Autumn/Winter 2017/18

Autumn and Winter 2017/18

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Cycle festival roundabout at Montpellier

September 1st is the meteorological start of Autumn so let's have a new page.
Cheltenham, being the home of festivals and hosting the finish of one of the sections of the Cycle Tour of Britain, we had to have a cycle festival and the town is resplendent with flowery tributes and battered bicycles painted in garish colours, sometimes welded and reconstituted in very artistic ways.

If you are a cyclist and leave your bike chained to a railing it could be bent into an artistic shape and spray painted by the time you return if you are not careful!
There is a street market, a bike trail, a Race Village complete with the finish arch and podium in the Imperial Gardens, a bike demo zone and School Races. Our local MP, Alex Chalk, is a keen cyclist and must have had a hand in this.

Kumi Matsuo

On Saturday 9th September at just after 3pm the tour arrives after a 185km ride from Hemel Hempstead. Problem is that Barf Rugby, after a fantastic start to the season by beating Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, kick off at the Rec against Sarries who absolutely demolished the Saints in their first game. So I will have to miss the Tour of Britain but will send Sue to report back.

The lunchtime recitals began again at the town hall. The first was a piano recital by the Japanese pianist Kumi Matsuo. She began with the prelude from Partita for solo violin No 3 in E Major by Bach which was transcribed for piano by Rachmaninov.

This was followed by another J S Bach composition, his Chaconne in D Minor which is another transcription of a violin piece this time by Busoni which is mind blowingly difficult. But arguably even more difficult and the highlight of this recital was the Six Grand Etudes of Paganini by Liszt. The original composition was once again written for violin by Paganini but it showed something of the virtuosity and stamina of Kumi Matsuo to have chosen three such difficult works for the same recital and she even played us a bit of Schumann as an encore.

We are just back from a trip to Berlin. You can find a page all about it here.

One fine day in October we paid a visit to Westonbirt Arboretum thinking we might have missed the Autumn colours. The opposite was the case and although there were a few colourful trees, most of the Japanese Acer for which they are renowned had not begun to change colour. Since our last visit some years ago they had added a Tree Skywalk and a new entrance building. We will need to revisit in a few weeks.

I remembered a pub at nearby Shurston called The Rattlebone Inn and manage to find it again. They served up a good pint of Butcombe and an excellent hot open sandwich of sliced beef rump and onions with proper thick cut chips and a salad. Much needed after the five mile walk around Westonbirt.

Barf Rugby seem unpredictable this season as usual. They went 19 points down against Newcastle at the Rec then scored 32 unbeaten points to lead by 13 only to loose by one point in the final minutes. I therefore had little hope of a victory against they Waspies away at the Ricoh but low and behold we won the game 9-25. We played bottom of the league Worcester next at the Rec so we should have beaten them and we did 29-13.

The Worthing worthies Les and Sal visited us and together we wandered around the Cheltenham Literature Festival but saw nobody famous despite many political luvvies with dubious claims to authorship spouting to the press from Cheltenham on everything from our "special" relationship with the USA to the sexual shenanigans of Hollywood producers. Even Hillary Clinton is in town.

We stocked up on food at Stow-on-the-Wold farmers market before visiting Batsford Arboretum where, as you can see above, the colours were a little more advanced that Westonbirt.

Bath Abbey

A visit to Bath and a pint in the Huntsman Pub caused Les to declare it holds the record for the most expensive pint he had ever purchased. £4.60 for a pint of Bath Spa Ale.

Abbey Green, Bath

After watching Sarries slaughter the Saints on the telly curled up with an Otter I felt the fingers of my right hand get pins and needles. I awoke in the middle of the night with the same problem which continued when I awoke the next morning, then when making the tea my face and lips began to tingle which caused some alarm. After a good breakfast I rang my GP for advice who invited me to go straight in for an examination. After a thorough check he could find nothing wrong but agreed that the symptoms were suspicious and called Gloucester Hospital neurology for advice which was to go straight in to Accident and Emergency for a scan. To cut a long story short after about 20 examinations with various doctors and nurses, a CT scan of my brainbox, a doppler test on the major veins leading to it, a blood test, my heart monitored, blood pressure checked about 50 times and a sleepless night on the stroke ward, the only conclusion was that, although there was no evidence from the CT scan of what caused the symptoms of pins and needles this time, there was evidence of a possible TIA (transient ischaemic attack) at some time recently which I may not have noticed or could have happened during sleep.


