Finish Jack Vettriano puzzle, Record memories, Go to the Proms – numbers 28, 34 and 36

None of these is related, but they are all complete so I thought I would capture them together.


Look carefully and you’ll see it is a puzzle!

Jack Vettriano – an artist I very much admire and my favourite work of his is the Singing Butler, the subject of the puzzle. I did worry that it was taking me so long it might put me off the picture but I’m pleased to say it didn’t. The people were relatively easy to do but then it got to the sky and that was a real challenge! I could sit there and look at it for 15 minutes without seeing where a single piece could go and on other occasions would whack in 5 or 6 in quick succession. The trick I discovered was to go for the little and often approach as I ended up not being able to see the wood for the trees. Finally, the number of pieces dwindled until the final one fitted into place. It’s given me quite an appetite for puzzles, which are great fun but very time consuming. I’ve also discovered quite a community of friends who like them too and that makes me very happy. My Jack puzzle is now on its second lend and there are more lining up to have a go. So far everyone has agreed with my verdict on the sky!


My five year memory book

Recording memories is an ongoing thing. As luck would have it, my daughter bought me a five year memory book. You don’t need to record much each day, after all it is only a fifth of each page. But it’s perfect for me to note down what has happened each day. Most of it is not very interesting and there is a lot about what I spot down by the river while running. Now all I have to do is fill it over 5 years!

And the third item for this post it to head off to the Proms. The first time I went to the Albert Hall for a Prom was one of the first times I headed to London with a friend without adult supervision! It’s so long ago I have no idea what we saw. In 2014 I was fortunate to go to the War Horse Prom. On the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I a special Prom commemorated this anniversary using actors to depict the carefree nature before the war and the horrors that came after. Puppets from War Horse also took their part, with the adult Joey coming up through the floor where the Prommers stand to a cannon firing. Michael Morpurgo was on stage showing his thoughts as he wrote War Horse. Gareth Malone was there with the Military Wives Choir, they sang a particularly haunting version of Home they brought her Warrior Dead with a few of them carrying empty boots they laid on a sheet centre stage. This was then folded over the boots to look like a dear warrior. It was all very moving and incredibly memorable.


The cast for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

So although the Proms is not a new thing to me, it was something that I wanted to continue. And so in the summer of 2016, we headed to the Albert Hall for an altogether different experience. The Proms really are accessible concerts, the tickets are reasonably priced and the concerts short enough to keep the interest and enthusiasm going. This time it was Beethoven, his ninth symphony including the choral Ode to Joy. Our main problem was the heat, it was an unusually hot day and up in the circle the heat just rose off everyone below us. Thank goodness for a programme to waft. This was a most enjoyable concert with a fabulous choir and soloists. The venue of course is first class. One day I might even get to the last night!


The beautiful Royal Albert Hall Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Make damson jam – number 30

I actually did this a little while ago. I added it to the list as we had an enormous bag of damsons and I didn’t want to waste them. So I made the jam.. now, nobody told me about the stones in damsons. Don’t get me wrong, I know that damsons have stones, I mean I don’t know that much about damsons but I do know that they are basically little plums [or as Wikipedia says they are ‘an edible drupaceous fruit, a subspecies of the plum tree’] so I did expect stones. What I didn’t expect was how many there would be!


Look at all those stones – and that’s not yet finished!

Ok, so there is one stone per damson and damsons are smaller than plums and there were indeed a lot of them (nearly 1.5kg!) but I’m sure those pesky stones kept reproducing. I stood for so long pouring over the pot of boiling fruit and sugar picking out stone after stone I thought it would never end!

At first it was fun, picking out the stones feeling like I was the saviour of teeth but that novelty soon wore off. It was replaced by a stubbornness to complete a job now started and it certainly tested my patience. I scooped stone after stone, then when it looked like there were no more to scoop I gave it a good stir and more stones rose to the surface. I repeated this dozens of times until at last I felt confident to say I’d done my best. The recipe had made it sound much easier than it was!


Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and damson jam bubble

Having taken so long to remove all the stones, not much more simmering was needed and the jam was soon ready to put into jars. I can now say that I have made damson jam but I’m in no hurry to do so again. I have made other jams, including a rather tasty rhubarb and vanilla and a ‘what’s left in the freezer that needs using as there’s no room for the chilli’ jam. In reality that was mainly strawberry but there were other berries in there too and very tasty it was and most importantly not a stone in sight!


The finished product, very tasty if I do say so myself, and no one yet has broken a tooth


Go to the Globe, Visit the London Dungeons, numbers 6 and 44

A trip to London saw me tick off two items from the list. The London Dungeons was not quite what I was expecting but good all the same. I was expecting dungeons, with grizzly stories of murder most horrid, treachery and other such tales.


Our trip to the Dungeons was the day after the last BBC Great British Bake Off

Now the dungeons are in their new spot, it is a tour of several hundred years of deepest darkest London. We started off in 1605, the year of the gunpowder plot. Guy Fawkes fate was sealed, but he still had a tale to tell in the form of a holographic head and the whole room shook when he let off the fireworks. We continued round, first of all heading into a lift and it was all enclosed spaces. A slightly odd choice for one who doesn’t like lifts or enclosed spaces…

Oh and the dark too, they plunged us into darkness on a number of occasions, including when questioning a witch who had freed herself and tied up her accuser while the lights were out, and in a pub a year after the last Ripper murder when the bar maid moved around and frightened the life out of those she was suddenly next to!

The end gave the choice of the ride of death (an in the dark sudden drop to simulate hanging!) or the door of freedom. I probably don’t need to tell you which I chose.

Lunch was followed by an altogether more literary visit though no less modern as we headed to the Globe Theatre.


The beautiful stage at the Globe Theatre

I hadn’t realised that it is not built on the exact location of the original though it’s not really that surprising as London has changed somewhat since the days of Shakespeare. In fact, when the Globe was originally built south of the River Thames was not part of London at all.

The tour of the Globe was fascinating, both in terms of the history of the original playhouse as well as the story of the building of the modern replica. Sam Wannamaker certainly had an amazing vision to re-create this important part of our history.

Now all I need to do is go and see a performance, but that will have to be for another time as these don’t take place in the winter months due to the open air nature of the theatre.


The ceiling of the stage depicting the signs of the Zodiac

Tour Arsenal football club – number 49


The floor of the lift

First of all it is important to say that I am not a football fan, I don’t like football at all, I don’t support anyone and I think there is too much money in the game. So why do I want to tour Arsenal football club? Well, that’s a good question and the true answer is opportunity. Through work I enrolled on a programme called Aurora for women working in the higher education sector and the programme took place at two main venues in London. The first was the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, which was pleasant except the conference room was downstairs and there were no windows.


View from the conference room

In contrast our second venue was the Emirates Stadium with a conference room with lots of daylight thanks in no small part to the huge picture windows that over looked the pitch. Now, I may not be a football fan but I can tell a good bit of grass when I see one! And that pitch was spotless, it was hard to believe that, in May, this was towards the end of the season. Those groundsmen must work exceptionally hard.

The opportunity that presented itself was being at the Emirates stadium and having a friend who works there and when I had told her I was coming offered to give me a tour! Well, surely that was an opportunity not to be missed. So I and one of my colleagues on the course snuck out 10 minutes early to meet my friend for the tour. We started in the area where my friend works which is with the local community. The club does a lot of work in the area and has a very lush indoor pitch with artificial grass which can be hired out in the evenings. During the day it is used by local groups, when we popped by there was a game being played by people who had suffered limb amputations. Various educational courses are also on offer for those unable to access other forms of education. Great to see and then we headed to the main stadium which is a world away from the lives led by many in the local community.


