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.
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.
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...
Biddulph Grange is also a wonderful place to walk around and escape from Brexit for a while...
Sometimes, I get a visitor from next door...
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...
The 50 year-old radio telescope is only a short drive away. Every month or so, at least during the winter months, they put on a guest lecture; the Lovell Lecture. Named after Sir Bernard Lovell who conceived and built the thing. It's majestic. Many many years ago, I remember winning a trip to be one of a small group of people who were walked up into the dish to see what it all looked like up close and personal. For the life of me I cannot think why I didn't take a camera with me. Anyway, on an autumn night, making your way to the Visitor's Centre for the talk, it's still impressive:
Yesterday I had to perform open heart surgery on the bath mixer tap. In trying to do the Best Possible Job...I misguidedly squirted some lubricating spray onto the cold tap before reassembly. The result being that, today, I showered in a dilute solution of hot WD40.
I smell a bit odd but, on the upside, I don't think that my shoulder clicks quite as loudly when I reach around to buckle in the seat belt.
Trying to capture some of the gorgeous autumnal colours, we splashed around dodging raindrops for most of the time. You can never be quite certain of the friendly welcome you will get at the Wordsworth Hotel. It's always friendly...but the extent of the friendliness afforded on each occasion is difficult to pre-judge. This time they were friendly AND they'd lit a fire.
On Saturday there was time to visit the gingerbread shop and re-stock.
Then it was off on the bus to the pretty township of Hawkshead and then tea and cake in the Minstrel's Tea Room. Mind your head going in to the gents toilet here - unless you're one of the male leads in Game of Thrones then you might just get away with it.
That's a shot along one of the pretty streets in Hawkshead.
A bus change in Ambleside and we were back in Grasmere in time to walk up to Allan Bank...
On Sunday morning there was time for a walk around the lake before heading home - the M6 was blocked in both directions so it took a bit longer than expected!
...is in Salford Quays, opposite the Beeb:
Mark & I spent several hours looking around. It was my first visit, and I was impressed. Many thoughtfully laid-out exhibits covering everything from pre-WW1 through to the Cold War and, more recently, conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They even have a Trabant:
One of the final things that we came across gave real pause for thought - a steel girder section from one of the twin towers.
Seeing that right in front of you, and contemplating the ruin and shattered lives that are intertwined in its twisted framework, puts some of the day-to-day stuff that seemingly frustrates us into perspective.
Sometimes it's important to take a scientific approach.
Almost time to enjoy the full dahlia display at Biddulph Grange Gardens again. I went this week and they're not all out yet, but I still got a few decent shots [bear in mind; decent = decent for me].
It was a lovely sunny afternoon:
...and the gardens, as always, looked beautiful:
Some of the dahlias were in bloom:
Always good to get over to Denmark for a few days to re-visit old friends and catch up with a few of the gazillions of concerts that take place over the 10 days each summer that is the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.
The driverless metro trains from the airport into the city are fast (15 min.), clean and...take a bit of getting used to:
They're not keen on drones near to the barracks by the botanical gardens :)
I was spoilt by my friends:
Copenhagen, on a sunny day, is as beautiful a city as you could wish to visit:
The music was fun and interesting. I'm not musical - never have been...but I have grown to appreciate the magic of musical expression and the way that people who may have only recently met for the first time can produce fantastic sounds and energy together that constitutes way more than merely the sum of their individual talents.
Anoushka Shankar produced a stunning set at the wonderfully designed Koncerthuset. The auditorium, which seats 1800, is constructed entirely of wood and is suspended. This means you have to walk through a contraption like you have between adjacent railway carriages to get into it from the foyer/bar/restaurant areas. It's way more swish than that sentence suggests. If you're ever in CPH go see it.
And go see the Opera House next to the water too. That's amazing. No, really, it is. It's just out of shot on the right hand side of the picture above; the one looking out to sea. That's not very helpful to you is it.
During the festival, it pays never to forget...
Come to think of it, that's worth remembering permanently.
Tivoli Gardens were such an unusual blend of sunshine, families & cool people, lushious plants, rollercoasters, ornamental lakes, cafes, live music, good food and old-school arcades and shops. My first time inside on this visit...
