Tuesday, August 28, 2007

'It's all about making do' says DH - That's camping! the difficulty is in the packing (something He, of course, doesn't get involved with..) i.e. how do you pack the minimum amount of stuff for the maximum amount of comfort (or rather perhaps the minimum amount of inconvenience)??!! ? The trick is to think in sections of the day/night: e.g. the air-bed is a must for getting a decent night's sleep (as are my ear plugs - I'm a very light sleeper)! Tea bags and a kettle (that means (at the very minimum) a small gas canister, a lighter and a pint of milk for breakfast (!). The list goes on... and your car boot very soon fills up; with stuff that you never imagined you would need - but find yourself thinking 'but I can't possibly do without THAT' (e.g. iPod and speakers, (and maybe a bear ...))!!!
We stayed for the first time at the excellent South Penquite camp site which is probably the most unusual of all the campsites we've stayed at all over the world. Briefly - they are a working Organic (officially registered) livestock farm, near to the site of Brown Willy - no really that really is the name of the highest hill in Cornwall, and home to a number of ancient sites of standing stones and stone circles nearby to the legendary Athurian Tintagel. The farmer, Dominic Fairman (very dashing) and his large family are obviously not in it for the money -the camp site is not even half used and then declared 'fully booked' on the sign outside (!) Situated on a glorious southwest facing hill overlooking the unspoilt scenery of Bodmin Moor - you couldn't hope for a better location. No caravans or campers allowed - which also adds to the sense of 'making do': no serious campers here - only proper tents and hikers allowed. On the lower field is the 'Yurts' - the ready-made teepees with integral stoves and camp-beds (the added luxury comes at a price!) The facillities here were OK - nothing special. The showers are solar-powered (so best to get there at the end of the day rather than in the (luke warm, very busy) mornings). No tiles, only (apparently) recycled yoghurt pots as an interior plastic covering to the wooden buldings - maybe more of a gimmick than a worthwhile investment (?). Funnily enough, the new shower block doesn't include a loo block and the although it's lovely to have a large shower cubicle all to yourself (even if it is a coldish dribble of water on offer), it's rather frustrating to have to walk more than 50 feet away to the loo block to find the 3 (cold only) sinks to brush your teeth at (!). The only warm water available is at the washing-up sinks outside the shower-block (strange). Overall - rather an ill-thought-out arrangement - but hey, maybe stage 2 of their investment will include fitting sinks and loos in each cubicle too (!??)
What made up for this (let's be honest, nothing more than...) inconvenience was the excellent location, and general ambience of the place, which was summed-up by the drifting smell of evening smoke from everyone's old-fashioned camp fires (£4 for logs from the farmhouse): something you are rarely allowed on regular camp sites in the UK. Also the daily visits from the groups of ducks and geese and turkeys which went on 'hoovering-up' sessions round the whole campsite, in search of remnants from each group's BBQ. Not sure whether J would have been happy with this lot on top of MY car....
But the quiet sunsets were something very special....

Importantly, there are two pubs nearby (i.e. within biking distance) (nothing fancy you understand, this is a bit of a food-desert as far as restaurant guides are concerned, unless you're self-sufficient): The Blisland Inn and the Old Inn at St Breward - both good in their own way: the Blisland better for friendly service and proper beer - it's not often you see a bar like this any more - low old beams full of old beer mats and glasses, where the locals still have their own designated pewter beer jugs (and the sign behind the bar advertises snuff available at £2) - whereas the Old Inn is a bit more commercialised and situated very high above sea level with marvellous views of the surrounding area and specialises in proper pub grub with a good value carvery on offer on Sundays. Maybe we were slightly biased towards the Old Inn, as we reached it after a long, hot and sun-burnt 25 mile bike-ride (via Bodmin) along the last bit of the Camel Trial that we needed to cover from a previous trip. It was a real effort to climb - in 'top-top' gear (I admit to having to get off and walk a few yards) up the final big hill to the top of St Breward - but well-worth it. The views were amazing! And everyone we met said hello on the way - it was a bit strange at first - but that's the way of these Cornish people. We were glad that the local shop was open too.
Maybe we shouldn't have stopped at Bodmin for quite so long - but J had to see the Lewis sadly lose the F1 at the Weavers Inn . (We were glad to see it's now got new mangement since our last visit and has had a re-furb). Bored, I escaped for a while to have a walk around and visited the Thomas a Becket chapel at nearby St Petroc's church where the gargoyles mark the ancient water spring that once serviced the whole of Bodmin until quite recently. I had a chance there to say a prayer for my poor guilt-ridden Catholic soul and also to have a nice conversation with a local old lady who was busy collecting blackberries from the graveyard hedgerows. She was very enthusiastic in telling me how she had felt so guilty about taking the blackberries to make into useful and delicious jams and pies, so much so, that last week she had taken two made-up jam-jars round to the Old Rectory nextdoor to give to the vicar. Predictably, he had thanked her for her trouble and assured her that she should help herself to as many berries as necessary (and apparently hastily took the jams, mumbling something about the forthcoming Harvest Festival). By the time I had returned to the Weavers the skies had turned cloudy, Lewis had finished 5th, and it was time to set off on the long journey home to South Penquite via Tressaret and the old quarry.

