28 October 2008

A week in Hampshire...

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun! Lynda and I spent last week (Tuesday to Sunday) visiting her aunt and uncle, down in Hampshire, and we had a great time. The journey down was nice and easy and took us just under 2½ hours. Tuesday afternoon and evening was spent catching up on news both here at home and down in Andover.

On Wednesday, I was able to get out and do some birding for the first time in a number of weeks thanks to the local knowledge of Lynda’s aunt and uncle; they took us to a new, to me, birding site, Blashford Lakes near Ringwood. We spent almost three hours at the reserve and recorded 38 species. Birds seen included Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Buzzard, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a flock of around 40 Siskin. After a very enjoyable morning at Blashford Lakes we drove just around the corner to The Alice Lisle pub for lunch. The morning had been good; a good pub lunch is always more than acceptable!

Blashford Lakes.

Little Egret.

The Alice Lisle Inn.

After lunch we took a drive down to Bournemouth, to see the sea. I can report that the sea was there, as was the beach. For some reason no one was swimming in the sea though - that may have had something to do with the rather cool temperature! The sea was very calm, the sky a rather nice shade of blue but it was far from warm out on the pier. Fingers crossed, it will be a lot warmer when we visit again next spring with the Derby RSPB Group.

Bournemouth beach.

Thursday saw the four of us out and about in the countryside again, this time for a 5½ mile walk with the Andover U3A walking group. We started off at the Deane Gate Inn and completed a circular walk taking in the lanes and footpaths around the villages of Deane and Oakley. The walk took us just under 2½ hours and after changing out of muddy walking boots (some of the tracks were a little waterlogged!) we then enjoyed our second pub lunch in 24hrs! Being off work can be tough at times!

Autumn trees near Oakley.

Oakley church.

Deane Gate Inn.

On Friday I spent the morning reading whilst Lynda, her aunt and uncle went shopping. By the time they returned I had finished my book, which I had only just started reading. This came as a bit of a surprise to Lynda as I’m not the fastest of readers! I can often pick up a book, read for just a few minutes and then put it down again. Seeing me without a book to read prompted Lynda’s uncle to look out a few novels he had finished with - I now have more than a dozen Patricia Cornwell books to read. Cornwell is one of my favourite authors at the moment but I think it’s going to take me a while to get through this little lot!

Most of Saturday was spent visiting another of Lynda’s aunts and uncles, this time in the picturesque village of Wildhern. The morning was spent catching up on what had been happening in the world, over a cup of coffee, before having ploughman's lunch. We were treated to a delicious home grown salad, fresh bread, cheeses, jam and a glass of cider. The food was all organically grown and it tasted all the better for it. I did have to earn my lunch here though... Lynda’s uncle had a pumpkin in the garden that needed bringing inside before the frosts arrived and asked if I could carry it in for him. “Not a problem, I’ll do that”. Once the pumpkin was inside, and eventually balanced on the scales, we found that it weighed in at just over 77 lbs! I needed my lunch after that!

Saturday evening saw us at the theatre - not something you hear me say too often! Don’t worry, I haven’t developed a liking for opera or anything like that, we went to see Gyles Brandreth. The show is best described as “An Evening With Gyles Brandreth”; the author, broadcaster, actor and former MP delivered a non-stop talk that covered such a wide range of subjects it would be hard to list them all here. One thing I will say is that it was a very funny evening. At times, some may have found him to be a little close to the knuckle with his comments and views but he was certainly entertaining.

After an extra hour in bed on Sunday, due to the clocks going back an hour, it was time to start and think about heading for home. After such a relaxing week it was a bit of a wrench to pack the car and face the motorways again. The journey home was made just a little easier by the thought that we only have one week back at work before Lynda and I have another break, this time at Center Parcs! Roll on next week!

20 October 2008

RiverSea - The Reasoning...

