Saturday, 24 December 2011

Advent 2011

This period of Advent has been busier than usual for me this year. Instead of the more usual one window per day, I have had to make at least six openings each day of the month. Otherwise I would not have completed my task on the 24th.

Well, its Christmas Eve today - and I have finished it!!

So here it is, for all to see ...

Yep - I have completed my Advent Colander . . .

Friday, 2 December 2011

Should It Stay Or Should It Go Now

Before ...

.. the end of November, a month's growth looked like this. Having decided to grow something for Movember, this is what was left having removed most of the white stuff. So should it stay or should it go?

Generally the reaction was favourable. It was said to be one of the better Movember efforts. I liked it - but with two reservations. Firstly - I knew someone sometime would stop me for directory enquiries - and secondly I was reminded of a schoolday's biology experiment involving a swab, a petrie dish and a teacher's moustache.

So, I made my decision. And I offer you the following photo so that you can decide if I made the correct one.

... and after ...

Friday, 7 October 2011

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

October seems to be the month of half marathons. It is a good time of year to push those extra miles after a summer of racing, and sets you up well for the winter months of preparation for a spring marathon such as London, Paris or Brighton. Locally, there is always a good choice - Cricklade, Swindon and Stroud - but this year I chose an event a few hours down the M5. And the start and finish was only 15 minutes from good friends of ours, so we were able to make a weekend of it.

Though it was the first weekend of October, it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, which meant a very tough 13 miles indeed on the Sunday morning. Many runners simply gave up, and some of the fastest sprints seen around the finishing area were by the medical staff rushing to help those who simply couldn't stagger the last few hundred yards around the outside of the playing field. I felt rough from about 8 miles and slowed - along with many others - to a finish time well outside my best, but in a good 13th position. And I did recover surprisingly well.

But I shouldn't really have been surprised about the heat - it was the Burnham Half Marathon!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Things I have to cope with ...

Must be rough at the seaside - today, some VW campervans turned up, surfboards on the roof, and inflatables jutting through the windows. Out jumped a group of surf dudes, who gathered around, putting up windbreaks, nicking my shovels to build sandcastles, and running in slow motion back and forth. In the end, I just had to give in, but before I left for home I managed to sneak a photo of them sunbathing all over my wall.

As you can see, on my current project, I have been overrun by beach nuts ....

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My First Festival

It has only taken forty eight years and a very keen daughter for me to finally attend my first ever festival - and it won't be my last. Why I have never tried it before I don't know. Milly and I had a great time. Weather was perfect, of course, which helped, but WOMAD, even though it offered a range of lesser known bands drawn from all parts of the world, was as friendly, trouble free and well organised you could hope a festival to be. There were stars I did know - Booker T Jones with Green Onions and that cricket theme, I Am Kloot, Rodriga and Gabrielle who stole the show - and stars I know now. The standout performance was CW Stoneking, and if you don't know him then check out the link top right. I have had to have a musical fix of him every day since. Other bands who stood out were Penguin Cafe, Brassroots, Pacific Curls and The Savoy Family Cajun Band. We only saw about 25 of the live acts, so no doubt we have missed some other good performances. Perhaps we can catch up with them next year, where the 30th Anniversary promises to be an unforgettable festival. Maybe I will see you there .

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Who Are Ya

Saw my first ever Twenty20 game last night. I have played in many over the years, but I suppose that various rounds of The Oaksey Bowl or local evening league never had the same attraction as seeing Muralitharan and Pieterson ply their trade at Gloucester. Surrey were beaten by a tight Gloucestershire outfit with both sides beating the rain that threatened all evening.

Apart from those two big names, there were other players that were worthy of watching - if only I had known that from the start. It was only after, that I had realised that we had been watching - as per the Dad's Army closing caption - the fastest world cup century scorer, the most recent call up to the England test squad, the England Ashes back-up wicket keeper, two other former England players and an Aussie international. Perhaps next time I should do some match preparation.

I recognised the umpire Peter Willey. No sign of Michael Holding though . . .

Sunday, 5 June 2011


There is only one thing I hate more than decorating - and that is paying someone else to do it. So it was with some trepidation that I took the opportunity of a son's school trip to Barcelona, to rid his walls of painted trains and overpaint with teenage greys and turquoises.