A Stroke is when a blood vessel to the brain gets blocked. A TIA is the same but the blockage dissolves quickly, there is no permanent brain damage and may go unnoticed. Having a TIA means you are at risk of a full blown stroke so I am now on a Statin to reduce cholesterol even though my blood test showed low cholesterol and another drug to thin the blood. This in addition to the drug I am already on to lower blood pressure. Oh and I am not to drive for a month. Sue, not having driven hardly at all since she passed her test 40 years ago is now going to enroll for driving lessons. Being a passenger with her is likely to trigger a heart attack!

I have been working on improvements to some of my older pages and have now completed the page on our trip to South Africa back in 2006. All the photos are now bigger, there are many more and they are displayed in several slide shows.
I have also updated the page on our China trip and put a lot more photographs in a slide show at the bottom.

My sojourn in Gloucester hospital resulted in us missing a lunchtime recital by the Vidal Guitar Quartet but the following week we were treated to a recital by Carol Hubel-Allen (Viola) and Marcel Zidani (piano). The viola has a lower and deeper sound than the violin and in the lower ranges often sounds to me like a cello. Carol has been a member of the BBC Scottish Chamber orchestra and several international chamber music groups while Marcel is not only a piano soloist but is also a composer.

Carol Hubel-Allen
Marcel Zidani

They first played Brahms Sonatensatz Scherzo followed by Schubert's Sonata in A minor. Then Marcel played The Clock, a piano solo he composed recently which has won a European award. The recital concluded with The Gadfly Suite by Shostokovich, the final movement Romance is especially suited to the viola and was played with great feeling. Here is Nicola Benedetti playing it at the last night of the proms.

The audience gave them enthusiastic applause to which they responded with Elgar's Salut d'amour as an encore.

Back in 2014 the graffitti artist Banksy painted a picture on the wall of a house in Cheltenham. A couple of years later the plaster of the wall on which it was painted was removed, supposedly for commercial gain.

Graffitty artistry by John D'oh.

Now a new Banksy style painting has appeared again in Cheltenham but it is by a Bristol artist who calls himself John D'oh who has been involved previously in Cheltenham festivals.

Whilst on the subject of art I noticed the other day that the bronze sculpture of the Minotaur and The Hare had disappeared from The Promenade. It was once vandalised, as was the Banksy, by someone painting the Minotaur's willy with green paint so the same misfortune may have reoccurred? You can imagine the embarrassment of a council worker having to remove such vandalism in public!

The next lunchtime recital was by the AJSW string quartet. AJSW stands for the Anglo-Japanese Society of Wessex and this was a newly formed quartet with leader Edward McCullagh (violin). The Japanese musician was Ayako Yamazaki (violin) while Belarusian Katya Lazareva (viola) and Spanish cellist Marta Tobar completed the ensemble.

The AJSW Quartet.

They played Mendelssohn's String Quartet No 2 in A Minor followed by Jeff Manookian's Dances of St Gregory. This American composer was new to us and we enjoyed the lively Armenian folk song melodies which the quartet seemed to enjoy playing. Manookian's ethnicity is Armenian but you could hear a sort of Aaron Copland influence in some of the work.


I see that the Scottish government proposes to put a minimum selling price per unit of alcohol in an effort to reduce the problem of alcoholism.
Once again it would seem that politicians are listening to well meaning campaigners rather than using the "heid"!

First off alcoholism is an addiction and you do not treat addictions by increasing the price. Just like any drug, addicts will find the cash required whatever the price.
Secondly regular booze shopping trips across the English border will result in small shops and pubs on the Scottish side of the border being put under financial pressure.

Quotes 'wot I like:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana 1863 - 1952

Finally it is unfair to moderate drinkers who enjoy socialising over a few pints who are the majority.

I worked for a Norwegian company for many years where you needed a months salary for a bottle of whiskey! I remember queuing at the opening of the first Vinmonopolet (the state owned wine monopoly shop) in Aalesund and being jeered at by the wowsers ( "Wowser" - Kiwi or Oz term for a person who seeks to deprive others of behavior deemed to be immoral or "sinful") across the street!

