one point a swan took off with the usual ponderous drama from the pound uphill from us. I was just saying, "I hope it clears those cables" when it flew gracelessly right into them with an audible thunk-twang. Fortunately it did not seem injured as it more or less bounced off and continued its flight, feathers just perhaps a little ruffled - and how often do you get to write that non-metaphorically?

IMG_8513 Lunch duly lunched we pressed on up the hill and Devizes gradually came out to meet us, and the walk ended with a very pleasant urban towpath bit leading us back to the quay where we'd started. This was a very fine walk of great charm and variety and I'd gladly do it again, especially with the GPS data in the right order!

In the evening we watched on DVD the entirely wonderful The Third Man - I'd forgotten how brilliant this film is. Deb was also pretty clearly impressed by the several minutes of it for which she was awake ... and that was pretty much it for Wednesday.


Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ day 2 supplement - Children Of The Stones

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

cots One little diversion during this holiday was our watching, over two nights, the Seventies cult kids' TV series Children Of The Stones, which I'd brought with on DVD. I think that I vaguely remember it being on TV at the time, but I'd pretty much forgotten about it until a detailed discussion with Treasa, who is a mine of information on this stuff. The even spookier Paperhouse came up too but that, though far from irrelevant, is another topic (but yes, I got that DVD too!) Is this a good moment to mention The Stone Tape too? Hmm, perhaps not, mad cultism alert.

Children of the Stones, though, is very much Avebury through and through, although it is thinly disguised as the fictional Milbury. It's a pretty spooky place and some scary stuff takes place there. Sinister goings-on at the manor house, as you might expect. Basically it was a low-budget attempt to cash in on a sort of Dr Who-ish, Quatermass-ish feeling, and actually it achieves that rather well. They shot the whole thing, seven episodes, over just one fortnight in the very hot summer of 1976. It does make Avebury look very beautiful although I'm not sure that it would be wise to let younger visitors see too much of it before a holiday here, lest they have trouble sleeping. Or go a bit weird about the stones. Or scream when villagers try to say hello to them. Or something. Please note that I have tried not to give away too much of the story here but if you really want to spoiler yourself up something rotten, then please try this, this, this, this, or this. Or, better, ask me to lend you the DVD, assuming that this is physically and administratively easy.

Of course, it is low budget, and in any case seems quite unsophisticated compared to, say, the Dr Who of 2008 - so, not exactly a completely fair comparison, then, but you know what I mean. If you accept it for what it is - unbelievable shiny hair-dos and all - then it's really very enjoyable and its age and budget do nothing to detract from this.

htv_west One thing that excited me greatly about Children of the Stones was the realization that its music was by the late, great Sidney Sager. This isn't surprising as Sidney was, as far as I recall, Head of Music for HTV West, Harlech Television's Bristol-based (and English-speaking) operation who made this series, so I guess he was the obvious composer to use, but I'd forgotten this till I saw his name in the credits. I was very fond of Sidney, who conducted the Bristol Youth Orchestra up to its abolition in 1973. (This was when Bristol lost its youth/education functions to the new County of Avon and the BYO was replaced by the shiny new CASO, more of which some other time. Likewise, more of Sidney and the BYO sometime as I can't do him justice here.) He was a superb musician and a very, very nice man. Anyway, the series has splendidly melodramatic Sager music - apparently he was inspired by Penderecki or something, and a choir do scary or creepy shouting and whispering and whoops and voops at all the right moments. Good stuff, well done Sidney: you were a star.

So anyway, that was the watching of Children of the Stones, that was, and a very pleasant and relevant little entertainment it was.

As an aside I must add that I was somewhat baffled, or amused, or something, that none of the gift shops seemed to have the DVD of this series even though they were pretty well-stocked with locally-connected stuff. You'd think it might sell quite well. I wondered if this was just a lack of awareness, or deliberate policy ... and if the latter, is it because locals hate it, or they don't want to spook the kiddies, or what ... or is it perhaps because it's all true? (Cue distant, deranged laughter.)


Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ day 2

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

IMG_8350 We were up early today and took the dog out for a warm-up to get everyone's walking reflexes established. It was a lovely misty morning which of course greatly enhanced the stones' spookiness - having them looming at you out of the greyness is really quite something.

