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We returned to Cheltenham from Somerset and the weather continued warm enabling us to make further progress in our exploration of the Cotswold Way. This time we drove up to the Southern end of Cleeve Common where there is a car park frequented by walkers. Sue remarked to an elderly gent who had just parked near us that she hoped it would not rain as we set off North across the common to join the Cotswold Way where we turned back South.
The path traverses a butterfly reserve and we kept a keen eye out for the British Blue which had made a recovery after having been thought extinct.
We failed to spot the blue but did see a grayling which is a very localised species.
We walked to the Southern end of the reserve, for about an hour, and then retraced our steps before cutting back steeply up through woods to the road and back to the car park.
We then discovered someone had thrown a stone through the front passenger window of our car. Sue had left her handbag under the seat containing money, credit cards, car and house keys, reading glasses and mobile phone which was gone.
We first called our bank to stop the cards who informed us that £500 had just been taken from a Cheltenham ATM using her debit card. How did the thief know her pin she was asked? The bank sends you the first card with a simple pin number that every thief knows. Many people, including Sue, never change that pin which you are advised to do. She will in future and our bank kindly replaced the £500 in our account.
A nice young man called Jacob then called the police on his mobile for us and became our good Samaritan. Popular belief is that the police are not interested in such crimes but Gloucestershire Constabulary are not in that category. They sent an officer round to our house to make sure it was secure and we were questioned extensively then and since. On reflection we suspect the man Sue spoke to when we first arrived might be involved and if the police have CCTV from the ATM then we might be able to identify him.
Our letting agents quickly arranged for a locksmith to fit a new lock on our front door and were on guard waiting for him when we finally arrived back.
Mobile phone company, Talkmobile, blocked Sues phone and suggested she upgraded for an extra £1.50 a month so we both did. They sent the new phones the next day but enclosed nano sims whereas the new phones used micro sims. I am not a mobile phone expert but the lady in the call centre said she would send us new sim cards. I asked why I couldn't get a bit of plastic from a phone shop to convert the ones we had to a larger size and eventually she agreed we could do that.
We trotted off to Carphone Warehouse where we first signed the contract who said they had no stock and suggested the lovely Argos who didn't stock them so we drove into town and found EE who said they had them in stock but charged a fortune so found us a couple of spare ones and even fitted them for us free of charge. Considering they did not even supply our phones we will remember the gesture when it comes to the next new mobile phone contract.
Sue began the process of renewing her bus pass and the abundance of other cards one accumulates, promises never to leave her bag in the car again and will change her pin on the debit card.
Our car insurers organised us with an emergency plastic window until they could get a new glass one and fit it. Unfortunately they appeared half an hour before we were due to drive to Tewksbury for a concert. The fitter said he could do it in time but forgot about sods law which says that things will go wrong when they have to go right in a given time and so it took him over an hour and we missed the first 10 minutes of the concert.
The Sixteen are a renowned choral group who were performing music by William Byrd and Arvo Pärt. Byrd was an English Renaissance composer who died in 1623 whereas Pärt is Estonian, still alive and kicking. Both composers wrote/write classical and sacred music and to hear sixteen voices singing their works in a packed Tewksbury Abbey was a lovely experience.
The new Rugby season is upon us and the other joyous event that day was a mighty win by my Barf boys over Newcastle Falcons at the Rec. Dan Schofield said "such was the Falcons’ suffering, you were tempted to call the RSPB!" Barf ran in eight tries to one for a bonus point 58-5 win following on from their 14-18 win away the previous week at Northampton Saints. It's a great start for our new Kiwi coach Tod Blackadder.
Once again we celebrated Sue's birthday with a trip abroad, this time to Todi in Umbria, Italy. If you would like to read of our exploits there then please click this link.
While we were away Barf managed to lose against the Tigers at Welford Road but on our return we were joined by the Hocky's and caught the bus down to Kingsholm for the local Derby against Glawster. The heavens opened between the bus stop and the ground including a hailstorm so we were pretty wet through to watch the game which was naturally dreadful with the combination of a Derby and a wet ground. However, Barf won a miserable game 6-15 so we cemented our third place in the table 2 points behind Sarries and 5 points behind they Waspies who are on drugs.