Despite the price and purchase restrictions, Norway still has a huge problem with alcoholism and recently a rise in total consumption of 40 percent since 1992 was reported by their health institute, even though the prices of wine, beer and spirits in Norway remain among the highest in the world because alcohol is highly taxed to discourage consumption.
It won't work Nanny Nicola and it will lose you even more votes.
Andrey Ivanov

The final lunchtime recital this year at Cheltenham Town Hall was the young Russian pianist Andrey Ivanov presently studying in Birmingham Conservatoire with Pascal Nemirovski. He played Bach's English Suite No 6 in D minor, a masterpiece that requires strong fingers but a particularly dextrous left hand. This was followed by 4 Bagatelles by Beethoven Opus 119, Nos. 1 to 4 which gave his left hand a nice rest before the very difficult Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat by Chopin. He concluded his performance, naturally for a Russian, with Rachmaninov's 4 Etudes-Tableaux Opus 33 no. 3, a quiet and reflective piece followed by the more lively No. 5. Then came the exercise for the right hand with No. 6 played at an incredible pace. He finished with Etude, Opus 39, No. 9, which is a workout for both hands.

On the occasion of our 42nd wedding anniversary it was cold and sunny so we headed up to them thar hills for a walk. We drove up to Cleeve Hill and turned left at the top, parking at a little car park then following a track North just below the escarpment until it met with the Winchcombe Way which we followed back to the car. There was a nice clear view across to the Malverns as you can see from the photo below and the viewpoint is marked on the map.

Looking across the vale of Evesham from the Cotswold escarpment.


John Wilson

We had booked a concert for the end of November at Colston Hall in Bristol. On the last occasion we had travelled down by train but this time the timetables had changed and the last train back to Cheltenham was at 10pm which meant we had to drive.

We started at 4pm. The traffic was horrendous and we didn't get to the Trenchard St. car park until 6pm. We found the Lebanese restaurant, Mezze Palace, in Small St. where we had eaten before and enjoyed their tasty food once again before taking our seats at the concert.

As before it was the John Wilson Orchestra with singer soloists Louise Dearman and Matt Ford but this time supplemented by the Maida Vale Singers who were fantastic. The programme was music from MGM musicals and the highlight was The Broadway Melody from the film 'Singing in the Rain' which John explained was nothing to do with singing or rain!

While on the subject of the John Wilson Orchestra they excelled themselves in the Proms this year with a performance of Oklahoma complete with fantastic singing and dancing. We have watched it twice and so should you!

Another great concert experience somewhat spoilt by the uncomfortable Colston Hall seats, having to drive and it taking about half an hour to get out of the car park! Next month we are going to Symphony Hall Birmingham by train for 'The Sixteen'.

Our annual Christmas present delivery trip to Somerset was cut short due to a weather forecast of heavy snow North of the M4 so we hastened back to Cheltenham after a curry night in Petherton to celebrate Jeremy Cliffords 81st birthday then dropping off the pressies in Stogursey for the family on the Saturday.

On Sunday we woke to a winter wonderland and the usual chaos that always ensues in Britain on the few occasions that it snows.

This time the temperature dropped well below freezing and the snow was still with us the next day when we had planned to travel to Birmingham by train. The previous day all trains on this route were cancelled due to a tree across the line but our train was on time, the temperature stayed below zero, the sun shone and we were treated to a beautiful winter landscape for our short journey.

Birmingham Christmas Market with snow.

On arrival at Birmingham New Street Station we admired this huge new construction where they have built a shopping centre over the railway. We intended to catch the last train back to Cheltenham so checked the departure platform in case we were short of time leaving.

After a brief wander around the adjacent Bull Ring shopping centre we stepped out to find ourselves walking on largely untreated slippery pavements and discovered Birmingham had still not recovered from the snowfall. We subsequently discovered that restaurants in the city had not opened the previous day due to snowbound staff being unable to get into town.

The Frankfurt Christmas Market was in full swing and we availed ourselves of some warming Glühwein before settling down to a pre-theatre meal at Carluccio's, this being my 77th birthday treat!

