Backfill #2

Copenhagen Summer Jazz Festival was again blessed with (fairly) good weather and, although my stay was only a short one, I took in lots of concerts in several very different venues

Then it was back home and straight down to Cornwall where, again, we were spoilt with 5 days of lovely weather and gloriously relaxing places to visit, eat and drink.

That’s a shot from Smeaton’s Pier at dusk as they’re landing the lobsters.

I can recommend all of these:

Porthmeor Beach Café [book a booth well in advance and watch the sun go down)

The Mex

The Seafood Cafe

Peppers Pasta & Pizzaria

The Firehouse Bar & Grill - they say they have >240 gins available and I actually believe them. I asked for one of my favourites, Sacred Gin, not widely known outside London. They replied “Which one would you like?” Impressive. Book a window table upstairs and watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks - oh, wait, that was last year (and will be again this year as it happens).

We found the Lost Gardens of Heligan - they are about an hour’s drive from St. Ives and so worth a visit.

I’ll add a bit more about Cornwall in the next post.

Backfill #1

I’ve been to London a few times - once to an office with a great view

That’s my view of Brexit, right there ————>>

 

Another time, I took in an Edvard Munch exhibition at the British Museum This guy took a bit of finding…but there he was:

Then a short visit to Copenhagen.

The metro trains are driverless so I always fight viciously with all the little kids waiting on the platform at the airport stop so that I can get the front seat.

We went to see/hear a concert at the Royal Arena. My first visit there - and what a delightful venue to grace such a wonderful concert.

Mark Knopfler getting up under those coloured lights to do his thing..

We enjoyed a little wine and took a walk in the park.

I’d be back in Denmark for the Jazz Festival within two weeks, to see my friends Otto and Bent, but before that it was back home and up to London again for an important day in the City reflecting on the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the role that industry has in ensuring that we deliver them. The expression on my face might suggest it wasn’t such a good day, but it truly was.

Betley Local History Society

I should have mentioned this before - I’ve been a committee member for the Betley Local History Society (BLHS) for over a year now. You can find out more about us here. We organise regular talks and occasional visits and exhibitions.

There’s also a blog where, in addition to posting about topics that, I hope, are of general information for our members, I also try to capture some of the flavour of those talks and presentations that I attend.

Having grown up in Betley, and now taking a little time to reminisce about the place and the people who lived there, makes my involvement with BLHS that much more important.

Brain surgery

There's a subject line you don't write very often.

I'm trying to get back into reading for pleasure. Reading almost exclusively for work over the years, and reading newspaper columns (even well written ones) has taken so much time… now I need to relearn the pleasure of just getting lost in a book.

I've just finished Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Here's what I thought about it:

A haunting and powerful read that eloquently relays, contextualises and describes the human side of being a brain surgeon. You need particular character traits to stick with that job and Henry's narrative is both gripping and profound yet rarely over-emotional. How else could you cope with the kinds of discussions you need to have day in and day out in that line of work? Yet the book is uplifting in so many ways, and the author's stories and self-descriptions in harrowing situations, both personal and professional, will stay with me for a long time. It's a very good book.

Liverpool M&S Arena

Liverpool had a party last weekend when The Reds, crowned as Champions of Europe the evening before, enjoyed an open-topped bus parade through the city on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We, however, had rolled into the city to find the Q-Park multistorey behind John Lewis, eat at Wahaca’s and bop around to Mumford & Sons. They didn’t disappoint. Take a bow Marcus:

mumford

Update

Nothing has changed - the mantra associated with Theresa May - should no longer be repeated, at least by her, after yesterday’s departure. The next few months promise to be rough on those of us who feel democracy is not best served by allowing our future course to be dictated by swivel-eyed rhetoric from Tory leadership hopefuls as they try to compete in their increasingly fraught race-to-the-Farage end of the party, seeking to appease around 100,000 mainly old white men who have the final say in the run off ballot.

And don’t get me started on Corbyn; just don’t.

In other news I had a lovely trip to Copenhagen in the Spring - here’s Tolboden in the sunshine.

Tolboden

I’ve been to London a few times - look…

Piccadilly

I’ve spent time in committees at the Royal Society of Chemistry, including starting work on a review of the Chartered Chemist professional status which will take place over the next 12-18 months.