On a shopping trip to Glawster we visited The Lord High Constable of England. This was not the actual person but a Weatherspoon Pub at Glawster Docks and they were hosting the worlds largest beer festival. It runs until Sunday 23rd October if you are reading this prior to that date otherwise you will have missed a treat. Over 30 refreshing ales, made with British Hops, most of them specially brewed for the event by British brewers and brewers who came from other beer drinking nations who were given the use of British breweries to practice their art.
I sampled a pint of Maxim Northern Knight 4.2% ABV which came from the Maxim Brewery, County Durham. They have been brewing since 2007. This was a new, blond-coloured beer, brewed exclusively for this Wetherspoon real-ale festival, and was described as has having foral citrus aromas, fruity blackcurrant flavours and a smooth, easy-drinking character. The hops used were Bramling Cross, Challenger and UK Cascade. It was a nice session beer in good condition and about a pound cheaper than I am used to paying in a Cheltenham pub.
You can always get a good pint at a good price in a Weatherspoon pub but unfortunately the same can not be said of the coffee. It is Lavazza coffee but the problem seems to be they don't use enough of it with the result you have a job to tell what it is you are drinking. We have noticed this for years in Weatherspoon pubs and this time Sue's coffee was so bad that she could not drink it and says she is emailing Tim Weatherspoon advising him to increase the strength and charge a bit more or send all his staff to get university degrees as Baristas!!
Just around the corner from the pub is a warehouse named after a very famous family of which I am a member!
The lunchtime weekly recitals have returned to Cheltenham Town Hall and for £5 you get an hour of live music and a kip.
The first one we attended was a baritone singing a series of Schumann songs which tended to induce a certain sleepiness in the audience to the extent that an old gent behind us began to snore!
On our second visit the programme was a little more lively with a performance of Beethoven's 8th, the Pathetique, and his 3rd piano sonatas by the pianist Christopher Sayles. Unfortunately it failed to keep awake the same old gent who was sat behind us who had once again paid £5 for a kip and even the Pathetique could not keep him awake so the concert was again punctuated by snoring.
Both times we sat in the same seats so next time we will move to different ones.
There was a fair few in the hall for a lunchtime recital thanks to the programme, at least, Christopher seemed quite pleased as he announced he had performed the same programme recently in Gravesend to an audience of seven!
Once a month the office of the Cheltenham MP, Alex Chalk, organises a visit to the house of Commons for his constituents. We pay for the coach to London where we have a question an answer session with Alex and then we get a guided tour round the Palace of Westminster. Late in October we piled on to a nice Marchants coach with 48 others for the three hour trip.
I had been there before to a function for the Delicatessen and Fine Foods Association years ago but had never done the full tour of both legislatures and it was Sue's first time.
Once through the airport style security after we arrived, we had sandwiches and pots of tea in the Jubilee cafe before adjourning to the Jubilee committee room to meet our MP.
Alex first explained a little about his background and what he is doing for Cheltenham. He is the third generation of a Cheltenham area family and lives in the town with his wife and two small children. He looks a bit like David Milliband and told us he was mistaken for a Milliband during canvassing. He has a law degree from Oxford and practised as a barrister for 15 years before entering politics, taking the Cheltenham seat for the Tories from the Lib Dems at the last election.
He voted to remain in the EU so I was prepared for the worst, however, he said he was not too bothered either way and didn't seem to be a remoaner. I became increasingly impressed by the way he spoke and his obvious knowledge of Cheltenham and its problems. The questions we all asked were in the main connected with Cheltenham and Alex seemed to be on the case for most things.
Alex soon found out that if you wanted to get anything done as an MP you had to fight your corner and get noticed. Take the potholes in the roads: Alex was on TV to talk about those potholes with I think it was Dominic Grieve, a previous Attorney General, who was also on the programme to discuss a bill for assisted dying. When he discovered Alex had been invited on to discuss Cheltenham potholes he was so impressed that he suggested Alex might end up as Prime Minister!
I asked him when Cheltenham could expect super fast broadband and was asked what was my BT box number and current speed. I did not know the box number but was told to contact his office with further information and he would take it up with BT who he said were more bureaucratic than the government.