At Symphony Hall we sat in the Choir behind "The Sixteen" performing a concert of Christmas music they entitled "Glory to the Christ Child". Unusually for this choir the music was mostly relatively modern although there were a few 16th century pieces.

'There is a flower' by John Rutter bought tears to my eyes but the traditional French carol 'Quelle est cette odeur agréable' ("Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing?") was for me the highlight of the concert.

We enjoyed the 'Somerset Carol', a variant of 'God rest you merry gentlemen', which was apparently written down from the singing of a Bridgwater resident by Cecil Sharpe, who recalled first performing it as a child. It was followed by 'Past three a clock' and as an encore they sang, fittingly, 'In the bleak midwinter'.

The concert finished earlier than anticipated and we found ourselves on a bitterly cold station platform where our train home was delayed over an hour due to a signals failure!

That cold wait on the station might have had something to do with the head colds we went down with shortly after and the chesty cough which we and several million other Brits still have coming up to the end of the year and which quite spoiled our Christmas.

I had a final appointment with the stroke specialist at Gloucester Hospital who could still not be definitive on whether I had a TIA or not but said, for insurance purposes that I did have one which cost me another £130 on my travel insurance premium.

We met up for lunch with our friends The Palmers and Alistair at Gloucester Docks the same day and I discovered that Mike is also suffering the side effects of the medication for hypertension; loss of appetite, taste, nausea and complete uninterest in the horizontal athletics! Not that either of us would be remotely interested at our advanced ages!


A blood test at the hospital showed a vitamin B deficiency which could be caused by pernicious anaemia and it reminded me of a song about Lillian Gee which we used to sing on Mendip may years ago which is in my mucky song collection. However, the Lillian Gee song is not really mucky so I have reproduced it for your delectation below:

or if no player appears click here.

Score of Good Girl
This is the tale of Lillian Gee,
She was no better than she ought to be,
She earned her living as everyone knows,
By going around in too few clothes.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Lillian Gee she was a beauty,
She lived in a house of ill reputee.
For miles around men came to see,
Lillian in her deshabille.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

She was lovely she was fair,
She had lots of yellow hair,
She drank too much of the demon rum,
She smoked hash-i-eesh and o-pie-um.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Now day by day he cheeks grew thinner,
Insufficient protein in her.
She grew deep hollows in her chest,
And had to go round fully dressed.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Now clothes may make a girl go far,
But they ain't much good to a fille de joie.
Lillian's troubles started when,
She covered up her abdomen.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Lillian went to her physician,
To prescribe for her condition.
He said to his ladies chaperone,
"I guess I'll see this case alone"
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

He examined her with care,
He poked her here and he poked her there.
He said "You have as we doctors say,
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

She lay all day in the sun,
She drank Scott's emulshi-on,
She took liver, she took yeast,
But still her clientele decreased.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Lillian underwent baptism,
She took a course in mysticism,
And every night before her sleep,
She prayed to the Lord her soul might keep,
(repeat) In a penthouse on fifth Avenue.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

Now this was the story of a girl called Lillian,
She was one girl in a million,
And this is the moral of her sins,
Whatever your profession - fitness wins.
Rum pum pum pum rum pa pum pum.

We each of us have a favourite carol this Christmas. Mine is Gabriel's Message sung here by The Sixteen. Sue's is O Holy Night sung here by the Cambridge Kings College Choir.

We had booked seats at Cheltenham Everyman Theatre for the Pantomine which this time was Dick Whittington who actually existed (c. 1354–1423). He became a wealthy merchant and later Lord Mayor of London but came from Pauntley in Gloucestershire from where he travelled to London to make his fortune as the streets were then paved with gold!

Us adults did not think this production was as good as last year but the grandchildren seemed to enjoy it, especially Matilda who joined in the responses and actions with much youthful exuberance.

The Panto was followed with a meal at Bar Italia on the Promenade. It was my daughter Rebecca's birthday which the restaurant helped us celebrate with a big chunk of chocolate cake decorated with a single candle and a rousing rendition of 'Happy Birthday' from all present.

Towards the end of January we had a week in Spain. You can read all about it here.

Spain was nice but we were in need of more vitamin D so off we went to Thailand in February for 10 days and you can read all about that trip here.

Despite the snow and ice, March 1st was supposed to be the the first day of spring so here is a new page.

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