Added to that of course you have the usual problem of wondering if the stones are moving quietly around while you can't see them. Although none of them appeared to have actually moved any closer to the cottage overnight, clearly it will be wise to keep an eye on them ... eventually we stumbled our way back to Fishlock's for breakfast and to prepare for going out on a (slightly) more serious walk.

Today's walk came from Country Walking magazine and its excellent website. (Update: currently closed for rebuilding: it'll be interesting to see what emerges.) This was walk number 1639, "Where Ancients Trod" - it's classed as "moderate" and is a not-too challenging 6½ miles (10½ km) of extremely pleasant strolling.

IMG_8351 We left Avebury by the southwest corner and headed south, straight down the east bank of the River Kennet, which here is not much more than a pretty little stream. (Please see the top photo.) Very soon we passed the fascinating and brilliant Silbury Hill, a 40-metre high manmade mound, the highest of its type in Europe. The walk passes it - a couple of hundred metres off, with good views - and doesn't try to visit it. This is just as well as it's shut at present while they sort out damage caused by generations of archaeological exploration - it was getting into danger of collapse and they now need to stabilize it and fill up all the old tunnels. (Update: the work is finished and it reopened in May this year but you can just park at the visitor centre and look - you can't go on the hill itself, and indeed you haven't been able to for many years.)

IMG_8353 After passing Silbury we crossed the once-main road, the A4: nowadays a bit of a backwater with the M4 taking most of its former trade, though it's worth noting that what little traffic it still had was moving pretty fast so you really wouldn't want to cross incautiously. From there a gentle slope led up to the excellent West Kennett Long Barrow which is really most impressive. It's not that high but is very long and has a wonderful commanding site with views over the rolling countryside.

Back down the same path we continued along the valley side, roughly parallel with the A4 but at a good distance from it. Pretty paths and lanes through fields and a diversion south and east through the tiny hamlet of East Kennett led us in an wide arc so that we again crossed the road after another mile or so.

Just at this crossing stood the Sanctuary, once another impressive monument and now a sad collection of little wooden marker posts to show where things used to be. You need a serious application of what the late and lovely archaeologist Vince Bellamy called the Eye of Faith if you're going to make much of the site, though to be fair the inevitable interpretive board does offer help. Why the monument is in this sad state I'm not sure: I could speculate about the usual suspects but it wouldn't be polite and anyway I dare say that the board knows.

From the Sanctuary it's just another quick but cautious crossing of the A4 and you're into the second half of this excellent walk. We were at the very start of the Ridgeway, a very fine neolithic track which goes all the way from here to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, taking in many miles of lovely upland countryside as it does, hugging the tops of ridges (ah you guessed) for much of the way. It's a wonderful experience - the combination of the antiquity and the incredible feeling of space and landscape is really something special.

I don't feel qualified to comment on the legal or environmental issues surrounding the status of this route. Do feel free to look it up, though, if you feel so inclined: I think it's a RUPP or a BOAT or something, at least in part. The bottom line is that at some (drier) times of year we might have found ourselves sharing it with offroad-ish cars and bikes and to be honest I'm not sure I'd want to, though clearly those people have rights and views too ... hmm, tricky. Anyway, right now it's February we're dealing with and nothing is going brmm or chug along there at all. J. Gooders.

IMG_8381After walking up the Ridgeway for a while we stopped for lunch. One brilliant feature of the landscape here is the "hedgehogs" - these are neolithic barrows each with its own little beech wood perched perfectly on top. In the otherwise-unwooded countryside these make a very distinctive sight, and we walked just a hundred metres or so off the Ridgeway to go and sit on one of them.

This was a completely fabulous lunch. There was a bit of leftover food from last night and this steak, cut wafer-thin, anointed with the onions and a bijou hintette of mustard, made truly exceptional sandwiches. Sitting there on our hedgehog I was, frankly, blissed out. One of those perfect moments.

IMG_8394 The break over, we regained the Ridgeway and set off again. I was astonished when Deb found a beautiful patch of frost, all lovely spiky crystals, in a sheltered bit of vegetation. I can't guess how this one place managed to stay when everywhere around seemed so warm, but it was a fantastic thing to see.