We found some lovely places to buy good quality local food along the way. The best was St Kew Farm shop at St Maybyn, which stocks the famous Blue Mango bakery products - the best organic bread in the UK (OK, maybe I've said that before, but the hot food here is fantastic). The fresh veg selection is also amazing and I didn't find it difficult to quickly spend £30 before our return home on everything from runner beans to fresh coffee (and the chilli chocolate was very tempting too).
The only disappointing aspect of the trip was the fishing. Coarse fisherman probably would be quite happy here, but J's fly fishing was spoilt by the lack of maintenance of the beats and the hot weather. Fish were few and far between and even the ones we saw were tiddlers. I've emailed Angling 2000 with some feeback as we had to pay them to fish these beats in advance. Luckily, I'd brought my sketch-pad and pencils to while-away the many hours in the sunshine while J struggled with trying (unsuccessful) different flies...but later he did manage some success when his kite got into the air a few times over the campsite (much to wonderment of the other campers)...
What I like about this place is everything is very understated...the footpaths and villages are barely signposted and even the excellent nearby East Rose cottage (fishing lakes) have no real clue as their true purpose. The moor ponies at the side of the road (and even the occasional cow) add to the atmosphere to make this place a really desolate but mysterious place. Very peaceful and relaxing. Next time we will try the nearby Temple Fishery which apparently (we found out too late) is the best place to catch yourself a decent brown trout...Although 'next time' now will probably be in the Springtime I guess.......

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It’s the final countdown now until the beginning of another term.

Can’t believe the Summer has nearly disappeared already! Now it’s down to the unending paperwork of sorting lesson plans for next year….We did have a magnificent time in Crete though – it’s gotta be the best Greek island surely?!! More like the Greek I knew from 20 years ago (Hydra) when I first visited (seems more like a lifetime ago). We stayed in a little place called the Alykes in Elounda and ate fresh fish every day from the little boats which moored in the harbour. There’s not many places I’ve visited that I would go as far as calling ‘magical’ – but Elounda’s definitely one of them. Our apartment was about 50 steps away from the ‘Blue Flagged’ sea (which really was as clean and blue as you would ever imagine a sea could be). The people were wonderful, the food cheap, the weather between 33-38 every day with a nice cool breeze in the evening….too good to be true? Well maybe the return flight could’ve been better – but hey, after suffering the absolute hell of flying into and out of Naples last year – anything else pales into insignificance by comparison.

We had a very, very lazy time. But there was one very important decision for each of us to make every day. Mine was: ‘Mmmmm, what colour bikini should I wear today?’ and J’s was ‘Which restaurant shall we eat at tonight?’ (!!) In fact the only time we dragged ourselves away from the beach was to visit the touristy island of Spinalonga – it's just off the coast of nearby Plaka. It used to be a leper colony for Greece right up until the 1950’s. A lot of the older buildings were sadly demolished in the 70’s – but some remain and it’s a bit spooky walking round the small narrow streets that used to be the marketplace for the poor(ly) residents. Reminded me of Pompeii a bit (not to mention the heat). Plaka itself (back on the mainland) is an excellent ‘designery-type’ place (very ‘us’) with only a handful of small shops and excellent fish restaurants. Probably a nice quiet place to stay compared to Elounda (although we were the other side of the town, so well away from all the bar and road noise, thankfully). We saw lots of beautiful sailing ships moored-up around the beach (I’m very jealous, Jason) and maybe next year we’ll be a bit more adventurous and get about the islands a bit more…

Must just report on one incident that made us both laugh our heads off at one of the restaurants: it was another lazy lunch time (yes, probably about 4pmish). On the next table was a group of older-generation ‘Hell’s Angels’ – about 5 couples. Overweight, tattoos, string vests…you get the picture. The first thing I heard one of the guys say was ‘Oooooh, I’m really missing me dogs’ at which the others tried to sympathise and say they would be home again before they knew it. Anyway, they ordered, and unusually for this place (maybe the waitress wanted them gone) the food turned up quite quickly (when I say quickly, I mean Greek style – that is, within the hour)! Plates clattered, and more wine sent for (while J and I picked at another delicious Greek salad). Next thing we hear from the next table is ‘Wow, that was delicious!’ to which the others asked 'what was it?' The answer was ‘a veal’. Silence. ‘What is ‘a veal’ anyway?’ someone asks...Silence (apart from the stifled laughter at our table obviously). Suggestions abound: maybe it’s a vegetable…. or an animal. Dunno. Helpfully, someone at last offers: ‘I think it’s a type of cow, innit’. We were having too much fun to explain. We did laugh. Well, OK, maybe you had to be there….