Members’ lounge

We saw the FA Cup which is a very impressive piece of silverware. By this stage, Arsenal were out of this year’s competition so the cup wasn’t going to be there for much longer. There were all the replicas from the times they had won too. You could get your photo taken with the cup but we skipped that bit. The members’ lounge is very posh with a good view over the pitch. I’m sure you would miss a lot of the atmosphere being inside though, albeit a whole heap warmer on a windy winter’s day!


Director’s lounge

The director’s lounge was even more lush but the lighting not great for a photo. However, the view of the pitch from there was not great in my opinion but I guess if  you’re in the director’s lounge going to a match for the footie is not top of the list!


The inviting plunge pool

The changing rooms were fascinating and no, no one was actually changing when we looked! The home dressing room was very smart with a plunge pool (which looked most inviting) and the benches arranged in such a way that the manager can see everyone easily. The away changing room was far more basic, no plunge pool and arranged with a table so that the manager wouldn’t be able to see everyone together so easily. The mind games continued as we headed down the tunnel onto the pitch. Life sized cardboard cut outs of the players and, of course, Arsene lined the tunnel.


Me and Arsene….looking a little flat

They were all positioned 6 or 8 inches above the ground so looked down on you as you walked through. Quite intimidating for the away team I should think!

The pitch itself was just as amazing close up as it was from the window. A bouncer stood at the edge of the pitch (but not on the grass!) to make sure that no one trod on the precious blades.

The last part of the tour took in the press conference area. This was a familiar looking place as it is the window into the thoughts of the football manager. So of course, I had to give it a go….there were no television cameras for me though.


Post match review…

It was a very fine way to end the day and hasn’t turned me into even the smallest of football fans but I did enjoy the tour. It’s an iconic stadium and I’ve had the privilege to see it first hand.

The irony of the beautifully kept pitch we were not allowed to touch is that on our second visit a couple of months’ later they were digging it all up! They were installing under pitch heating so they could play in the snow and frost. No wonder they need so much money!


The Gunners

Go to Wimbledon – number 38


The excitement begins!

Every year I’m glued to the television when Wimbledon is on and every year I lament the fact that I haven’t got tickets. So after Wimbledon 2015, I made sure that I would remember. I made a note in my calendar when the ballot opened so that I couldn’t miss the deadline. In September the reminder popped up and I duly sent off for the form and returned the completed form in double quick time.

I’ll be honest, I then forgot about it until one bleak day in February when a non descript white envelope arrived in the post. I rarely get post these days that isn’t trying to give me money (in the form of a loan or new credit card that is) or asking for money so didn’t really think anything of it. When I opened it though – the excitement began. I first noticed the Wimbledon logo and then the words ‘ballot successful’. And it just got better – Centre Court, pair of tickets….Friday 8th July 2016. At that point I started bouncing around the room – Friday 8th July is men’s semi final day, and I had Centre Court tickets! I’d get to see Djokovic and maybe Murray and Federer too! I had a few days in which to pay or the tickets would go back into the ballot. I didn’t need to think, I paid straight away.


Gangway 114, on the right court side

The tickets themselves didn’t arrive until May and at that point I had no idea where we were sitting. I opened the envelope with the tickets and saw gangway 114. I had expected to be high up so this was no surprise. I googled the seating plan for Centre Court and imagine my surprise when I discovered gangway 114 was in fact court side and the tickets were for row C. Could this really be right – could I really be only three rows back on the best court in the world for the semi-finals of the best tennis tournament in the world? It seemed so and I was bouncing around the room with excitement again.


Gordon Reid on his way to Wimbledon victory

Following much excitement in the lead up and, of course, avid watching of the tournament so far, the day finally dawned. My expectation to see Djokovic had been dashed but I was not perturbed. Still not quite believing I had such good tickets, I did half expect to get turned away at the gate. But that didn’t happen and here I was at Wimbledon drinking in the atmosphere and looking at all the familiar places. The first tennis we saw was the semi-finals of the men’s wheelchair singles. This is the first year that wheelchair singles has been played at Wimbledon, so much as it was great to see, it does feel somewhat sad that it has never been played here before. We watched about a set and the tennis was amazing. It’s very different as the players are much closer to the ground so the angles are completely different. This made it just as exciting as any other match and we had the privilege of seeing Gordon Reid who not only went on to win Wimbledon but also the Gold Medal at the Rio Olympics.  We left only because it was time to head to Centre Court, via the shop in which we spent a small fortune!