He said it was criminal that we had a world class communications centre in Cheltenham with GCHQ but fibre optic cable for the residents has still not been connected. On the subject of GCHQ he mentioned that he was behind the movement to site the new Cyber Innovation Centre in Cheltenham, staffed by some of the best brains from GCHQ. The only other Cyber Centre is in London and the government will fund both to the tune of £250 million over the next five years.
Another idea was to get our police out on the beat on bikes as he is a keen cyclist. We have seen them in France and Belgium, it keeps them fit, they fraternise with the public and they cover more ground than walking.
Something else he and I disagree on is the third Heathrow runway of which he approved. He thinks that it is to the benefit of Cheltenham. I agree that Heathrow is easy to get to but Birmingham is even easier and would not only be of benefit to Cheltenham but it will have its own HS2 station so will have a quick link to London for international arrivals as well as benefiting an equally large population. If the government were serious about the "Midlands Engine" they should at least have included Birmingham in their deliberations. Expanding Heathrow is just going to concentrate road traffic, noise and air pollution even more. Britain has always found it impossible to develop an integrated transport system.
There were lots of little anecdotes about life in parliament which made our MP's seem almost human. He reckoned the SNP were the funniest as a group and was impressed that when it came to serious matters like bombing Iraq, he found that party politics were put to one side and they all came together to argue their case.
He has recently presented a private members bill to parliament to increase protection to victims of stalking and we both concluded we are fortunate to have Alex Chalk as our MP.
We separated into two parties and met our guide in Westminster Hall which is the oldest part of the Palace and dates back over 900 years. The magnificent hammer-beam roof is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. It is the place used for the lying-in-state of the Sovereign, as Head of State, current or past consorts and rarely major public figures. Henry VIII was the last monarch to use it as a palace and the hall was often used as a courtroom. The hall was completed in 1099 by William II and from 1178 began to be used as a courtroom. William Wallace was tried here in 1305.
Richard III was the last King to dispense justice here in 1483 and it was also where banquets were held for the coronations of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Thomas Moore was tried here in 1535 and Guy Fawkes in 1606. Perhaps the most famous trial was that of Charles I who remains the only English monarch to be executed after the English civil war when Cromwell took over running the country until the restoration of the monarchy after his death and his son, Charles II, was brought back from exile in France.
Of course Parliament was by then in charge of running things and if Charlie wanted to keep his head then he had to accept who was running the show. Many of the traditions of parliament which are carried on to this day date from the time of Charles I and Royalty is still not allowed to set foot in the House of Commons!
We set off from Westminster Hall at a brisk pace to the Robing Room. This is where the Queen puts on her gear prior to opening her parliament each year. She then walks through the Royal Gallery to the Lords Chamber and seats herself on her throne with her husband, the Duke of Edinburry ( he's one 'o they kilted Greeks!), beside her on his lower one. Seeing the opening of parliament on TV does not prepare you for the ornate splendour of the Lords Chamber. The dais and its surrounds on which the Queen sits is covered in gold leaf except for the two angels either side which are solid gold.
The Queen tells her messenger, Black Rod, to ask they commoners to kindly attend her majesty in the Lords. When Black Rod approaches the Commons the door is slammed in his face so he knocks the door with his rod and delivers the queens request. The rif-raf then delay their walk up to the Lords just to show who's boss and Dennis Skinner makes some witty remark. On the arrival of the peasants in the Lords the queen delivers her speech written by the chief peasant, after which they return to their rather drab abode and debate a bill about same sex marriage or something before debating the queens speech just to further show who's boss.
Before visiting the Commons we were taken into the voting lobby and it was explained how much time is wasted in voting as every members vote is recorded by the tellers when it could be done by a press of a button. The Commons chamber itself is very plain by comparison with the Lords and there are not enough seats for everyone. If you are an MP and want to attend a popular debate you must put a card on the seat you want and be present before the debate for prayers.
Alex Chalk told us a story of a debate about English Votes for English Laws, the acronym for that being EVEL and which was opposed by the SNP. Towards the end of the Lords prayer came the line "and deliver us from evil" when an SNP Scottish voice was heard to say "aye, we'll second that".
