Monday, 23 April 2018

Marillion Cambridge Corn Exchange

Situated right in the heart of the city is a new venue for me 'The Corn Exchange'. The building was opened in 1875. A quarter of a million local bricks were used in various colours. Today the venue can hold a capacity of 1849 attendees. In fact it has been over 20 years since Marillion last played at the venue.

I didn't venture in for the support band for once as I caught up with a few old friends beforehand in the bar. How time flies when you are reminiscing and drinking beer! I will mention at this stage the distinct lack of photos.. Yes I had another run in with an over officious steward and it got a little heated. I wouldn't have minded so much but I did check on entering that it was acceptable to take a few pics for the blog. No problem as long as I didn't record. However as soon as I tried to take a photo the aforementioned steward appeared like a bald genie out of a lamp shining his bloody torch at me. He then spent the rest of the night glaring in my direction and frowning a lot..... So to clarify the pictures you will see are not great but better than nothing . I did rather well to get anything at all really.


 The set list was going to be a chunk of the new album F.E.A.R which was played in it's entirety at The Royal Albert Hall last year. Along with a selection of songs from what 'H' (Hogarth) describes as 'the broad sweep of what we've been doing over the last 30 years'. He had already remarked that looking into the crowd he could immediately see that the IQ level was raised compared to most  other venues.

Hogarth enjoys bantering with the audience 'This is a deeper song' he announces.  'That doesn’t make it better. Just deeper.' Also his nine-year-old son is in the crowd so is banned from using the 'F' word as it will embarrass him.  'It's only fair really as I feel the same when he uses it'.

Two of my favourite songs made the setlist 'Afraid of Sunlight' and 'Real Tears for Sale'.

As always seeing Marillion live you are unlikely to see anything from the 'Fish era' of the band. However for the second encore and the final song of the night we got a rousing rendition fitting for the location 'Garden Party'. With it's references to 'Punting on the Cam' Couples loitering in the cloisters and champagne corks firing at the sun it is a perfect ending for a band that really don't know any other way. 

Full Set List
  • El Dorado I Long Shadowed Sun
  • El Dorado II The Gold
  • El Dorado III Demolished Lives
  •  El Dorado IV FEAR
  • El Dorado  V The Grandchildren of Apes
  • Power
  •  Quartz
  • The Party 
  • Seasons End
  • Living in FEAR
  • Cover my Eyes (Acoustic excerpt)
  • Real Tears for Sale
  • The Leavers I Wake up in Music
  • The Leavers II The Remainers
  • The Leavers III Vapour Trails in the Sky
  • The Leavers IV The Jumble of Days
  • The Leaders V One Tonight 
  • Wave
  • Mad
  • Afraid of Sunlight
  • The Great Escape
  • The  Release
  •  Easter
 Encore 2

Garden Party

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Ridgeway Walk - Vale of the White Horse

This was a leg of the Ridgeway that I was particularly looking forward to. Once it was again to be a circular walk starting off at the village of Ashbury in Oxfordshire. The rather boggy footpath took us past the parish church of Saint Mary, originally Norman but was rebuilt in the 13th century. Quite unusual to see a white stone church! Next port of call was the village of Compton Beauchamp before veering off up Woolstone Hill towards the Ridgeway.

We had already had some tantalising views of White Horse Hill in the distance. The White Horse at Uffington is believed to have been cut into the hillside around800 BC. From the  summit there is a good view of the flat topped 'Dragon Hill' . Believed to be where St George battled and slew the dragon.
The horse itself is one hundred metres long and best viewed from the bottom of the valley. There are a number of other hillside horses but this one is generally regarded as the best.

The White Horse with Dragon Hill in the background
Passing the ramparts of the Iron Age Hill fort of
Uffington Castle we head towards the next landmark  'Waylands Smithy'. Thankfully the forecast rain showers have held off and it ia starting to warm up a little but no sunshine...
Waylands Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow. A burial place for important ruling families built around 2800BC.The name 'Wayland' comes from the Saxon God of Smiths. The Blacksmith who made the shoes for the White Horse of Uffington.