Here’s an eager audience awaiting one of my gripping talks there:

RSC

I’ve walked around Bathpool Park many times, but not many enough to make any serious impression on my gently expanding waistline.

Bathpool

Monthly visits to Rode Hall Farmer’s Market provides the ideal excuse to take a look around the gardens and watch the seasons changing.

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It’s pouring with rain today but there have been a few sunny mornings to enjoy:

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The annual visit to the laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden never disappoints:

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It also provides the perfect excuse to spend some time in Conwy - a town that has vivid memories of all the days I spent there as a child when on holiday in nearby Llandudno with my mum and dad.

conwy suspension bridge

Grasmere

A warm sunny contrast to yesterday’s showers, Grasmere is resplendent in spring greenery and blue bluebellry.  

 

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Grasmere from Allan Bank

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Bluebells near to Rydal Water

Maybe I should try live-blogging in the sunshine more often  😊

Xmas 2018

As in previous years, if you’ve been spared the annual Christmas newsletter in the inevitably too-small-enveloped card, here’s a recap of some of the things I got up to last year:

The most important bit first - this year was marked by a very special occasion - Mark married Brittany. It was a fairy-tale wedding ceremony in a  castle by Lake Garda on a beautiful sunny day in late September. Welcome to the wider Skerratt family Britt - you and Mark will have many, many happy years together. This, I know.

That’s my Christmas present, right there.

As for me…I’m still on the committee of the Local Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and I write this on the way home from chairing a meeting of the RSC’s Environmental Chemistry Group. I also managed to find my way onto the committee of the RSC Water Science Forum and the Energy, Sustainability and Environment Division. If that wasn’t enough, I’m also an elected member of the RSC Professional Affairs Board. Yep, seems I’m all in on the RSC at the moment. Don’t tell them, but I’ve moonlighted carrying out some professional body licence reviews for the Science Council and I’m also now a member of their Registration Authority. I also reviewed a couple of interesting legal cases for the Environment Agency which kept me busy...but not too busy to continue working with the Nantwich Museum Research Group and the Betley Local History Society. The former is interesting because Nantwich is a lovely old market town with an interesting history, & Betley is where I grew up. Membership of the latter also gave me an excuse to go to spend a wonderful summer’s afternoon at Betley Show for the first time in donkey’s years.

Lucky with the lovely weather for an all-too-short holiday in beautiful Cornwall and a couple of energetic weekends tramping around charming Grasmere in the Lake District, R&R-time was immeasurably enriched by the annual visit to the splendiferous laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden which was in full bloom at the end of May when we dropped by. Go and see it; it’s amazing.

Less jet-setting from me this year - must be my age! The annual visit to the summertime Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and a flying visit in April to a concert at the Jazzhus renewed old friendships and left First Direct aghast at the amount of money I could spend in Copenhagen restaurants in 72 hours. A glorious visit to N. Italy at the end of April to see the fruit blossom, sample the vino and stock up on olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and speck was bettered in September with the most wonderful of weeks in Malcesine for the wedding. 

Seen and heard during the year…in January we went to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child - a truly brilliant production and worth buying tickets for well over a year in advance. Also, if you’re ever close to Piccadilly Circus and feel hungry, seek out Brasserie Zédel and enjoy the great food, reasonable (for London) prices and amazing décor. I must make a note not to start buying tickets for things too far in advance…says he, having just purchased tix for an Elton John gig in Nov. 2020. He’s on my bucket list, OK? I also had a lovely evening reminiscing during the Barclay James Harvest 50th anniversary gig in May - they were one of the first bands I ever saw live and that was back in 1971. They were so good I went to see them again a few times over the next year or two but fell out of the habit, so it was wonderful to catch up.

Other (separate) memorable evenings spent with Don McLean, Paul Simon, Ralph McTell and Jools Holland rounded out my musical treats during 2018.

Just before Christmas last year a local National Trust property - Dunham Massey - transformed their large gardens with a Christmas light show. Spectacular and magical, so good was it that a follow up visit this year is booked.