The tour ended as it was getting dark and Big Ben provided an impressive sight against the darkening sky.
My Barf Rugby boys continue to win games but are finding it harder against the better teams. The last game in October was a hard fought low scoring one against Exeter away at Sandy Park. With 10 minutes to go Exeter scored a try giving them a four point lead and everyone thought that was it but with seconds to go Barf were camped on the Executer try line where numerous scrums collapsed. Eventually one held up and George Ford kicked one of his missiles into the arms of Semesa Rocoduguni on the wing who was quickly tackled. Somehow the ball was recycled and Rocco went through three defenders to score after 10 minutes of extra time to seal a famous win.
The next lunchtime recital at Cheltenham Town Hall was The Ellis Ensemble consisting of Sacha Rattle - Clarinet, Belinda Jones - Piano and Susanne Simme - Bassoon.
This time we sat in a different place to avoid the snorer but we could see him in his usual place fast asleep.
Belinda Jones was Piano Educated at Cheltenham's School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music.
The trio played music by Mendelssohn, Bruch and a composer we had not heard of, Bill Douglas. Turned out the Bill Douglas Suite Cantabile was the star of the show especially the last movement entitled Miles. Bill Douglas is a Canadian musician and composer who writes everything from Classics to Jazz and I assume that Miles was a tribute to Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Turns out the concert programme was wrong and further research revealed that Cantabile is actually the fourth movement of his Cantando Suite which they also played, Miles being the third movement but they played it last to such audience approval they had to play an encore.
The following week we were treated to a couple of young musicians performing César Franck's Sonata in A Major for cello and piano and Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G minor. The cellist was Russian Alisa Liubarskaya and the pianist Harry Nowakowski-Fox who is British.
I had not heard the Franck sonata played before but it was strangely familiar and I now know why. It is in fact Franck's violin sonata with the piano part unchanged but the violin part changed for the cello. It looked and sounded just as difficult to play.
Sue thought the Rach piano part was the most impressive of the recital but the more melodic Franck did it for me.
I am unable to resist a comment for the Kiwi rellies on the ignominious defeat of their precious All-Blacks by Ireland in Chicago who had won 18 games on the trot until they met the boys in green. It only took the Irish 118 years to do it but what a game to avenge the last minute defeat last time they played in Dublin. The better team won and I bet there were a few sore heads both sides of the pond the next day. Most Kiwi's seem to be just pleased it wasn't the Ozzies who finished their record breaking run!
This is rapidly becoming a classical music blog as we continue to attend the weekly recitals in Cheltenham Town Hall. Simon Callaghan is an international piano soloist and chamber musician who specialises in works that are rarely performed, however, on this occasion the first piece, Trois poèmes pour piano d'après Aloysius Bertrand, from Ravel's suiteGaspard de la Nuit, is indeed rarely performed but the second, Chopin's 2nd Piano Sonata, is popular and often played.
The Ravel is considered to be one of the most difficult, especially the third Scarbo movement. It was written in 1908 and reminded me in parts of some of Debussy's Pour le Piano written in 1901 which Ravel must have known and might have had in the back of his mind. I particularly liked the second movement, Le Gibet, which is an Ostinato. This is an Italian word meaning obstinate and in music it means returning to a constant note or phrase persistently. In Le Gibet a B-flat note is repeated throughout with the melody fluctuating above and below it.
Chopin's 2nd Piano Sonata is known as the 'The Funeral March' from the sombre nature of its third movement. It was orchestrated by various composers and used at the state funerals of John F. Kennedy, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and those of Soviet leaders but it is at its most beautiful as a piano piece, especially when played with such feeling as did Simon Callaghan on this occasion.
Other news from Cheltenham this week was that Alex Chalk MP fell off his bike! He continued on to address a meeting of business people on Brexit saying "If I say anything you don't like, it's because I'm concussed."
He told them the worst scenario would be if we have to abide by WTO rules after Brexit but made the point that average WTO tariffs were generally 4 to 5% and we already had a sterling devaluation equivalent to 18%. I do like the man and what he says, especially as he was a remainer. I would add that 80% of the world trades using WTO rules and many of them manage to sell more to the EU than we do.