It turned out to be a memorable event - not for the reasonably tidy outcome and not for the 13 hours spent painting on the Sunday alone. It was the fact that I had to wear glasses throughout for first time. So it is official - I am turning into my late father. Appropriate, really, as the Sunday would have been his birthday. Somewhere in the loft I still have his paint speckled glasses.

We also have in common, the fact that we shut ourselves away in the room with only sounds for company using the latest technology. For me, it was itunes on shuffle on the laptop. For my father, I recall, it was a stack of birdsong LP's, probably on self loading, using a Morphy Richards mono record player.

I expect mother was listening to the Music with Pleasure boxset downstairs.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

I Think That These Really Are Red Kites

For many years, I haven't quite grasped the difference between Red Kites and Buzzards. It is the same for Rooks and Crows - though someone once said that if you see lots of crows then they are rooks; or if you see a single rook then it is a crow. Or is it the other way round?
The Red Kite dilemma hasn't been helped by the absence of the bird from the Cotswold area for most of my life. Until last year, when I think I saw just the one. And now this year, I think I have seen four so far.
Probably good news for the Cotswold Red Kite population, which does appear to be on the increase.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Watching Swindon Go Down

It was all going so well when this picture was taken ( thanks to the official Swindon photographer for this great picture). This cross led to a Matt Ritchie goal, and the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game against fellow strugglers Notts County was all Swindon. And if only Douglas' thundering volley had not come off the crossbar, I guess the good fortune would have continued. But the 30 yard effort, direct from a corner, blasted back off the woodwork and with it fell away the Swindon composure. Time and time again they lost the ball yards outside their own penalty area, and after Lee Hughes equaliser within 15 mins of full time, a mistake by Cuthbert in the same area gifted the former prison-mate Hughes with his second and eventual game winner. The ups and downs of football lost on the desperate Swindon fans. It must be all over now, with only an outside mathematical chance of survival. I think I have seen 6 or 7 home games with no victory and little passion for winning, so it is no surprise Swindon are where they are.
Saying that, next season could be fun. Lots of potential local derbies with Cheltenham, Oxford, Hereford and Bristol Rovers. Just not sure if I will be seeing any of them.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Weekday Afternoon Radio

I have tried so very hard to like Richard Bacon - 5live weekday afternoons - but I just don't. He is no replacement for the professional and quite brilliant Simon Mayo. My super little solar powered DAB radio provides many alternative stations - Absolute 80's being one of the better options - but I still hadn't quite found what I was looking for. Until Radcliffe and Maconie moved from Radio 2 to 1pm on BBC 6Music.

A week into their new show, and I am starting to get hooked. And already I have discovered some new music. The best of which - so far - has to be the not-quite-irritatingly catchy 'The Look' from a band called Metronomy. I expect I am the last person to find out about them, but if I am not, I present a performance of the very same song top right of this blog.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

For One Night Only . . .

I may look like someone belting out the last bars of My Way, but this is me, last night, having my first go at stand-up. And I had just the best time. I was kindly asked by a friend to entertain at his wife's 40th party, and buoyed by the promise that others would do their bit too, I agreed. Of course, everyone else bar their daughter, Hannah - who sang beautifully - pulled out, but I actually relished the prospect and surprised myself how enjoyable it was. I suppose that performing to friends three hours into a party, at a pub, isn't the hardest gig ever, but I still had to get up and remember, and deliver, the material I had been writing over the previous weeks. And make people laugh.

And as for one night only? No, thank you, but can I have another go, sometime, please?

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Best Ironman Ever

When training is tough, or you are down or you think that life is just a struggle - watch the link top right. Your money back if you don't have a tear or two

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Day In The Life

My working day is no different to that of any dry stone waller from the last few hundred years – apart from my truck, radio and mobile phone of course. This traditional skill requires no modern interventions, and the walls and their construction are timeless features of the Cotswolds.

With over 6000 miles of Cotswold walls to work on, no day is the same, and the English weather provides plenty of variety too. I can be on one wall for a day – a simple collapse caused by tree roots perhaps – or maybe a longer stretch of decayed wall for a few months at a time. Each stone is different, picked out from the remnants of the existing wall, or from fresh bright stone heaps delivered from the quarry.