I laughed all the way through separate evenings with Bill Bailey and Dara O’Briain, two of the funniest and most talented entertainers around. Either can lift my spirits and carry me through the most turbulent times. Speaking of which, I went on my first demo in 47 years when, along with 700,000 other assorted citizens of nowhere, we marched in the sunshine for a People’s Vote. If you’re a Brit, whatever your views on Europe and whatever political changes have taken place between me writing this and you reading it - which could indeed be profound, we probably deserve a day or two’s respite over Christmas. So let’s do that.

Whatever happened to...

 ...well, whatever happened to ‘me’ really. I’ve been a mixture of busy and lazy for the last 6 months. No excuses.

The Xmas letter is currently being written and I’ll post it on here later in the month. It’s a short one this year - there’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened but I can’t bring myself to believe that, as time moves on and in the current political climate, you’d be too interested in me recapping each of my pretty sunsets in distant lands.

Much will happen during the next couple of weeks that will dictate our country’s direction of travel for years to come. Whatever happens, it’s likely that we’ll be stuck with our Remainer and Leaver labels for the rest of my life and a bit longer besides.

All very depressing and un-Christmassy...and our politicians continue to play parlour games.

History will not treat most of them kindly.

 

The Colonel's Walk at Rode Hall

 

A returning Wilbraham, home from the Crimean War, must have gained immense pleasure in later life from walking along this avenue at Rode Hall. It's like being in another world at this time of year - the scent, the sounds [the hum amplified by the hidden bee hive half-way down on the left!] and the dappled sunlight through the yellow canopy.

I could get my step count in just walking backwards and forwards :)

 

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May already (the month not the robot)

After last night's thunderstorm, today promises to be an unbelievably warm and sunny second May Bank Holiday in England. There's a specialist plant fair being held just down the road so that'll need checking out.

In other news, chairing some licence reviews for the Science Council at the Association for Science Education, the British Society of Soil Science, the Royal Society of Biology, the Institution of Environmental Sciences and the all-embracing Institute of Mathematics and its Applications has kept me busy over recent months. Committee meetings at the Royal Society of Chemistry for the Environmental Chemistry Group and the Water Science Forum filled in a few of the other blank days. I also fitted in a site visit to Swanage - the last time I was rhere was with my mum and dad about 55 years ago. I bet it hasn’t changed much although, these days, I can barely remember places that I went to last week let alone when I was a kid.

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Attending a meeting in Exeter gave me the perfect excuse for a long train journey and a first visit to the city centre. The area around the cathedral is very pretty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a really nice Moroccan restaurant there too...well, in Exeter what else would you eat?

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I splurged on a trip to Copenhagen to catch up with two old friends and listen to Kenny Barron play the piano. Always a pleasure - here's a picture of his feet - 2 belong to Kenny and 1 belongs to a friend.

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This year I managed to time a very long weekend in the S. Tyrol so I hit the fruit trees at peak blossom.

Just wonderful.

Some of my favourite music on a Monday evening

It's probably some of my favourite music anytime really but what's a headline between friends. Here's what I listened to this evening...

The East German government of the time got waaaaay more than it bargained for when Bruce was invited to perform:

https://youtu.be/WBIcfPBVxxQ

He played to a gazillion people in East Berlin the year before The Wall came down. Just look at the pride in his body language singing Dylan's Chimes of Freedom...and it may be just my romantic sense of nostalgia but there seems to be a real sense of urgency coming through from the crowd.

Needless to say he gets an ovation :) And this performance helped inspire young people to make a change. And that was remarkable then, and it will for ever be so.

Next up is Lindisfarne. I saw them live once in the mid-70s. Wonderful gig...I remember us singing along and dancing together to songs like this:

https://youtu.be/Z9QjyTAxPMs

 

'I've made some mistakes,

Had my share of the breaks'

 

Indeed I have...

 

Then there's Elton & Bernie's Sacrifice. Turns out he recorded this in Denmark where, coincidentally, I shall be at the end of this week.