A bit further on we came to a splendid junction, where the Ridgeway, or perhaps THE Ridgeway, is crossed by the Wessex Ridgeway long-distance footpath, a youthful upstart in comparison. Bidding the Ridgeway farewell we turned west down this, starting a long descent down a delightful, shallow valley. It was, as it had been for the whole walk, sunny and gorgeous and this was a very fine section of the route.

One weird thing towards the end of the descent was the path's surface: we couldn't understand whether this new, very white path was a recent resurfacing job now finished, or whether it was awaiting its top coat, or what. I rather hope that it was the latter, for the surface as we saw and walked it was quite the stickiest I've encountered. It was a sort of hyper-claggy chalky clay which was moist in situ on the path. However once on your boots, clothes or border collie it dries and hardens into an amazing kind of Neolithic concrete. To remove it you're talking less J-cloth and more Black & Decker. Worth avoiding, but maybe by now it's buried under a layer of something less alarming: who knows? No, Tamsin, it was a rhetorical question, don't be silly.

IMG_8400 All too soon, the Wessex Ridgeway led us back to Avebury and the end of this lovely landscape loop. In fact, it's rather a splendid ending for us because the path becomes a track then a little road then, passing through the henge, ends up taking you right up to Fishlock's front door. There's something very nice about living actually on the walk you're doing (c.f, for those with long memories, the very nice Hawes cottage of our maybe 1966 and 68 family holidays, whose front doorstep was directly on the Pennine Way. Rather good.)

Anyway, there we were arriving back at our excellent cottage and the day was still relatively young.

One very exciting diversion which took place towards the later afternoon was a visit from two helicopters which landed and took off, several times, in a field just outside the henge's southwest quadrant. These were very beautiful and made a fine and fascinating sight viewed from a convenient earthwork. I don't want to labour the poetic point too much (nor indeed, Tamsin, should I overegg the omelette and yes Colin I will also endeavour to keep my powder dry thank you). But here's the kit of parts; do with it as you will: helicopters new, henge old. Off you go.

IMG_8411 Anyway (anyway) I watched the aircraft for a while and it all made for excellent spectating. One of them, with the rather good registration G-PIXL, was obviously carrying cameras and was in the livery of FlyingTV, Mike Smith's specialist TV helicopter company. The other was in civvies, had no cameras that I could see, and was carrying a smartly dressed passenger: guessing wildly I imagined that both the glamorous passenger and her helicopter were actors, being filmed by the camera ship. But then what do I know? Quite. Whatever exactly it was they were doing, it was all rather interesting and wonderful to watch for a while, before they packed up and flew off. Splendid.

IMG_8387 In the interests of balance I should add that the Hound Gänseblümchen does not agree with me in this matter of helicopters, their beauty and fascination. Indeed no. She finds them noisy, visually intrusive and extremely threatening. Not quite as bad as kites, perhaps, but not at all good. Her blog would probably say "Big Sky Bird Eat Good Dog Damn Quick", and have photos of good armchairs for hiding behind.

We also had a bit of a wander round the village and a look at its few shops. It's all very pretty. The National Trust, as custodians of the site, are well-represented: they have a nice shop and café and a superb, massive barn which serves as an exhibition space. Rather a good setup, in fact.

In the Avebury National Trust shop - a very fine example of the type! - I had the most acute difficulty not spending money, lots of money, on books about ... well, stuff in general and trees in particular. This tree thing or perhaps thang is something which I should explain, but not now Tamsin. Suffice it to say that there were several interesting-looking books, ranging from coffee-table lushness to academic simplicity, that I'd very much have liked to buy. Their subjects ranged from general surveys of all trees, or interesting/old trees in the UK, to much more specific profiles of particular types of tree. All very nice and tempting but for a change Sprengel, the Imp of the Left Shoulder, was kept a safe distance from my plastic cards so financial catastrophe was avoided and I remain, so far, unenlightened about the intimate personal life of the English oak.

That night we had dinner at the Red Lion in Avebury, all of a minute or so's walk from our cottage- this was quiet (maybe too much so), and had very nice staff, and we had a perfectly good meal. I felt a bit brave and complain-y because I sent my beer back as it tasted vile. They were very nice about and replaced it with something very much more palatable.

Later we finished watching our DVDs of the cult kids' classic Children of the Stones, a matter to which I shall return in another blogological entity.

This was a most excellent walk and day.