If we do have to trade under WTO rules then any tariffs will apply equally to the EU who import far more to us than we do to them. It will be the EU and not us who would force such a scenario and if that is what they want then so be it. Those business people had better prepare themselves to pay 18% more for their next Beamer due to currency and another 10% due to tariffs, or maybe they might settle for a Jag?
The final lunchtime recital this year was the duo of Clarissa Payne on flute and Adam Khan on guitar. Born in Somerset, Clarissa is now based in Bristol but has lived and played in such diverse places as Iceland and Abu Dhabi. She has an equally eclectic taste in music and plays everything from classical, rock, folk and jazz.
Adam Khan is Welsh by birth, gave his first recital at age 15 and has played at venues all over the world.
They played their adaptation of a Bach sonata for a piano duo followed by an interesting trio of pieces by French composer Casterede. Finally Adam told us a story of the famous tango composer Ástor Piazzolla who had heard a recording of Julian Bream playing a bagatelle, possibly from Cheltenham Town Hall, by William Walton which included tango rhythms which intrigued him. Why, he thought, was an English guitarist playing his sort of music written by an English composer, so he decided to write some himself.
Histoire du Tango was the result and comprises four pieces. The first is the traditional tango of old which people dance to. The second is when Tango became fashionable and the café society just went to listen to the music. The third describes the new bossa nova rhythms introduced in the sixties by Brazilian musicians and the final piece, the concert tangos imitating modern classical composers.
Piazzolla wrote this piece for flute and guitar and it has become one of his most famous compositions. Altogether a fine finalé to this series of recitals.
The following Thursday was the occasion of our 41st wedding anniversary which we celebrated with Tapas and Flamenco in the Pillar rooms in Cheltenham Town Hall. The Pillar rooms are so named because most places to sit, your view of the stage is restricted by a pillar!
The event turned out to be a splendid occasion with a group called Flamenke from Cadiz performing. Adrián Brenes and María Pardo did the dancing while Mariza Sainz and Jesús Castilla did the singing accompanied by David Cuevas Espinosa on Guitar who was electric (his playing, not the guitar). At the interval a selection of hot and cold Tapas was served at the tables and we enjoyed a glass of Cava supplemented by a nice bottle of red wine from the bar. It was a great night out.
To finish the week we had a Sunday night out at The Pittville Pump Rooms with Mark Steel. He is on tour until December 9th this year and I recommend you see him if you can as we laughed for over two hours. We first heard him on Radio 4 where he had a series of programmes visiting lots of different UK towns where he entertains a local audience by taking the piss out of the locals and their town.
Regency Cheltenham did of course come in for some of the Steel treatment what with the Chandeliers, Doric Columns and painted Dome of the Pump Rooms and he suggested we all had statues in our houses. The man is on the extreme left of politics having shared a stage with the likes of Russell Brand and Jeremy Corbyn but his humour crosses all political boundary's. Much like Billy Connelly, Mark has the gift of observing human nature and seeing the funny side like the notice outside the family planning clinic which advised visitors to use the rear entrance!
This show was entitled "Who do I think I am". Mark was adopted from birth and didn't think about trying to find his natural parents until he was in his thirties. When he did find them it turned out his mother was Scottish and his father was an Egyptian Jew who was a famous backgammon champion and hobnobbed with the rich and famous including Lord Lucan. The TV programme "Who do you think you are" came in for some hilarious criticism when he compared it to his family history.
It was difficult to pick out any highlight as the humour was continuous but I loved the bit when he discovered his mother, who he never met, had died and he could not feel any emotion. He thought he might have some sort of sociopathic disease like Tony Blair!!
On the Rugby Union scene England extended their run of consecutive wins to 13 by beating Argentina with 14 men after Elliot Daley was red carded in the first five minutes while my Barf boys managed to lose 21-20 to Quins at the Stoop. Ireland beat Australia in Dublin who face England next weekend at Twickers where we will expect to thrash them again after the Oz whitewash.
The official first day of winter is December 1st so it is time for another page.