Here he is doing it solo...well, ok, it's a smart piano but I still think it's brilliant.

https://youtu.be/RLFJARmnBvg

 

Speaking of Denmark, I still get the shivers hearing Procol Harum's Gary Brooker's voice in these opening lines, sung with such feeling:

https://youtu.be/St6jyEFe5WM

Only in Denmark would you have a full orchestra and a breathtaking open air venue in which to enjoy a song like this... but we'll have to make do with YouTube.

 

Cat Stevens made the best love song ever:

https://youtu.be/wsk5MJeV5Qc

 

A lovely feel-good song that's always guaranteed to make me smile from Kenny Loggins & Jim Messina:

https://youtu.be/nqayWZN0zLA

 

'Count all the bees in the hive,

Chase all the clouds from the sky'

 

The best outro ever is this masterpiece from Mark Knopfler:

https://youtu.be/Uf9ANwp1LcM

It takes you from quiet soulful melancholy, through aching anticipation, to total ecstasy in less than 5 minutes. Quite an achievement.

Alan Clark's piano stirs the soul in the finale but look at the way drummer Terry Williams deals with that monster kit from 6:46 in to the end. Just heroic. You can see him say, just before the final note, "Effin' good one'. Couldn't agree more.

And just in case you were in any doubt, here's another version:

https://youtu.be/k7eRGKJKVB8

Perfection.

Finland and I

I can still remember the first visit I made to Finland, with a work colleague, over 25 years ago. That was before the Finns joined the EU and I would get my passport stamped at immigration when we arrived in Helsinki.

We left Manchester in the afternoon light and arrived in the cold, dark Helsinki night. I had no idea what to expect. Within 2 hours of landing I had learned that there were big, comfortable Mercedes and Volvo taxis with the latest satnavs and one truly excellent hotel that I've subsequently returned to many times.

I know now that they do have other excellent hotels too :)

I've made some very good friends in Finland over the years and I’ve been well schooled in the country's complex and convoluted history.

In the depths of winter even the Finns struggle when there's no snow to reflect the light and brighten the place up a little. The few days that I was there at the end of last year were so grey and so bleak, it was such a welcome relief when it began to snow.

Back in Helsinki after 2 days in Hämenlinna it snowed some more, and I wandered around the city doing touristy stuff like I was Bill Bryson.

It'll be nice to be back there when the days are longer.

Some pictures...

Smoked garlic...

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A nice sunset... 

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A bendy building... 

 

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A cool reflection... 

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Another one... 

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Swanage - which, coincidentally, is where I'm off to on Monday...

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Dunham Massey Christmas Lights

A belated post, but it was a foggy evening’s drive up to Altrincham where, I think for the first time, the amazing National Trust property that is Dunham Massey had been transformed into a sound and light show spectacular. It took over an hour to walk around the gardens that I'm more familiar with in summertime. For Christmas, they had been transformed onto a magical, fairy-lit world.

It was cold, but not windy or raining, and the mist swirled around the displays and the illuminated trees and bushes.

I hope they do it all again next year - if you want to go you’ll need to book a date/time slot as soon as you see the event advertised.

Pictures don’t really do it justice, of course…but here’s a few anyway:

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Housekeeping

Things may go dark for a short while while some domain-shifting takes place. Hopefully, all will be back to normal in a day or two.

Xmas 2017

For those spared the inevitable Christmas letter-in-with-the-card...here's the abridged version. Normal service [and backfilling some of the posts that I should have written up before the end of the year] will be resumed shortly. No, really.

Another busy year for me…or maybe it’s just that it seems that way these days! There was some evaluation and ‘rapporteur’ work in Brussels for the European Commission in January followed by wrapping up my 4-year stint as external examiner at the University of Hull. Already a member of the committee of the local section of the Royal Society of Chemistry, I’m now also on the committee of the RSC’s Environmental Chemistry Group. It’s lovely to spend a few days a year in their HQ with all its tradition and grandeur. It’s also right across the road from Fortnum & Mason – result!

I’ve enjoyed working with the Nantwich Museum research group during the year – helping them to put on an exhibition focused on the town’s River Weaver across the summer.

I managed a lovely holiday in Cornwall with embarrassingly glorious weather, and a couple of trips to Paris. During the Paris visit in August, we took a day to visit Giverny where Monet painted so much of his best work. The garden flowers, along with the pool and the water lilies, so memorably captured in his paintings, assaulted the senses and the soul with such exquisite colours and scents that I really didn’t want to leave.