The Reasoning (acoustic) gig at Rotherham was good, the gig at Crewe great but the Bilston gig last night was simply awesome! In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was my best gig of the year - I even found my bouncy feet again when the band played Fallen Angels! The Reasoning are now well established on “the circuit” and the ever-growing band of followers are more than ready to let their hair down. This summer I’ve missed the Bluehorses crowd, and the fun we have, but The Reasoning have more than made up for it this past week!

Last night started off for me with a couple of minor problems... half way to Bilston I realised I’d forgotten my camera. Never mind, no time to turn back, live without it. Once at Bilston I hit a slightly bigger problem, the chip shop was shut! This was not so easy to live with! After walking the streets for a while, and even asking a Policewoman if she knew where I could get food, I came across a Chinese takeaway. A short while later I was back in the car eating a huge bag of chips and battered onion rings! Not gourmet stuff, but just what I needed.

As for the music, the evening started off with a support slot by new band RiverSea. This was their first live gig with a full sound system but you’d never have known it - they played one of the better support gigs I’ve seen in a long while. The band are still looking to add a bass player and a drummer to the line up - at the moment they are “getting by” with keyboards, acoustic and lead guitars - but the foundations are certainly in place. I’ll be watching out for more live dates in the future.

At 9:15PM The Reasoning started their set and from then until almost 11:00PM it was non-stop quality rock. The band played 13 tracks in all with the full set list being...

Sharp Sea
Dark Angel
Fallen Angels
Aching Hunger
Chasing Rainbows
Shadows Of The Mind
Call Me God
Absolute Zero
Breaking The 4th Wall
How Far To Fall
Talk To Me
A Musing Dream

Best track on the night, for me, had to be Fallen Angels, the track that had me joining in with the bouncing! Rachel Cohen started it all off on stage, the crowd quickly joined in! Okay, we’re not quite talking Bluehorses quality from the “dance crowd” yet but it’s getting there!

Over the past week one track has taken a real turn with me, Call Me God. When I first heard this track, on the Dark Angel CD, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, having heard Rachel explain the song, and it’s meaning, I’ve seen (or should that be heard?) it in a whole new light. It’s now become one of my favourite tracks on the CD.

So, that’s the end of my own little “Autumn Chill” music tour for now. My next gig will be the Oysterband in a month’s time, quickly followed by the mighty Neverland - unless something else comes along in the mean time!

19 October 2008

Mermaid Kiss - The Reasoning...

On Thursday Lynda and I drove over to Crewe for another evening of great music. This time it was The Reasoning supported by Mermaid Kiss. Mermaid Kiss kicked the evening off with a short but very good set. They played for just over half an hour and went down very well with the Limelight crowd. Highlight for me had to be the superb Siren Song - by far my favourite Mermaid Kiss song.

Jamie Field - Mermaid Kiss.

Evelyn Downing, Wendy Marks - Mermaid Kiss.

Colin Henney, Richard Northwood - Mermaid Kiss.

The Reasoning took to the stage at just before 10:00PM and played for almost two hours, including an encore. The set list was made up of much of the new Dark Angel album plus a number of older tracks from Awakening. The whole set was superb but Call Me God, Dark Angel and Breaking The 4th Wall deserve special mention. The final track of the night was Awakening and a huge cheer from the crowd greeted it - the vocals of Dylan Thompson and Rachel Cohen were amazing.

In a couple of hours time I’ll be setting off for Bilston to see The Reasoning play their final gig on this leg of the tour. Yet another trip to the fuel station, yet more miles covered, yet another late night - but it’s all more than worth it!

15 October 2008

Evening! Just a quick update on what’s been going on.

My sponsorship for the British Heart Foundation bike ride is coming along nicely; so far I’ve raised almost £140. There is still a long way to go before I reach my target of £350 but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can get there. If you haven’t sponsored me yet please do consider it. It doesn’t have to be huge amounts - every single pound raised makes a difference, and those pounds soon add up if enough people donate them! Please click on the icon below to visit my online sponsor page. Thank you!