Just opposite Notre Dame, on the left bank, you'll find one of the most remarkable shops, and one of my favourite shops, in the whole world. It's a bookshop - to say more than that is pointless. If you like book shops just go and see it. Spend time there and absorb everything the place has to offer. Then go to the cafe next door and have some coffee...and mull over just how remarkable it is. Then let me know if you think it is too :)
...was all it promised to be and then some. Here's the man himself - this portrait shot is in the entrance to the toilets!
A few days in France and an opportunity to visit somewhere I've always wanted to see - Monet's garden.
This isn't Monet's garden - we stayed in Pigalle on this visit. It's a new part of Paris for me so it was fun to explore a little.
Dinner at a Lebanese restaurant...as you do in Paris.
...and breakfast at the local Le Pain Quotidien.
On by train to Giverny which is a lovely little village:
You can find Monet's grave in the churchyard:
The church is very lovely too:
Dinner at a local restaurant gave me a chance to witness the best ever Gallic shrug:
Then there were the Macabees on their final tour together at the Apollo. Great night and great music:
Later that same month...there was an evening with Eddie Izzard at The Lowry, listening to him talk about his new biography.
He was as funny and erudite as always - and I got a signed copy of a real book. I hope I can remember how to read one of those things.
June was busy. A visit to Liverpool Arena to see Phil Collins at the beginning of the month was just fantastic. He had to spend 95% of the gig sat down (long story involving surgery) but he played a fantastic gig and the band were truly excellent. I'm so glad I got to see him - it was a fine fire sing-along evening and, despite the size of the place, a great atmosphere.
Also a shout out to the Arena...every time I've been there, irrespective of crowd size, the staff have been plentiful, polite and made each gig an even greater pleasure to attend. Thank you.
Ack...it's been a while. I'll fill in June's stuff over the next week or so. Meantime...
Last week the wonderful Jackson Browne came to town. Well, by town I mean Manchester. A standing ovation when he walked on stage was the prelude to a wonderful evening's music. To me, he seemed a bit weary - he still gave 100% but as this was his last gig on the current tour we can forgive him that. Fantastic, well- crafted songs sung with that distinctive voice, together with brilliant guitar playing by David McCallum's son Val and Greg Leisz made for a memorable evening.
Last night it was back to Old Trafford Cricket Ground for my first Radiohead gig. It was busy! They played to tens of thousands and the atmosphere was intense. You could never say that I'm their most ardent fan although I did recognise some of the songs :). A good time was had by all and a runner at the end to the Metrolink stop one up from the ground to then double back to where we'd left the car was a master stroke. I think we'd still be waiting in the queue to get out of the ground now if we'd exited by the main route.
One Republic are a fine band to see/hear live.
I cashed in some Hilton points in exchange for a visit to Abbey Road studios and an opportunity to listen to them performing there.
The Paddington Hilton was welcoming and provided a drink in the Exec. lounge while waiting, and waiting a bit longer, until they found a room (which, in the end, turned out to be a nice upgrade so a gazillian thanks for that).
Kensington Gardens were lovely on a sunny afternoon:
...and contained some hungry parakeets:
Then it was time to go back to the hotel and made further use of the free bar and free food whilst the AAA passes were sorted:
Then by coach for the short trip to the studios. I cannot begin to describe the feeling walking into that place. So many of the things that mattered, musically, during my lifetime happened in one of those three studios.
To see some of the old analogue equipment, stare at the pictures covering the walls & tread on the parquet floor that many famous Rubber Souls have trodden on...
The band this time were just great.
After the coach ride back there was more free booze on offer for the professional party animals - I was happy enough with the 3 month Spotify premium code though.
Just for a couple of days, to take a few pictures:
The breakfast was delightful:
The daffodils in the Wordsworth Garden were long past their best but there were some compensations:
Here are a couple who were totally wrapped up in whatever images they were looking at on the phone he was holding:
I took it at Allan Bank - one of Wordsworth's many homes. Now run by the National Trust, it's one of the loveliest, cozyest and interesting places you could wish for. Also, they have red squirrels. Major props.