Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Landfill Orchestra

This is really heartwarming!

Singing in Freiburg, Germany

We sing in two choirs, Royston Priory Singers, which performs entirely in the UK, and Choir18 which does half a dozen gigs in the UK each year, as well as a continental trip over the May bank holiday weekend.  Last year I posted about our trip to Pisa, and this year we went to Freiburg im Breisgau.  Jenny was fortunate in that unusually, the Cambridge exams started after the bank holiday weekend, whereas normally they start before, so she generally can't come on these continental excursions.

The trip worked out perfectly, but I did screw up badly when I booked our flights, and we ended up paying through the nose for it.

First, I had a hangover when I booked the flights, and I'd already left it too late, so there were no seats available on the flight I wanted from London City airport to Basel, which is the nearest airport to Freiburg.  I must remember not to do stuff like this when I have a hangover!

I would normally go straight to the EasyJet website, but somehow ended up buying EasyJet flights from an outfit called CheapoAir.  I mean, for goodness sake, with a name like that I should have heard the alarm bells ringing!

The only flight I could find for last Friday was from Gatwick at 08:10, so that meant we had to stay overnight near the airport.  For simplicity, I booked a room in the Sofitel, Gatwick, which is right by the North Terminal and 2 minutes walk to Check-In.  Pricey, but convenient and good.

Then the only return flight yesterday seemed to be at 9pm, but after I'd booked the seats, Jenny said she needed to be home much earlier than that as she is Senior Examiner for some bits of the Cambridge exams this year, and had to be on-site by 9am this morning.  Getting back late from Gatwick was not on.

We went to EasyJet this time and found a 3pm flight, so booked that as well. You can't get your money back, of course, so we just had to sacrifice the price of the 9pm seats.

As well as all that, the CheapoAir website had not allowed me to add hold luggage or passenger details, but the flight reference they gave me was invalid on the EasyJet site, so I had to do all that stuff by phone.  It all worked, but it was a pain.  Even the online check-in didn't work until I phoned EasyJet, when the customer services person at the other end somehow enabled it.  Still, I ended up with printed out boarding passes for all six passenger trips, so that was OK.

So just to give myself something to worry about, I then phoned EasyJet and explained what I'd done, and asked them to cancel the 9pm booking as we'd be coming home at 3pm.  I figured it that would let them sell those two seats if they wanted to, and they were no use to me.  That meant I could worry about them cancelling all flights, or at least the wrong one.

There were 10 of us all arriving within an hour or so of each other at Basel, so the tour organiser laid on a coach to collect us and take us to the hotel, in a village near Freiburg.  Bizarrely, although Basel is in Switzerland, the airport is in France, so there are exits to two different countries from the terminal and you have to make sure you go out the right one.  Fortunately we were forewarned, so got it right first time!  I had also taken the trouble to check the weather forecast, so we'd packed our thermals.  It was colder than the UK!

On Saturday morning we were coached to Freiburg Minster for midday.  They have a short meditation, some sort of reading from the bible, I suppose, though as it was all in German, I have little idea what it was actually about.  Either side of the talking, we got to sing for a few minutes.  The acoustics were great and there must have been a couple of hundred people in there.  They seemed pretty appreciative, too, which was gratifying.

At four the coach collected us and took us to another village near Freiburg, where we hung about for a bit, then sang in the 6pm mass.  Unlike the French, who no longer seem keen on proper music in their masses, the Germans were well up for it, and gave us lots of slots.  We sang a lovely Victoria mass, a modern Ubi Caritas, Gabrielli Jubilate Deo, Stanford Beati Corum Via, Byrd O Lux Beata.  It was cracking, and they loved it, as did we!

After the mass, sung from a balcony at the back of the church, we went down to the front and sang a short concert of secular pieces, one of which I'd never actually seen before.  Sight reading in front of an audience is scary, I tell you!  Still, they liked the concert just as much as the mass, so we came away feeling suitably smug.