Continuing along the Ridgeway which is quite uneventful after all the previous excitement. We then take the Bridleway  towards the village of Bishopstone. There is a large village pond and some lovely footpaths , once of which was taken in error. The landscape is quite interesting leading down to Bishopstone with the 'Strip Lynchets'. I had too look up what exactly they were.'A lynchet is a bank of earth that builds up on the downslope of a field ploughed over a long period of time. The disturbed soil slips down the hillside to create a lynchet They are also referred to as strip lynchets

Strip Lynchets

From Bishopstone after the false start we head towards the Hamlet of Idstone where once again we go slightly wrong. Finding ourselves on the wrong side of the footpath. It was either a long walk back round or  navigate the brambles and barbed wire fence... We decided on the risky option only crawling under the barbed wire fence rather than climbing over it. Unfortunately I seemed to have crawled through a patch of stinging nettles resulting in my arm swelling massively. 
Thankfully the rest of the walk back to Asburypassed without further injury or incident . The length of the walk was in the region of 12 miles and a well deserved pint was in order. The drinking hole in question was the 'rose and Crown' where a pint of Arkells  'Hoperation' IPA (4.5%) accompanied by pork scratchings went down very well.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Ridgweway walking - Tring Station to Aldbury Nowers

Easter Sunday and the driest day of the holiday so time to put away the chocolate and get out and about. Our starting point was just down from Tring Railway Station. Near to Ivinghoe Beacon the official starting point of the Ridgeway but that will keep for another day. We walked along the Grand Union Canal which runs from the River Thames in Brentford, up through the Chilterns. From there onto Birmingham where it finishes some 137 miles later. Originally it was the Grand Junction Canal , opened in 1805 and went from Brentford to Braunstone, Northamptonshire to link with the Oxfordshire canal. The path took us past plenty of fisherman before raising upwards above the canal. Lots of free range hens going about their business on our right before arriving in Bulbourne. Crossing the railway bridge we picked up the footpath opposite Folly Farm making the climb towards Pitstone Hill.

To our left were the old chalk pits, much of which is now filled with a bright turquoise coloured water. The path climbs ever upwards and after all the recent rain is very heavy and muddy going. As you reach the summit of Pitstone Hill there are some great views and the first glimpses of Ivinghoe Beacon come into view about a further kilometer away.

 From the summit of Pitstone Hill we picked up the Ridgeway which was Marina's first introduction to this historic trail. The path takes us through the beautiful Albury Nowers nature reserve (a site of Special Scientific interest). The site hosts the flowers of chalk grassland and has butterfly habitats with several different species of butterfly including the Duke of Burgundy, hairstreaks and the Essex skipper.


 We descend our way downhill and have the option of turning off to the village of Aldbury which was tempting as there is a nice pub there. However we continue onwards to Station Road linking Aldbury to Tring.A kindly landowner had provided a permissive path along the side of a field which we followed back to our starting point.


It was a shame not to have seen the picture postcard village of Albury with it's duck pond and the original stocks and whipping-post which still stand on the village green next to it. So we had a little drive up and I enjoyed a fine pint of Badger Best Bitter (4%)to quell the thirst from all the walking.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Steven Wilson - Warwick Arts Centre

I've never seen Steven Wilson before , or been to the Warwick Arts Centre at the University of Warwick. So a first in different ways. Parking was good, free after 5pm in the multi storey on site. We had a good couple of hours to kill before doors and we had reserved seats so no rushing around tonight.

Off to the Student Union bar 'The Mucky Duck' it was then. I have to say three very nice pints of 'Wye Valley' 'Goddess' Golden Ale (4%) went down well. Not much studying going on in there I can tell you.   
As expected the audience the audience was largely made up of males over the age of 40. I set my wife a challenge of trying to spot 10 teenagers which with some effort she just about managed. (2 females as well).

I confess that I am not an expert on Steven Wilson.I know that he was with 'Porcupine Tree' and before that  'No Man'. A self taught multi instrumentalist, a Producer for a 'who's who' of
'prog rock' royalty. The Daily Telegraph described
him as the most successful British Artist you've
never heard of. After a career spanning 30 years and numerous awards he is justifiably known as the 'King of Prog Rock'. 

At this stage I will mention the absence of photographs..No sooner had I got my camera out than I noticed a tap on my shoulder. Strange place to put a tap I thought .... A stewardess
 warned me that photography was prohibited and I would be requested to leave if I continued. I queried this draconian action during the interval and was told that it was not the venue but the artist who had made the request. No doubt to stop people filming the entire concert I suspect.
This tour is to promote his 5th solo album 'To the Bone'. 8 tracks from the album are played.

 As you would expect the musicianship is of the highest quality.
 I was surprised how much he spoke to the audience as I always thought he was quite reserved. He spoke about how he has never labelled his music as a particular genre. His love of Prince and David Bowie. Listening tonight I am struck by the Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel influences. It is about a three and a half hour concert all told with a 20 minute interval.  As with watching Dream Theater there are parts that are very 'instrumental' and lengthy. For someone not well versed in the back catalogue it can be a case of persevering until those moments of something explosive detonate and all is good again.There were 6 Porcupine Tree songs thrown into the mix culminating with the wonderful and melodic ' The Raven who refused to Sing'. In the week we lost the wonderful Ken Dodd who liked a long show, you get the feeling Steven Wilson would happily stay and play all night if he could.

Full Set List

Intro ('Truth' short film)

Set 1

Nowhere Now
Home Invasion
Regret #9
The Creator has a Mastertape
People who Eat Darkness

Set 2

Arriving Somewhere but not Here
Song of I
The same Asylum as Before
Heartattack in a Layby
Sleep Together


Even Less
The Raven that Refused to Sing

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Walking the Ridgeway - Princes Risborough

 Third leg of the Ridgeway walk and to be honest it's been a bit disjointed so far. A short leg done at Avebury and another via Wendover woods. Todays route is a circular one of about 12 miles close to Princes Risborough.


Three dogs in tow today so should be interesting ! Our starting point was by The Plough Public House in Lower Cadsden. From there we got straight on to the Ridgeway.The route only skirts the town and part of it also involves a short distance along the busy A4010 . There is a nice viewpoint at Whiteleaf Hill which is also a nature reserve.


 Our downhill walk leads us into Brush Hill also a nature reserve. Habitats on the site are chalk grassland, woodland and scrub. flora include wood anemone and wood sorrel. Going underfoot is very 'cleggy' with all the recent rain and snow. There is beautiful scenery along the way though and the skies always seem to have a Red kite circling above. We even passed a windmill.

Some very nice properties too hidden away amongst the woodland in what would be a very expensive part of the country no doubt. Standing proud in the woodlands were several Sequoia trees which are very similar to the Giant Redwoods seen in California. The bark is soft and spongy, so much so that you can punch it and not feel a thing. Apologies to the tree , I never meant to hurt you....


Several Deers were spotted including Roe and Muncjac , unfortunately the dogs tended to find them first and most were running at speed in fear of their lives. 'Have a look at those interesting fungal growths on that tree' my companion said. Undettered by the wire fence,logs, brambles and roots I clambered onwards and promptly fell on my back. Next thing 'Archie' the Box Terrier is on top of me licking my face.... Could it be any worse?

Another fine mess !
  Grim's Ditch - (Grim's Ditch, Grim's Dyke (also Grimsdyke, Grimes Dike or Grim's Bank) is a name shared by a number of prehistoric bank and ditch earthworks that accompany the Ridgeway. The purpose of these earthworks is a mystery but it really isn't difficult to conjure up images of ancient travellers or drovers along the same routes.


Friday, 2 March 2018

Land Rover 4x4 Off Road Experience

Don't be deceived by the clear blue skies , the weather was bitingly cold! Our venue was Rockingham Castle out between Corby and Market Harborough. I was really only keeping Marina company as it was her driving experience. However I was asked to make sure I had my driving license with me. During the briefing our instructor 'Graham' insisted that I had a go. Despite getting my excuses in early including; 'well actually i'm full of cold', 'i've never driven an automatic' and i've never even watched Top Gear' he wasn't put off, simply saying 'you'll be fine'. I wasn't so sure but it looked like he wasn't taking no for an answer anyway.

The Land Rover Experience team, who provide the equipment, supervision and training, are in a unique position to offer a wide variety of terrain, from disused sand and stone quarries to woodland, boggy lowland and rolling countryside. Our vehicle of choice today was the Range Rover Evoque. I was more than happy sitting in the back of the vehicle and occasionally jumping out to take a few photos.


As well as being a fun and enjoyable experience it was also about learning the capabilities and getting the best from the vehicle. This included 45 degree hill descents and climbs , driving through deep water and ice and driving on steep banks.

  And then it was my turn. I didn't feel at all nervous surprisingly even looking down from 'Holy Hill'. I say looking down but actually I couldn't actually see over the bonnet. A leap of faith if ever there was one!.

It is called 'Holy Hill' as people have been known to suddenly come over all religous and start saying a few prayers.. 

Getting down steep hills is a doddle using the 'hill descent' feature which applies traction to all four wheels automatically maintaining a constant speed and applying brakes to each separate wheel where required, increasing the vehicles capability. At the same time resisting the urge to hit the brake pedal. My biggest problem wasn't to disengage my left leg with it being an automatic . I found that I kept reaching for the gear sick which of course wasn't there.

I really enjoyed the experience and Instructor Graham said that I had done very well ! Although perhaps not as well as Marina ..

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hot Yoga (with Harry)

Half Moon Pose
It was with some trepidation that I set out for my first ever 'hot yoga' experience. The mood wasn't helped when I initially went to the wrong location and ended up rushing to make it for the start time. I had heard about this 'hot yoga' thing on Radio Northampton where the instructor and general guru Harry was extolling the physical and mental therapeutic benefits. Before the start, the room is heated to between 30-35 degrees  with humidity mimicking the climate of South India where most forms of yoga were originally practices. I managed to find myself right next to the heaters.... Made a mental note to arrive early next time. Harry teaches the Bikram series which is a dynamic sequence of 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises. It is the type of yoga favoured by ex footballer Ryan Giggs which he says helped to prolong his career. Also future Royal Meghan Markle is a big fan.

 Benefits: Half Moon Pose strengthens every muscle in the body’s core, especially in the abdomen, and flexes and strengthens the latissimus dorsi, oblique, deltoid and trapezious muscles. It increases the flexibility of the spine comprehensively, from coccyx to neck; promotes proper kidney function; and helps to cure enlargement of the liver and spleen. Half Moon also firms and trims the waistline, hips, abdomen, buttocks and thighs.

I was worried about my flexibility following back and knee surgery. However each posture has an entry level to it and as the body opens up with continued practise deeper and more advanced versions can be reached. 'Practising yoga isn’t about being perfect and neither is life. You do the best you can and sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days'. Better to do 10% of a posture 100% correctly than to try to do 100% of a posture only 10% correctly!  
That is the mantra according to Harry.

Tree Pose

It wasn't long before I was sweating buckets , but that is good ! It is encouraged as it is the natural bodily function of our largest organ, the skin and is an immensely therapeutic and detoxifying process. I must be doing good things because my yoga mat has become like an ice rink with the amount of moisture being soaked up. ...
 Benefits: The Tree Pose improves posture and balance and increses the flexibility of the ankles and knees as well as the hip joints. By strengthening the internal oblique muscles, it prevents hernia.

Balance, particularly for the standing exercises proved to be my biggest weakness. Several times I completely lost it and keeled over. There were clearly others in the group who were no strangers to yoga , hot, cold or lukewarm. One lady told me she was a former gymnast! I was extremely grateful when Harry said we ha finished the last exercise and were now about to finish with a relaxation exercise. That was my favourite part I must say, but overall I felt good and it had been enjoyable.
Not too bad for a first attempt.  

Triangle Pose
The following couple of weeks seemed a little better, especially as I was now as far away from the heaters as possible. Not to say that I didn't still sweat like a 'goodun'. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after yoga is a good idea. When it got tough I kept reminding myself of the benefits of every muscle, joint, ligament and tendon in the body being worked. There are great benefits too for the immune system , respiratory system, the metabolism, reducing stress and anxiety as well as increased strength and flexibility. 
 Benefits: It improves every single bone, muscle, joint, tendon and internal organ, and it revitalizes nerves, veins and tissues. Flexing and strengthening the last five vertebrae in this posture can alleviate crooked spines, as well as rheumatism and lower back pain. Triangle Pose also benefits the heart and lungs, forcing them to work together.

 I've now done a full five sessions and whilst nowhere near perfect I definitely think that i've made significant improvement. I hope to continue and feel that I am on my way to becoming a fully fledged 'Yogi'. In Harry we trust !