Friday, 29 January 2010

Take a Seat, Leon...

Ooh! A first today! I've been down to Birmingham Airport to meet up with a colleague from just this side of Welsh Wales so we could put together a new workshop on Strategy for colleges and universities.

The hire firm delivered a Seat. No... not just a seat - four of them in a car made by Seat, or "Say-at" as they say in the trade ("Take a say-at over they-air and I'll be with you in a mo-ment...") It's called Leon... Not sure what model it is...

A Seat Leon in startling colour too - Blimey, I've been standing out like a (the next phrase was abandoned in an attempt to appear at least partially politically correct)

First impressions were of trying to get in and realising that once I had sat down the top of my head from mouth upwards was still outside and above roof height... That could say more for the height of the person who delivered it than the car - though I lowered the seat all the way down that it would and moved it backwards and still had to bend backwards to avoid bumping my head getting in. But then I am very tall... 5 foot 4 and a smidgeon... That smidgeon makes all the difference!

Once in and with the seat (that's seet) adjusted to a comfortable driving position, it's actually quite a fun car to drive. The dashboard is unfashionably bare of push buttons but that's a refreshing change really - how many buttons can you play with when you're weaving in and out of traffic in the one-way twists and turns of Britain?

The instrument panel and windscreen seem a long way off - the windscreen is at a fairly shallow angle so the bottom of it is miles away and I had problems getting the SatNav sucker attached without it obscuring my view through being halfway up the window.

The instrument panel itself is a bit strange. The speedo goes up to 140mph but only goes round three quarters of the circular dial. That means that the speeds you can legally do in this country - from stand-still up to 70mph - are squashed, squeezed or squozen into a mere third of a circle and you have to wonder why really...

The fuel guage on the left was also obscured by the rather small steering wheel - very sporty, but the fun of posing would be marred if you were to run out of fuel!

I had the 6-gear turbo diesel option and the engine was responsive and nippy. Like many diesel engines it revs quite low and that was useful because I spent ages queueing on the M6 barely getting into second gear and sitting in the same spot for 20 minutes at one point. Reverse was found by pushing the gear lever down and moving left then forwards.

The other usual mystery features: the boot opens just like a Golf, to lampoon the latest VW adverts. Hardly surprising - Seat may be from sunny Spain, but they are part of the VW Group. You push the top of the maker's logo and it swivels inwards so you can grasp the bottom and pull the boot cover upwards.

The fuel cap is a back-to-the-basics circular flap with an obvious thumb opening, so no searching the dashboard, door recesses and floor in the dark on this car. There's a (surely old-fashioned?) screw on plastic cap over the tube inside the cover.

Not that I had cause to use it, but I noticed that the back doors had no handle...

Instead, it's hidden in the rear edge of the door and there's a recessed opening in the rear quarterlight window for your hand. Don't break that quarterlight then, because I bet that's not a cheap bit of glass!

Most of my day has been on the motorway where it performed well both in fast (well up to 70mph!) and slow traffic. The SatNav reported a low 65 miles per hour though when the speedo assured me I was doing 70 - interesting that the other car I've driven that had the lowest comparable speed (64) was a VW Golf. They obviously consider that the people who drive their cars are going to speed and they take steps to keep them to the speed limit.

From what I've seen though - their drivers all tootle round town with an eye on the speedo - doing 25 miles an hour and slowing down to 20 whenever they see a Gatso camera. Why are Gatso cameras in areas where there are more accidents? Because they cause them...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Doing the Yo-Yo...

I've been up and down the country a bit this week.

I spent Monday and Tuesday in a cold and wintery Newcastle, catching up with the team for a planning meeting, making the acquaintance of our latest team member for the first time, going for our "Christmas" do on Monday night. It was our first opportunity to all get together. Many of the others do a lot of charging about the country like me!