In preparation for the bike ride, I took a trip into Derby to do a bit of shopping last weekend - I came home with a new cycle helmet (the first I’ve ever owned) and a pair of padded cycling boxer shorts! The helmet is something I’ve been intending to get for a while now, but never got around too. The padded boxers may not get used too often but I’m hoping that they will more than pay for themselves during the 36 miles or so that I will cover around Sherwood Forest. Mountain bike saddles aren’t the most user friendly of things you know!

So far, I’ve managed to avoid Lynda’s efforts to get a photo of me in the helmet but it looks like the one below. No doubt I’ll get caught by Lynda, and her camera, on the day of the ride. By then I may have gotten used to being seen with half a blue and silver melon on my head!

This week has seen my “Autumn Chill” music tour stepped up a gear with an acoustic gig by The Reasoning on Sunday afternoon and then a Karnataka gig last night. Sunday’s gig proved to be a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon; we had a steady drive up to Rotherham, lunch in the pub and then almost an hour and a half of great music. After seeing Neverland acoustic and now The Reasoning acoustic I’m starting to get a taste for these sort of gigs. Being held in pubs, on a Sunday afternoon, helps too!

The Reasoning, having fun!

Karnataka last night was a more serious affair - almost two hours of full-on “prog rock”. It’s over 18 months since I last saw this band play live and, half-way through the set, I found myself wondering just why I’d left it so long. There has been a change of drummer, and the addition of a backing vocalist, since I saw Karnataka last and the overall sound has benefited from it. I’m not saying there was a problem with the music before - far from it - but it sounded even better last night. Pity that I’ve so much going on right now or I’d go and see them again later in the tour.

Tomorrow, I’m off to see The Reasoning and Mermaid Kiss play in Crewe and then on Sunday it’s The Reasoning, once again, and RiverSea as support. I love my live music but it does start to get just a little costly when everyone starts touring at the same time!

07 October 2008

BHF sponsorship...

Today, I arrived home to find the information pack for my British Heart Foundation sponsored bike ride had arrived - there’s no turning back now!

I have just set up a sponsorship page at the Justgiving web site so that donations to the BHF can be made safely on-line. Please visit...
Starting tomorrow I will also be collecting sponsors via the old fashioned way of pen and paper so, if our paths are likely to cross over the next few weeks, I’ll be more than willing to talk to you! If not, PLEASE visit the Justgiving site.

Thank you for your support.

05 October 2008

Fund raising...

For the past three years I've taken part in the British Heart Foundation High Peak Trail Winter Challenge, a 17-mile hike in the Derbyshire Peak District. I've thoroughly enjoyed each of the three walks, even last year's torrential rain, flooded trails and snow, but have decided it's time for a break. This year I'll be spared the blisters, aching muscles and creaking knees but I will be thinking of the many, many people that will take part in the event. I may well even regret not being there!

I will, however, still be doing my part to help raise vital funds for the British Heart Foundation. I'm going to take part in the Hearts First Robin Hood Bike Ride on 2nd November instead! The thought of being out in the November weather for a 17-mile walk just didn't sound much of a challenge this year (joke!) so I've pledged to cover 36 miles (at least) around Sherwood Forest by bike! I say "at least" because if I can beat my sponsorship target of £350 by enough then I'll try my very best to add an extra flying lap or two of the 6-mile course as a thank you to everyone that sponsors me!

My application for the ride has already been submitted to the BHF so just as soon as I receive my entrance pack I'll be posting details here regarding ways to sponsor me. I know we're in the middle of this credit crunch thing but please give some serious thought to donating to the British Heart Foundation via my sponsored ride. Just think... if you skip just one trip to the pub next week or go without that unhealthy take-away meal or miss out a few bars of chocolate, or packets of crisps, and donate the money saved to the BHF you'll not only be helping this worthy charity you'll actually be helping your own health just a little too! I've funded my entrance fee, and also the purchase of a BHF t-shirt, by cutting out all the bacon sandwiches I'd normally have at work! That, I can tell you, has hurt!

Below is a short video that I'd like you to take a quick look at. It's only four minutes of your life but it may well be enough to save someones life.