On Sunday we had a rather early start for the coach to take us to yet another village for a morning mass, this place being the monastery of St Trudpert in M√ľnstertal.  This place was enormous, also with a balcony at the back, from which we sang.  The organ loft was up there, too, and not only was it a pretty impressive piece of kit, but the organist was really good!  It was a pleasure to watch her play the Bach voluntary at the end of the service.  The music was the same as for Saturday's mass.
 The coach then took us to Lake Titisee, supposedly to do some sightseeing, but it was cold and rainy, and our immediate group only made it as far as a restaurant right next to the coach park, where we had lunch, which took until it was time to go home.  At the highest point of the trip it was actually snowing, and there was snow on the trees and buildings.

Back at the hotel we gave another concert, but sadly whoever was in charge of publicity had failed miserably.  The audience did just scrape into double figures, but most of those were our own groupies - spouses and children of choristers.  Still, it went well and we were pleased with our performance.

Yesterday, Jenny, our friend Pam and I, caught bus, tram and coach to the airport.  Bus to the tram terminus, tram to the coach terminus in Freiburg and coach to Basel.  We were well early, but disappointed to find no restaurant in the airport, just a snack bar.  The baguettes were good, but actually, we'd have liked a sit down meal.

It's only just over an hour's flight to Gatwick and then we were amazed to get out of the airport in less than half an hour. I was sure we'd have dire traffic on the M25, it being the end of the bank holiday weekend, but there was not a single hold-up - we just drove home in about an hour and a half.  Fantastic!  I suppose the fact that it's half-term week must have contributed to that.

So all in all, a brilliant weekend.  Home in loads of time, knackered but happy. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fabulous contemporary dance!

We went to see the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Cambridge Arts Theatre last night, and it was simply breathtaking!  They did three short sessions, with two intervals, which is not uncommon with contemporary dance, since it's so physical.  I think they'd exhaust themselves if they tried to organise it any other way.

One of the unusual features of this company is that they have one or more musicians on stage providing the music, whereas most companies have recorded music.   The disadvantage is that some of the floor space is taken up by the grand piano, but that didn't seem to cause any difficulty.  Well, they'll have rehearsed with the piano there for years, so must be used to it.

We were really enjoying it and telling each other how good it was, but when they started the final set we were just blown away.  This is called The Devil in the Detail and is set to a series of Scot Joplin rags.  Not only was the dancing brilliant, but it was also perfectly obvious that the performers were having an absolute whale of a time.

There's a short clip on their website, but I couldn't manage to embed the html, so I'm afraid you'll have to click the link to see them in action.  This is a the last minute and a half or so of Devil in the Detail.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A new African mask

When I was in Spain collecting a few last personal effects from the flat at the end of March, I went into Fuengirola one day and visited the African Fine Arts shop, where I bought this splendid Dan tribal mask.  There is a lower beak, hidden in amongst the grass 'hair', but I've not yet found a way to mount the mask on the wall so that you can see it.

The Dan people are from Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast, and this is a 'singer' mask.  The wearer sings praises, though I'm unclear exactly whose.   I've not found anything like it in any of my books about African masks.

I might get in touch with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge to see if they can shed any further light on it.

Minnesota approves gay marriage

Well, hoorah!  It seems more and more US states are approving gay marriage, and the more the merrier, I say.  For goodness sake, if two people love each other, why should they not get married?. I really can't understand the attitude that argues that there is something somehow wrong about single sex relationships.  Just doesn't make any sense to me. I don't know many gay people, but they just seem totally normal. What's not to love?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Weekend in Sheringham

We've just spent the weekend in a holiday flat in Sheringham, with our good friends and neighbours, Lorna and Richard.  As usual, we drove up on Friday and had the usual excellent fish and chips from the chippie at the end of the street, then on Saturday did a bit of birding at Cley Marshes, had dinner in the wonderful No 10 restaurant in Sheringham, wandered along the foreshore on Sunday morning and came home in the afternoon.

The chippie is called Seafare and is in Church Street, and if you're looking for decent fish and chips in Sheringham, I recommend them.  Jenny and I discovered them the very first time we stayed in this particular flat, and we've settled into the routine of getting fish and chips there on the Friday whenever we stay in Sheringham.  Terrific!