Anyway we went to Oldfields, specialising in locally produced food with a predominantly English menu - sometimes I get quite nostalgic for the Christmas Curries we used to have! I started with crispy duck with a beet coleslaw and then had belly pork on a bed of celeriac mash that was totally scrummy.

On Tuesday I caught the train down to London Kings Cross, after the meeting finished and just had time to spruce up a bit (it doesn't make a lot of difference...) and grab a quick bite to eat before meeting up with a good friend, actress Caroline Munro.

We spent the evening chatting in the hotel bar, catching up with the latest gossip about her film work and my band and swapping news about mutual friends.

Yesterday I was at City University for a meeting of the Inter-University Project Management Group which turned out to be a very interesting day.

I couldn't believe my luck when I got to Euston to find that the next train north was an express to Glasgow, only stopping at Preston - where I was heading - and Glasgow. It took just two hours from London to Preston - and then another 30 minutes to do the twenty miles to Blackpool! But that was much better than the tedious journey it used to be up the West Coast line. It has improved no end. If only Virgin could make the trains comfortable to sit in...

Smaller windows make carriages more stable and safe in a crash, but that combined with the narrower profile of tilting coaches means if you are sitting against a wall rather than a window, your shoulder has to be where your head would be in a comfortable pose. The seats are not exactly generously wide to begin with... and I'm afraid I am...!

Sorry! All old photos again, despite the New Year's resolution to use the camera more!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Michael Portillo Takes The Train

I'm a bit late with this one admittedly, but it's nice to see that ex-Thatcher Minister, Michael Portillo, has obviously been reading back entries of this blog and has decided to do a Great Train Journeys programme on the TV.

The half hour instalments have been fascinating and have been strung together on the back of Bradshaw's Guide the first comprehensive railways guide and timetable from Victorian days.

Each programme sees Michael trying to be jolly as he visits (to my mind) a few too many places on each programme and it would be better with a bit more time spent on each perhaps.

His is an interesting style, but he seems to come across as a little out of place and I can't help but suspect Michael Palin would have been a better Michael P to have been chosen as host... He's not a light-hearted sort and when he meets someone who is, there seems to be a little nervous laugh and he moves swiftly on!

But the programme is interesting enough for me to have recorded the series and there have been some wonderful eccentrics along the way. He even came here to Blackpool - and got to sit on the Tower Wurlitzer as it disappeared into the pit beneath the stage! The programme covering the Settle to Carlisle route was wonderful though and more relevant for him as he was the Minister who persuaded Maggie Thatcher not to allow British Rail to close the line.

It could grow on me if he allows himself to lighten up.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Rocking in Winmarleigh

On Saturday 16th we played a 40th Birthday Party out in the West Lancashire countryside at Winmarleigh Hall.

There's a killer of a hump-backed bridge to go over the canal once you leave the A6 by Garstang! Until you get over the top of it you have no view of what is awaiting you on the other side. Luckily it was more road...

The party was spread over the room we were in, a reception room and a bar so we had competition from the row of pumps and bottles at least, but the dance floor filled nicely once we got going and we had an excellent turn from the birthday girl's parents who sang "Danny Boy" unaccompanied with some wonderful and well practiced harmonies.

I've been struggling with a bad back and for the first time ever had to sit down for some of the quieter numbers so as to save my back for the 60s stuff and rock and roll. Recently we've added a few new songs where I play the keyboard live so I was able to sit at the keyboard for those and therefore not come across as being too pathetic (I hope!)

We played a few new numbers which got good responses - measured not only by people applauding but by other people coming into the room to listen and by people interrupting their own conversations. Two in particular which gave us a real boost by the audience reaction were Westlife's You Raise Me Up and Billy Fury's Lost Without You.

Other songs played for the first time at this gig were Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes and The Beatles' Ticket To Ride.

We were struck when we came out at around 1:00am how clear the sky was and how many stars were in sight. Living in towns with all the light pollution from street lighting makes you forget to look skyward once in a while!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Sunnyside of Creeping Bentgrass

Yay! It's here at last! Our long-awaited new album that we started as soon as we finished the last one! Two and a half years in the making! Our first album as a duo.