We had ordered a Wimbledon picnic which we picked up at the food court. A brass band was playing and as we rounded the corner to pick up our food they burst into a rendition of the theme tune used for the BBC coverage – perfect timing and perfect lead in to our walk out onto Centre Court.


Sue Barker and chums!

Still not quite believing our tickets could possibly be so close to court side, we headed into Centre Court looking for gangway 114. There was no mistake, we found our seats which were perfect. Three rows back from court side, in line with the service line at the Royal Box end. I felt quite overwhelmed as I stood there gazing around me. And there on the other side of the court was Sue Barker chatting to John McEnroe, a chap whose back was to me and for a moment looked just like Donald Trump, but it was only Boris Becker. There was a third man and I couldn’t work out who he was from behind. It could be Tim Henman as this was just before a British player was aiming for a Wimbledon final spot but it just didn’t quite look like Tim. When they moved, and the mystery man turned round it was clear that it was Lleyton Hewitt.


Roger Federer – what a Champion!

The first semi-final was between Roger Federer and Milos Raonic. The players came out onto the court and the atmosphere was amazing. Roger Federer came to the Royal Box end of the court to warm up – we were so close I could almost tickle his knees! I then turned around and the players’ box was just behind us and standing there was Mirka, Mrs Federer.


Mirka standing just behind our seats!

The match was amazing – five sets of incredible tennis from both players. I was firmly on Roger’s side and cheered and shouted for him with the rest. Sadly it was not to be and Raonic took the match on the final set. He was a worthy winner and it was an incredibly exciting match. But the day was not over, there was another match to come and our very own Andy Murray. However, after 5 gruelling sets of tennis a comfort break was needed and the best time to go as we didn’t miss any of the tennis.


Andy Murray in action

Andy Murray was in charge of his match from the first ball. It was a master class in tennis and Tomas Berdych really was never in it. So as fantastic as it was and great to see our home grown talent up close, the match was not as exciting as the first one.

What a day – we headed home giddy with the excitement vowing to apply for tickets for Wimbledon 2017, though I can’t believe we could ever be as lucky two years in a row, but you never know…


What does 2017 hold for us?

Go to see Tom Jones – number 45

This was a last minute addition before actually going to see Tom. In a lot of ways it was quite unplanned but when the opportunity arose, soon after missing Duran Duran by 24 hours, I seized it with both hands!

An old work colleague, who I hadn’t seen for 5 years, posted on Facebook that she had a spare ticket to see Tom Jones live at Westonbirt Arboretum, where she now works, on the very same weekend we were visiting the Cotswolds. It was the perfect opportunity to meet up with someone I hadn’t seen for a long while and go to a fun outdoor concert. So I messaged her to ask…have you still got the ticket? The answer was yes and I proceeded to get myself ready to see Tom. No, that didn’t mean raiding my knicker drawer!

The day arrived and I drove what I thought would be the short distance from where we had been staying to my friend’s near Tetbury. It turns out the Cotswolds is bigger than I’d realised! It didn’t matter, I was going to see Tom! I arrived late afternoon to preparations for the picnic, decanting drink into plastic bottles (no glass allowed) and lots of food. I had taken my own contribution though it was starting to feel somewhat inadequate. As I had been taken in as guest and promised a bed for the night I offered to drive the short distance to the Arboretum.


Westonbirt Arboretum but the sun was missing when we were there!