Richard and Lorna supplied lovely warm croissants for breakfast on Saturday, accompanied by the most enormous fruit salad!  We were well full by the end of that!  After a wander around town and a look at the market, we drove to Cley next the Sea where we had lunch in the Dun Cow, actually at Salthouse, next to Cley.  Despite the place being pretty full, they managed to serve us good food promptly.  We were impressed that the operation was so slick, given the number of customers.

The Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is owned by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, of which we're not members, so we had to pay to go in, which was fine. There are decent boardwalks to the hides we visited, and we got good views of quite a few birds, including ringed plover, black-tailed godwit, dunlin, redshank (displaying), avocet, gadwal and shoveller ducks and marsh harriers.  All very satisfactory.  Lorna and Richard are not birders, so their interest was limited and we didn't push our luck, so Jenny and I would cheerfully have stayed longer, but let our friends drag  us home!

Dinner in No 10 was as great as ever, with a warm welcome from owner Sonya.  I had an excellent local fillet steak, but as the rest were all eating fish, they had white wine, while I contented myself with an enormous glass of red.

On Sunday it was my turn to cook breakfast, so first we finished off Richard's fruit salad, then I made omelettes Arnie Bennett.  The pukka Omelette Arnold Bennett requires clever sauces, but the version I did is designed, according to the author of the book I used, for people who don't have staff.

Omelette for two.
4 large eggs
a slug of milk - you could probably use some of what you cook the fish in
salt and pepper
a small knob of butter
a lump of undyed, smoked haddock - say 10 or 12 cm square and a couple thick
enough milk to just cover the fish in a pan
10 peppercorns
a bay leaf
single cream
75 - 100 gm gruyere or emental

  • Lay the fish in a pan and just cover with milk.  Add the peppercorns and bay leaf.  Bring the milk to the boil, remove from the heat, cover and leave for 5 minutes. 
  • When time is up, take the fish out of the pan, skin it and flake it into a bowl.  Add a good slug of cream and mix it all up.
  • Fire up the grill so it's hot when you need it.
  • Beat the eggs with the milk, then season with salt and pepper.  Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan and when it's bubbling, pour in the egg mixture.  As the edges set, pull them towards the middle and run more liquid egg into the space.
  • Once most of the egg is set, but with the middle still liquid, spread the haddock and cream over the top, then grate the cheese over the top of that.  Stick it under a hot grill until the top starts to go golden.
  • Serve immediately.
After that a walk around the town was essential to settle things down or we'd have stayed sitting in the settees all day!  We spent quite a while sitting, reading and drinking coffee as it was!

After the walk, we decided we really needed to get some lunch, not so much because we were hungry but it was getting towards two o'clock and we knew we needed to eat before setting out back to Royston.  We went into a pub that just happened to be handy and were served enormous portions.  Needless to say, I could only eat about half of mine, but it was good - three tasty sausages in a big Yorkshire pudding with a big serving of gravy.  And chips, and peas, and carrots.  I was defeated before I'd even started it!

Lorna and Richard set off homewards more or less straightaway, but Jenny and I wanted to go to Pensthorpe Nature Reserve near Fakenham.  Sadly, the day was so far progressed by the time we set out that it was not practical, so we've had to save that for our next visit.

We were pretty glad to collapse in a heap when we got home.  A great weekend, but knackering!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Hedge Project

I seem to have re-prioritised my time and blogging has quite unconsciously been demoted.    Maybe I'm doing stuff slower these days, or maybe I'm just doing other stuff, but I certainly seem to get to blogger much less often than I used to.

Well anyway, here's one of the things Jenny and I got up to over the winter, finally finishing the project about three weeks ago.   I did eventually find a 'before' photo dating from 1992, but then realised it's just anyole leylandii hedge so there's no point inserting it here.

You'll be able to tell from the shape of the image that I've stitched together a couple of photographs!

This hedge was mature when we bought the house in 1986 and we've never liked it, though until now, not disliked it enough to actually do anything about it.  But now we've stripped off all the green stuff, so the conifers will die, and we've planted hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, guelder rose, bramble, honeysuckle, etc, intending it to grow into a more typical English hedgerow, better to look at than the old one and more environmentally friendly to boot.  The old trunks lend an architectural character to it, and the trellis with brushwood screening attached improves our privacy while the hedge is growing.