In September Robyn, Mark and I visited the site on the Belgium/France border where, 100 years ago to the day, my grandfather had been so badly wounded during WW1. It seemed fitting, and the short evening service of remembrance at the Menin Gate was all the more poignant this time.

Who’s he been to see and hear this year you may ask? Maybe? Well…Paul Carrack, Van Morrison, Ruby Turner, Al Stewart, The Beach Boys, Mew, Sigur Rós, Phil Collins, The Maccabees, Jackson Browne, Coldplay, Radiohead and Justin Hayward…that’s who - with Jools Holland again just before Christmas. All were good in their own way, although Radiohead took a bit of getting used to.

Who else did I listen to and watch? There was Jimmy Carr, Richard Herring, Derren Brown (with Robyn & Matt), the amazing Penn & Teller, Eddie Izzard and, last week, Brian Cox and Robin Ince with their Christmas Compendium. I wasn’t sure we’d make it to the latter as the train stalled 20 min. outside Euston when the overhead power lines came down, but we made it on time in the end and enjoyed it, despite having to forego dinner.

Recently, I took an overdue trip to Finland to catch up with some old friends that I’ve not seen for too long, and, earlier in the year, a couple of visits to Copenhagen to listen to some jazz and catch up with slightly newer friends there. Next week it’s the annual pilgrimage to the S. Tyrol to check the glühwine  and stollen situation – vital pre-Christmas work requiring attention to both menu details and credit card spend in equal measure.

Mark and I went to the Imperial War Museum North in September – a very enjoyable first visit for us both. Elsewhere in 2017, a couple of days at the local spa, a visit to the Photography Show at the NEC and return visits to the National Archive in Kew to do a bit of family research. We managed a couple of visits up to Grasmere in the Spring and Autumn as well to take the air (and the rain) and also to take pictures of the lovely daffodils and, later in the year, the stunning autumn colours.

Robyn and Mark will both be around over Christmas to keep an eye on me – whatever you’re up to have a great Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

…and Mark adds:

Wow, can’t believe anther year has gone so quickly. This year has been excellent; I managed to go to Australia with a couple of school friends for 2 weeks camping out in the bush. We travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney camping in a 4x4 which was brilliant. I also went to California where we went to a couple of National Parks (Yosemite and Sequoia). We also went to San Francisco and a few places in between – it was a fly-drive holiday. Even managed to have some wine tasting in Napa Valley, I think my dad would have preferred it to me but it was enjoyable. I’ve definitely got the bug for driving around America, we are planning our next trip already if Donald Trump lets me in! I’m also heading to Canada this coming week for a short holiday- visiting Toronto and then driving to Niagara falls and a few other spots. 

I also got engaged to my long-term girlfriend Brittany. We are looking at getting married in Italy at Lake Garda - a place called Malcesine - in September next year all being well. I’m still at Network Rail in the Control Centre looking at condition monitoring equipment and assisting the Fault teams in Stafford, Stoke and Nuneaton for the Signal and Telecoms Department.

I hope you’ve had a good year and have a really enjoyable Christmas. 

National Trust

I"m lucky in having some lovely NT properties close by. Little Moreton Hall can look so pretty on a sunny day. It's currently being repainted and shut for another week or two - here are some memories of summer days...

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Biddulph Grange is also a wonderful place to walk around and escape from Brexit for a while...

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Sam

Sometimes, I get a visitor from next door...

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London

I've made a few trips down to London across the summer. Meetings at the Royal Soc. of Chemistry, next to the Royal Academy, are handy because that's right across the road from Fortnum & Mason's. I can nip out at lunchtime and stock up on teabags. F&M teabags might seem like an indulgence. It's a long story and don't judge me. The Maille shop is just up the road as well so I get to sample the new mustards that have arrived and buy many too many little pots of exotically flavoured Dijon variants to keep me going 'till the next trip.

Anyway...a few pictures, taken at various times over the last few months...

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And if you get a chance to visit  Hampton Court  then I'd do that too:

And if you get a chance to visit Hampton Court then I'd do that too: