Tuesday, 10 October 2017

'Blowers' Althorp Literary Festival 2017

'Blowers' 'My Dear Old Thing'

Enjoying some sun
The 14th Annual Althorp Literary Festival and my second visit to the event. Regulars may recall my seeing 'Paul Gambaccini' last year. This year the Festival has moved to a later date in the early Autumn rather than mid Summer. This years contributors include; John Challis, Judy Murray, Pam Ayres, Chris Ryan, Clare Balding, The Rev Richard Coles and Henry Blofeld. Personally I think I prefer the Festival at this time of the year but it was a nice day and I might think differently had it been a howling wind and driving rain. A lovely day though for a wander through the grounds taking the 'Roman' approach of going wherever we pleased until told otherwise....Rather than the 'Napoleonic' approach of waiting to be told where one can go and must not go. Walking past the marquee we bumped into 'Bernie Keith' of Radio Northampton who was with 'Rev Richard Coles'. Richard had been on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing show the night before and was talking about his varied life from pop star to Parish Priest.

''The Oval' Lake

Our walk talk us to the 'Round Oval' as the lake is known, constructed in 1868. The summer house at the lakeside was bought in 1901 by John Poyntz, Fifth Earl Spencer, from Admiralty House gardens, London, for the sum of £3.00 and moved to the south of the Round Oval in 1926. It is now dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, with a central silhouette in black marble upon white marble, and on the left a tablet with a quotation from Diana on her willingness to undertake charitable works.


It is said that Princess Diana is buried on the island since her death in 1997. My wife for one would argue differently though believing Diana is with her father in the Church at Great Brington. Who knows? Certainly not me that is for sure but personally I think I would rather be on the lake surrounded by the birds and flowers.

'Round Oval'  from The Summer house

The Wendy House
We made our way back to the marquees and the crowd passing the outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and games room and it was almost impossible not to conjure up images of Diana enjoying herself growing up in this idyllic landscape. There was also probably the largest Wendy House you will ever see! I'm sure you could live in it.

It was time to start queuing for Blowers, only there wasn't a queue so we walked straight in sitting close to the front. Blowers has recently retired after over 40 years of broadcasting with TMS (Test Match Special) as well as writing for many other publications. He explained that at the age of 78 he felt that it was time to hang up the microphone before someone possibly suggested it was time to. He told tales from the commentary box both home and abroad paying tribute to colleagues past and present. After which he gave a question and answer session from the gathered audience. 

 As the questions started to drop off someone asked a horrible question about standards dropping off and some of the new TMS  team not being as good as the old ones. It was clearly an embarrassing moment for both the interviewer and Blowers. I thought that asking a follow up question about Pigeons would lighten the mood once again which it did. He told me afterwards that he very much liked my question. Afterwards came the chance to get his new book 'Over and Out' signed by the man himself.

We made our way out as the sun started to set on another Althorp Literary Festival. A lovely setting once again and the chance to take a few more photos of the house and landscape. Walking down the tree lined drive the stags in the fields had started their rut, Squirrels darted across the grass hurriedly hiding their stash off sweet chestnuts and acorns before winter arrives.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

UFO - Northampton Roadmender

At  last seeing UFO was finally going to happen , it had been a long wait. For a variety of reasons, cancellations, illness, holidays to name but three we have consistently avoided each other over the years. And there have been some years ! Vocalist Phil Mogg, guitarist Mick Bolton, bassist Pete Way, and drummer Andy Parker formed the British metal outfit band in 1969.Originally known as Hocus Pocus, the group, which took the name UFO in honour of a London club, debuted in 1971 with UFO 1.

Even better then that the gig should be taking place in my home town of Northampton. Particularly as we have only jetted in from Menorca a few hours previously. A nice surprise was to find that Wayward Sons were the support band. With former 'Little Angels' frontman Toby Jebson the new album 'Ghosts Of Yet To
 Come' has been getting a lot of airplay on Planet Rock.

They did remind me in some ways of 80's UFO and went down very well with the crowd. Set list as follows;
By the time UFO hit the stage the Roadmender had filled up very nicely. Being on the front rail it was difficult to tell how full and I wasn't moving. It was a bit of a shock to see 'Veteran' Phil Mogg with his shaved head, something he later drew reference to by saying 'it was brought to his attention that one publication stated that he now has a 'shiny head' ..... All very different from the 80's heydays. My worry was that his distinctive voice may well have voice may well have gone the same way has his hair?


 I needn't have worried as the band launched staright into 'We belong to the Night' from the 1982 album 'Mechanix'. This was followed by 'Run Boy Run' from 21st and the latest album (2015) 'A Conspiracy of Stars'. One of two tracks taken from this album on the night. The first 'big song' was the fourth one 'Lights Out' which got the crowd rocking.


This was followed by another classic 'Only You can Rock me' and ''Burn Your House Down' from 'Seven Deadly' (2012).Vinnie Moore has been Lead Guitarist since 2003. On Bass is another American Rob De Luca, Paul Raymond on Rhythm Guitar and Keyboards and Andy Parker on drums.


 In my opinion it was a great set list with two more crackers back to back 'Love to Love' and 'Too hot to handle'. But the best was yet to come with two of my all time favourite songs. The final song before the encore was 'Rock Bottom' with Moore showcasing just what a fantastic player he is. The band returned to the stage to treat us to 'Doctor Doctor' before finishing the set with 'Shoot Shoot'. A truly exceptional evening and one that will live long in the memory . I can at long last say I have seen UFO !

Bassist Rob De Luca
Goodnight from Phil Mogg

Set List
  • We belong to the night
  • Run boy run
  • Ain't no baby
  • Lights out
  • Only you can rock me
  • Burn your house down
  • Cheery
  • Love to love
  • Too hot to handle 
  • Messiah of love
  • Rock Bottom
  • Doctor Doctor
  • Shoot Shoot

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Menorca 2017 - Random selection

Turtle Dove

It was lovely to see this little fella very close to our hotel amongst the bushes.The Turtle Dove is a dainty thing, smaller and darker than the collared dove and slightly larger than a blackbird. Its upperparts are distinctively mottled with chestnut and black nd its black tail has a white edge. They havebecome increasingly rare following rapid and sustained population declines. One cause of the decline is thought to be lack of seed and grain as food during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season. Not to mention being a target for hunters during migration.The species is now included on the Red List of conservation concern.

Menorcan horses
Taking a different route off the 'Cami de Cavalls' provided some intersting wildlife and scenery around Sant Tomas. The Menorcan horse is very impressive or Cavall Menorquí if you prefer.

A couple of Marina , notice my homemade seating arrangement on the beach ! 


This beautiful yacht was crusing along the coast as I made my way to Son Bou.

Menorca 2017

Back again to San Thomas on the south coast of Menorca for some sunshine and relaxation. At least that was the plan. Had to travel with the back-end  of a heavy cold that was not enhanced by the air pressure in the plane cabin. In fact I arrived at the airport in a state of semi deafness....

This time we had a better view from our room which was on the first floor and looked over the swimming pool down the coast. We were on the best side of the hotel meaning that we had sun on the balcony until it went down which was always spectacular.

 It was also great to see our friend from last year again who were out for 2 weeks. Weather was very mixed with some heavy rain , thunder and lightning all thrown in. I would say that we had about 3 very good sunny days and a couple of overcast ones. Thankfully much of the rain was overnight.
 It was on one of the overcast days that we decided to hire a car and visit the previously unexplored northern side of the island. Once we had sorted the workings of the handbrake we set off to Fornells , our first port of call. I say port , it is actually a harbour in the traditional fishing style.

Fornells was closely linked to the need to fortify and defend its bay which was constantly attacked by pirate ships. In the 16th century. The existing watchtower was found to be inadequate so in 1625 King Phillip IV of Spain ordered a castle to be added. This project was not successful due to lack of funds. In 1637 the building project was recommenced as the castle of Sant Antoni. in 1782. King Charles III of Spain then ordered the partial destruction of the castle and all that is left of the military past of Fornells is the watch tower on the headland, outside the village.

Lots of nice restaurants and bars , I was struck by just how clean Fornells was. After experiencing the stunning views from the Watchtower it was time for a swift pint before moving on.

After a few false twists and turns not to mention 'raised voices' we arrived in Cala Pregonda, considered to be one of the best beaches on the north coast. Cala Pregonda is beautifully located inside a bay, well protected by the two small islands Illot and Esculls de Pregonda. The sand is golden, the water is crystal clear and the view from the beach is stunning.

Next to the northernmost point of Menorca! Cap De Cavalleria the object of worship and respect due to it's position for sunrise and sunsets. We had another false start ... Leaving the car in a official car park and walking , wondering why so many cars were going past us? After about half an hour and still no sign og our destination we decided to return to the car. It transpired we were in the wrong car park. Making up for lost time we drove the few miles to the lighthouse that crowns a calcareous cliff 90 metres high.

The lighthouse came into existence in March 1857 with a beam of light reaching 70km into the distance. A good place for bird lovers like my self with Ospreys to be seen in the conservation area on the north coast. Thankfully the journey back to Sant Tomas was relatively uneventful.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Belvoir Castle - Leicestershire

A sunny afternoon to take a trip up the A1 to Belvoir Castle (pronounced Beaver)'Beautiful View', (French I believe but all a bit too much for the locals to pronounce) in Leicestershire although it does seem to have a Nottingham post code? Furthermore the nearest town appears to be Grantham which is in Lincolnshire ...somewhat confusing so best to place ones trust in the satnav .... Regardless the Duke and Duchess of Rutland warmly welcomed us to share their gardens , at least that was what it said on the brochure. So armed with a packed lunch and a bottle of pop we made our intrepid way uphill to the 'Dukes walk'. Allegedly a 3 hour walk that takes in Capability Brown's excellent work and panoramic vistas. The gardens have undergone several changes over the centuries, the latest being a 2 year restoration programme that saw the lost plans of Capability Brown brought to fruition. This saw the creation of new walks into the woodland through a Japanese, Duchesse's and Hermit's gardens.
Wyatts Summer House

Lots of interesting and quirky sights to see on the walk which made it all very interesting. Possibly my favourite area was 'Frog Hollow' a series of large lakes by a lovely pavillion - an ideal spot for a pic-nic!
It was a good thing we had a pic-nic because the only outlet for food and drink was at the entrance down a very steep hill and there was no way we were going all the way back there in this heat. I think I nodded off for a short while after too many mini scotch eggs and dips, is this too much detail? Revigorated we set off again and promptly went off piste. Not a deliberate on I might add, my map reading skills went south , although it could quite easily have been North , West or East .. We did a large loop to arrive back where we started from..

We set off again in what was thought to be the right direction. It was only when we happened upon a game of cricket that I realised we had actually gone off the map and were heading towards Lincolnshire. Another about turn , just what my wife wanted in this heat and I was left to use distraction methods to stop her flagging. These included 'isn't that a Red Kite up there' and 'I shall buy you a lovely cup of tea at the end and some cake'. This seemed to improve moral until we discovered for the third time we were back at Frog Hollow again. As much as I liked the place it was getting slightly annoying, particularly as a large frog on a tree trunk seemed to be looking down and laughing at us.
The Laughing Frog 
  Eventually we did find the right path more by luck than judgement I should say. Making our way through the Hermit's Garden and through the stumpery before getting completely lost again.. I was amazed at the lack of people about ?The car park was rammed , where were they all hiding? Must be in the Castle , not daft enough to venture out into the wilds of wherever we are. By now the clock was ticking and wouldn't be totally honest if I didn't admit to a small degree of panic creeping in. This probably wasn't helped by my wife who kept saying on repeat 'thats it we're in for the night' .. So it was with great relief that I spotted the castle in the distance , actually getting to it was another matter completely. Eventually we did make it back to the Rose Garden just as the gates were beginning to close.

There was just enough time to go up to the Castle and grab a couple of photos that really didn't do justice to the view. That cup of tea and slice of cake went down really well I must say!