Best restaurant in Elounda? Must be the Ferryman on the quayside – although the rest are cheaper and almost as good. No horrible cheap plastic tablecloths and patio chairs to be found here! Consistently, proper, clean table linen. Best bar? Alliogos’s place in the square – we watched the rugby there and the family were always welcoming - along with the smallest dog in the world - Leo ('the Lion')! Best shop? Wish I could remember its name – owned by Nickolas at the top of the town who imports all his stuff from Bali and mainland Greece. Proper stuff – not tourist tat.

I read lots of excellent books the best of which included: Ian McEwans ‘Atonement’ (lucky as I’ve just discovered it's soon to be released as a film). Nicci Gerrard’s ‘Things we knew were true’(desperately realistic) and Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ (hilarious)…
piccies to follow...
Off to pack the bikes and fishing gear for the weekend’s camping now! Let’s hope the weather stays nice for us….:)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

One good thing about this bloody weather - visiting the RAH for our annual Prom concert (s) is approaching comfortable for the first time in years! Although they've made some effort recently to renew the ancient old building, the airconditioning is still far from adequate and it's normally so frustrating to have to put up with sitting there sweating, and people around you annoyingly constantly fanning themselves with their programmes (a rip-off £5 now) and opening bottles of pop at the most quiet of musical moments during the performance. But refreshingly, there was none of that on our last two visits recently. The first one was the 'French evening' - that was Debussy (L'apres midi..), Ravel and Faure a couple of weeks ago, and instead of racing home at midnight like we normally do, we decided to make a weekend of it and treat ourselves to another (leisurely) late lunch at my favourite: Bibendum, and stay over at a cheapy hotel in Kensington.

It was a busy concert as you can imagine, and we had left it too late to get any decent seats, but managed to get two in the choir seats for the same price as the prommers. I can never understand why they don't sell of the cancelled tix cheaply just before the performance if they haven;t managed to re-sell them. Seems such a waste to see those good seats not taken up! Anyway, it was a wonderful performance and as usual a great atmosphere. We said no thanks to the rather sad looking over-priced breakfast under the hotlamps at the hotel and instead stopped at a great little Italian cafe for a full english. The sun was shining and we sat outside watching all the different Londoners taking their dogs for walks in the nearby park.

Last week we went to see some of the 'Brass Day' (J's choice) and your know that this was the first one they had celebrated in 20 years apparently. The programme was vast including:
Orfeo – Toccata (2 mins)
G. Gabrieli
Sonata pian’e forte (5 mins)
Canzon Terza, from Sacri concentus ac symphoniae; Venice 1618 (5 mins)
Traditional Uzbek Music (15 mins)

Vaughan Williams
Overture – Henry V (9 mins)
Hans Werner Henze
Ragtime and Habaneras (14 mins)
Toccata (Oh, the Blessed Lord) (7 mins)
Philip Wilby
...Dove Descending (18 mins)
Severn Suite (22 mins)
Musorgsky, arr. Elgar Howarth
Pictures at an Exhibition (35 mins) (One of my favourites, which for sone unknown reason always reminds me of Henry Moore sculptures)???!!!!!!!

I almost wished I played a brass instrument as I saw the streams of brass-playing people carrying their beloved huge instruments across The Gore from ICL, all ages and abilities, joining-in with an afternoon of rehearsals with the Black Dyke Brass & Grimethorpe Colliery Bands. What a great opportunity!

Just down for the day this time, we had lunch at our favourite little Italian Restaurant just down Prince Consort Road (fantastic seafood Linguini) and were at the afternoon performance for 2pm. Interestingly we sat next to one of the trumpet players who would be performing in the evening concert although he was very distressed during the first half as his (new) girlfriend had to be seated the other side of the Circle as there were no seats left together for them (Oh the joys of new love and being separated for a devastating 35 mins)!!! Fortunately, a member of staff managed to re-unit them after the interval (!!) The most unusual part of the concert was a small group of traditionally dressed Uzbekistan horn players, standing in the centre of the Arena. They had meter long single note horns, and played long monotones whilst simultaneously turning around so that all the audience felt they had been 'spoken to' personally. The sound was amazing and a bit spooky too! There was a drummer involved also, but very simple and haunting...

I've re-asserted one of my life's ambitions (along with flying in a balloon): to rent one of these wonderful grand Victorian apartments next to the RAH, overlooking Hyde Park for the Summer, buying a Season Ticket and going to every single Prom' concert of the season. Of course it would also involve sitting by the Serpentine in the sun (or maybe in a rowing boat) and drinking lots of champange whilst having picnics bought from Harrods..... MMMmmm maybe one day...