There is always somebody or something about – walkers always ready for a chat, or horse riders trotting along. I see stoats, kingfishers, red kite, toads ( always nestling deep within the base of old walls) and lizards sunning themselves, mice and lots and lots of spiders. And nearly always there is a robin, searching for food when I am digging the ground.

Sometimes I get cold, sometimes wet and, very occasionally, hot. But always I feel satisfaction and great pleasure from my own small contributions to the Heritage of the Cotswolds.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

All ship-shape and Bristol fashion . . .

Some do's and don'ts from a recent family weekend in Bristol:-

Do - look out for the works of Banksy as you wander around. The one above has since been graffitied again with a paintball gun.

Do - visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Bristol Museum ( until June 5th).

Do - visit @Bristol. It is very good.

Do - use your Tesco Clubcard vouchers to book free rooms at the Ramada Jarvis hotel. Only cost us £10,000 in groceries.

Do - visit the Arnolfini Gallery but only if you are VERY tall. Most of the sculptures and installations there went over the top of my head.

Do - enjoy the shops around Cabots Circus

Don't - eat a supposedly gluten free meal if it isn't and you are a Coeliac. I did, it wasn't and I am. I was very, very sick as a result..

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Another Skid In The Wall

Vehicles often crash into walls and I often get to restore them. Usually the landowner knows the vehicle, but it can be interesting trying to deduce the make and model from bits found on the site. A registration plate can normally be pieced together from shards found amongst the stones.

Today there was no problem in identifying the responsible vehicle. I watched it happen. 30 yards from where I am rebuilding a wall from a previous accident. How grateful we must be for crumple zones and airbags, because the car hit the wall with some force, displacing 5 tonnes of stone with ease. And yet two thirds of the car appeared undamaged, and the driver, though shaken and taken by ambulance for a check-up, should be OK.

And all this happened on the sunniest, driest day of the year so far, with no other vehicles involved.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Away The Lads

I am not a great football fan, which might explain why I have been to four Swindon Town games in the last month or so. Yesterday's home match against Exeter was a little different - I watched it with a good friend sat amongst the away supporters. There were 950 of us in the green seats shown above. This gave some protection against the cold breeze, rather than being in the open Stratton Bank seating behind the goal (also known as the Adkins Family Stand and oddly sponsored by

A strange experience having to show contradicting emotions to those felt inside, but I justified my presence as both my parents hail from Devon and one of my grandmothers once died in Exeter . Though she was just a rubbish comedienne.

Fortunately, a 0-0 draw prevented too much chance of inappropriate reactions and nobody suspected a thing, even when I didn't join in the chanting. Sadly they used neither of the songs I had researched - Bob Marleys ' Exeters - Movement of The People' nor The Pointer Sisters 'I'm So Exetered'.

The away fans were generous in their comments toward Swindon and particularly for the rapid winger O'Brien who repeatedly skinned the right back. If only he could learn what to do with the ball from those positions. I have seen just one Swindon goal in the four matches, and now without Charlie Austen they have to do something about this to avoid relegation this season.

It is over 39 years since my first visit to The County Ground, where I watched Arsenal beat Swindon 2-0 in the FA Cup. The photo below is me, in my Arsenal Corner, from that time.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

I Think I Would Like One Of Those

Thoroughly enjoyed the BBC's Stargazing Live at the start of the month. A welcome fix of Professor Brian Cox to kick off the year. Sadly the UK weather conditions did not allow good viewing of the solar eclipse and meteorite shower in the UK, but the programme made up for this.
There was the 'Funniest Live TV Moment of the Week' which you can see top right, where everyone was oblivious to the meteorite in the background. And the Pacman (not Jeremy) style photo above which not only shows the solar eclipse that day, but also the International Space Station passing across. I often see the ISS pass overhead, and the timetable for this can be seen on the NASA website.
After the show I really wanted a telescope. I could then see for myself the craters on the moon, the moons of jupiter, the rings of saturn and the fuzzy bit within Orion where stars are being born. And perhaps the occasional comet every 72 years. And lots of little light things.
A good telescope is not cheap, but it is something I might look into.