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. The rain started at about 5pm, by the time we arrived to set up our chairs and picnic there was a steady fall. Thankfully, one of the party had brought along rain proof ponchos and I gladly accepted the offer of one. I now had my coat and the poncho wrapped around my legs. This worked reasonably well, though occasionally a trickle of water made its way from on top of the poncho onto my seat and dampened my jeans. Oh I did hope Tom would be worth it…

The support act came on and she was great but quite folksy. On a wet Sunday evening we really needed something lively to get us going. As a result we stayed in our seats, saying how lovely this music would be if the sun was shining. What felt like an age later, it was finally time for Tom. Still raining, though I have to admit it was easing, our dedication was rewarded. Tom strolled onto the stage and started to sing. I had never seen Tom live before and, of course, he’s not as young as he used to be, so I was slightly wary. I need not have worried, if anything Tom’s voice has got better with age. Our seats were forgotten as we stood and danced (well, sort of moved in a sort of rhythmical way) and sang along with Tom. He was at times saucy, sexy and provocative (and yes the knickers did fly, but not mine!) and at others gospel like.


Not a great photo, that is Tom honest! Check out those rain hoods…

Tom talked about his wife, so sad that she had passed away so recently, yet here he was performing, very much I understand as she wished. It was a lovely tribute and a great reaction from the crowd. There was a tangible feeling of love and support, and from the way Tom talked I’m sure he felt it too.

The encore was amazing. Tom and the band left the stage and we, the crowd, did what was expected of us to get them back. The band returned first and started to play the James Bond theme. Then Tom sauntered back on, not many people can get away with sauntering onto the stage to the James Bond theme, but if anyone can, then Tom Jones can! It was a great moment and, having already spent over an hour singing, he gave us the most amazing rendition of Thunderball.

Finally we had to go, trudge over the mud back to the car. Thankfully, we were parked where it was easy to exit so didn’t get caught up in long queues to get out. Returning to my temporary new home for the night, a glass of wine and dry underwear were the order of the day!

Who knows how many more live shows Tom Jones will do, I am amongst the privileged who can say I’ve seen him live.


And I got to go!

Visit the Eden Project – number 33


Those iconic biodomes

When we arranged out Jurassic walk I figured we were not far from the Eden Project and it would be a good opportunity to head down there. Well, I searched on Google maps and our final B&B was 111 miles from the Eden Project! Not exactly close but certainly closer than from where we live and I’d got the idea into my head by then…

So following our three days of walking we headed off to Cornwall for our next adventure. We visited the beautiful Cornish seaside town of Fowey (pronounced Foy to rhyme with Joy as it tells you in the car park). A great place to potter and wind through its narrow streets with quirky shops and places to eat. We had a very fine afternoon tea for our lunch. The climb back to the car park was quite steep which tested our already tired legs.


Spike the tea cosy!

Our B&B for the next couple of nights was interesting. We had the ‘Blue room’ where true to its name everything was blue, down to the blue plastic roses on our pillows. The owner was a little eccentric but all the more delightful for it, especially when she presented us with a tea cosy called Spike for our morning cuppa. Suitably refreshed, we took the road to the Eden Project.

There is always a worry when you finally get to go to somewhere you’ve wanted to go for a long time that the reality doesn’t quite live up to your dreams. I was delighted to find that this was not the case with the Eden Project, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. In fact, I was a little emotional when we got there and saw those iconic biodomes on a such a beautifully sunny day. Inside was just as amazing, seeing these tropical plants so close, with leaves so enormous you could use them as blankets. But it was the outside which, to my surprise, really enchanted me. I had not expected the sculptures and novelties around.


WEEE man

I particularly liked the WEEE man whose presence served to remind us all of the wasteful aspect of our lives. It seemed everywhere we turned a sculpture was hiding, all individual, made out of a variety of materials, including one made from old video tape.


A random beautiful sculpture

Ice cream was a must to complete the day but the queues were enormous. So we settled for a slightly lesser ice cream purchased from the shop to avoid standing around for ages.

The down side….well there was one. We visited the Eden Project on Thursday, the very next day, Duran Duran were playing there live for the BBC Music Day. We were missing a fab group in an even more fab location by 24 little hours! Oh well, it had still been a day worth waiting for.


We missed them by 24 hours!