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 in-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 :)


Source: about:blank

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.









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?


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.



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:


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:



'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.



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


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:



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



'Count all the bees in the hive,

Chase all the clouds from the sky'


The best outro ever is this masterpiece from Mark Knopfler:


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:



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...


A nice sunset... 


A bendy building... 



A cool reflection... 


Another one... 


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


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:



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...


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...

 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:

Jodrell Bank

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:


Taps and washers

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.

Back to the Lakes


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!

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The Imperial War Museum North

 ...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. 


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:

 You can't see the Heliotrope too well in this shot but the scent was strong and the colour electrifying.

You can't see the Heliotrope too well in this shot but the scent was strong and the colour electrifying.


Some of the dahlias were in bloom:


Copenhagen Jazz Festival

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...

Shakespeare & Company

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 :)