Called "The Sunnyside of Creeping Bentgrass" it contains 17 tracks which includes a solo track of John's - a cover of The Beatles' This Boy.

Sunnyside is the name of the club near Northampton that was the site of Billy Fury's last public performance prior to his untimely death in 1983. The front cover shows the band performing at the club for a memorial concert in March 2009 and we are proud to be returning in 2010 to play alongside some of the fabulous artists who have formed close relationships on the message boards of

The full track listing is given below. Some tracks can be downloaded from the band's website, or the album is available mail order from:

Creeping Bentgrass
195 Palatine Road

Each CD costs 5 UK pounds plus 1 UK pound postage and packing to addresses in the UK and 2 UK pounds postage and packing elsewhere. Payment must be made in sterling by personal cheque.

Track List:

The Gambler
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Sweet Caroline
A Thousand Stars
Bunch of Thyme
Crystal Chandeliers
When You Say Nothing At All
Be My Baby
King For Tonight
Green Green Grass of Home
I Can Only Imagine
Living Next Door To Alice
The Night Has 1000 Eyes
Forever Autumn
Halfway To Paradise
This Boy
24 Hours From Tulsa

Pain and Able...

This week has seen me suffering with a bad back. Something I'm prone to every now and then. I've no idea what I did but somehow I must have bent or twisted a bit funny because since Sunday I've been hobbling about the house holding onto walls and furniture.

Every day has brought a little relief and I've been working from home, sitting at my desk on a dining chair for a bit of support. Now, on Wednesday, I'm able to get up and move about without holding on and just every now and then whimper in a quiet way when the twinges hit me.

As a friend said, "When I whimper quietly to myself the wife wants to know who I'm thinking of..." Well all I am thinking of at times of wincing is myself and the injustice of it all! It can't be time for the zimmer frame yet, surely...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Pheasant Feeding

By heck, 2010 has started with some cold weather! Fran was on a 10:00pm finish last night and when I set off to pick her up it was already -6 degrees and who knows what it went down to? A low of -18 was reported somewhere near Manchester. Show offs...

The last few days a pheasant has added itself to our usual assortment of birds that come to feed on the bits of bread we throw out every day.

It's a bit different to our normal collection of blackbirds, sparrows and the odd robin. Normally the biggest bird we get coming down is a magpie.

It does have a bloody good appetite though... I had wondered whether we might throw out a bit of sage and onion - might save us a job later... A few friends had suggested getting it on the roast, or plucking it (it didn't seem to like that...) Anyway plucking it would be cruel - do you know how cold it is out here in the garden?!? Having naked pheasants wandering about the place wouldn't add to the atmosphere any...

So this morning it was sitting on the fence as I came out with a couple of crusts and I chucked a couple of bits towards it and it fluttered down straight away for a nibble. For a bird that is a prime target for posh folk with armament, it shows a great deal of trust - or foolishness!

Meanwhile I'm keeping an eye on the snow and ice as I'm due to go down to London later today. As long as I can get back tomorrow...!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Eve in Eccleston

We played in the New Year at St Agnes Social Club, Eccleston.

We had a fabulous night at this very friendly club and enjoyed a Jacob's Join buffet and a tough quiz based on recognising the first three words of pop hits. Even we struggled - and the act contained a few of them!

The first raffle prize winner wanted to take away the prize he had donated, because he said it was a good prize!

The MC, Len, kept us all entertained during the break with some very witty banter and we managed to fill the dance floor and have the audience singing along with us. At midnight we listened to BBC Radio 4 as Big Ben's chimes struck the turning of 2009 into the New Year and we played Auld Lang Syne and then You'll Never Walk Alone before another half hour of dance music.

A great way to spend New Year's Eve!

A very Happy and Prosperous New Year to all readers. May 2010 be filled with laughter, health, happiness, good friends and good fortune.