Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Istanbul's Basilica Cistern

Thursday, 19 August 2010. We are back in James Bond territory again.

In From Russia With Love our intrepid hero is taken by Kerim Bey, Head of Station T for Turkey, down into this huge underground water reservoir to spy on the Russian embassy via a submarine periscope hidden behind a mousehole.

In real life the periscope would have to be a very sophisticated version because the Russian embassy is nowhere near this place...

Since 1963 when the film was made the water level has been reduced to a few feet only and a huge amount of silt removed to make the apparent size even more impressive. A walkway has been constructed so that visitors can walk about the vast area without the need to ferry them about in boats as was necessary before.

With the removal of 50,000 tons of silt and mud between 1985 and 1987 two fabulous Roman Medusa head carvings were found to have been used as bases for pillars. The one shown is placed upside down and the other is on its side. There are two possible reasons for this. It was one way of stopping the image of Medusa from turning people into stone. Or placed this way they were just the right height needed to support the pillars...

So here are a few facts from the excellent, if quaintly worded, information pamphlet, seemingly translated from Turkish into English by someone who had little experience of either language, (but probably just showing how lucky I am to have been brought up to speak English instead of having to learn it later). In fact why is everybody else so much better at learning foreign languages than us Brits? Because they have to learn the most complicated language where the same letters have lots of different sounds - ough... ie though, through, bough, enough, cough...

The cistern was built between 527 and 565 AD. Not long after the period in which King Arthur was supposed to be chasing Saxons out of Britain and five centuries before the Normans arrived to show their descendants what it felt like to be invaded. It is 140m long by 70m wide with the roof supported by 336 columns of 9m height arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns. It held 100,000 tonnes of water.

There are some (bloody big!) fish swimming about down there...

In fact, let's finish with my favourite bit from the official information pamphlet and I salute the translator who decided this slightly sinister phrase would tempt us down the 55 steps from street level to see the undoubtedly wondrous place where all those (thankfully absent) rats chased James Bond after he blows up the Russian Embassy. It reads...

"The visitors melt into disappearance when they are here in the cistern to see the Medusa head, in accompany of fish and a smoothing music."


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Monday, 30 August 2010

Another Day, Another Gig in Garstang!

It's been our final appearance at the Garstang Arts & Music Festival for this year today.

Today was rain free I'm glad to say. The keyboard display was exhibiting some rather disturbing symptoms after Saturday's rain and I'm going to have to get it looked at.

The stored backing tracks that I've played onto the keyboard and stored on USB are not displaying properly. For instance That'll Be The Day was displaying as 'll'll'll'll'll'll Be The Day...

Now at least that is recogniseable, but the displayed name for the specially created style for Kites, which I play live on the keyboard was totally obliterated by meaningless symbols.

Despite that the sound was ok and we had a fabulous day playing non-stop from 11:30am through until 4:00pm. The circular garden before us had all seats taken throughout and the garden on the opposite side of the road remained full and there were lots of people standing to the side and even parking up in the car park with windows down to listen, whoop and wave at us! It's very gratifying when people come up to say they have travelled quite a few miles just because we were appearing! Hope to see you again next year!

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Thursday, 19 August 2010. Following our visit to the Blue Mosque we come out of the courtyard through an archway and across the way we see our next port of call.

This is the Hagia Sophia or Sancta Sophia. Not St Sophia. In this case sophia is the phonetic spelling for the Greek word for wisdom. The full name of the church is Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.

We are in James Bond territory. In the 1963 film From Russia With Love this is the church that Bond waits in for Tania, the Russian agent to bring him the plans of the Russian Embassy. A Bulgar agent gets to the plans first, but Spectre assassin, Grant kills him and a bewildered Bond takes the plans from his body.

In the film a Guide points out this huge marble jar to some tourists.

Bond has been waiting for Tania from the dark of the side passages underneath the balcony. There are some low wooden stages with wooden railings and I stepped up on one of those to take photos of the main floorspace. Although they weren't roped off and there were no warning notices this turned out to be against the rules. Unfortunately the official who was trying to get me off was standing behind me and instead of calling out, just kept tapping on the railing. I never even heard him and it wasn't until Fran called out that I turned round.

This is an extremely old and important place. It was first built in 360 AD by the Romans and the foundations of that early building are on display today. This is the third basilica started only a few days after the destruction of its predecessor. This was in the year 532. Until the Basilica of Seville in Spain was built in 1534 it was the largest basilica in the world. Think about that - it was the largest cathedral or basilica in the world for a thousand years! It includes some of the columns from the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World at Ephesus.

The balcony is reached today by what was described as a "spiral staircase" but turned out to be a rectangular spiral ramp that had been designed to allow baggage-laden mules to reach the upper floor. No doubt the Sultans' wives would not trouble themselves to walk either! Here Fran is demonstrating how out of breath she was...

The view from the balcony is well worth the climb. We were told that the scaffolding is permanent. It just moves about a bit. With the successful invasion by Ottoman forces in the year 1453, the church was converted to a mosque.

Images of saints, apostles, and angels were either destroyed of plastered over. The removal of this plaster following the building's subsequent conversion to a museum in 1935 revealed some damage to underlying artwork, which was made worse by damp conditions due to leaks in the roof and rising damp from below.

As a museum the basilica now displays both Christian paintings and Muslim calligraphy.

There are several fine mosaics with gold and precious stones. This one shows the infant Christ held by the Virgin Mary flanked by Emperor Constantine offering a model of the city of Constantinople and Justinian, the builder of the Hagia Sophia, offering a model of the basilica. It was warm. I melted into the shadows at the back of the basilica and kept a careful watch for Bulgar agents and assassins...

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Sunday, 29 August 2010

From One Garstang Gig to Another

It was a busy old day yesterday! From performing for several hours at the Arts & Music Festival we took a couple of hours break and then went to a venue in the town to perform at a private birthday party.

This was at the superb Wyrebank Banqueting Suite - what a great venue!

And what a great audience too! We almost ran out of business cards, thanks to all of you for the interest and support! If we could take an audience on tour it would be you!

So a fairly full weekend. My finger ends were smarting after 7 hours of guitar playing yesterday, we are back at the festival tomorrow and we had to turn down a booking for tonight as after a week's holiday last week I didn't think I'd have enough corn on my finger tips to play 4 gigs in 3 days! I know... what a wimp!

A big thank you to friends Sandra and Gordon who came to see us in Garstang at the festival and who, when hearing we had another gig in the town without enough time to get home to eat and change, immediately offered us a meal and facilities at their home. A wonderful meal with special people.

Garstang Arts & Music Festival 2010

Yesterday afternoon we were in our usual spot at the Garstang Arts & Music Festival.

The weather had been very mixed and indeed after an hour or so we had a really heavy shower that had us dismantling and hurrying everything into the building behind us.

After an hour I'd managed to dry everything out apart from my shirt and with the sun making sporadic apprearances we set up again and played a couple of hours, attracting a decent sized audience.

Here's a video of our version of Concrete and Clay.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Blue Mosque of Istanbul

Thursday, 19 August 2010. Following a day at sea, the Thomson Celebration sails into the Bosphorus and moors up opposite the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia just into the Golden Horn. We are booked on an excursion called Taste of Istanbul. We board a coach which drives over the bridge on the Golden Horn with some fabulous views to either side.

First stop is the Blue Mosque. Built between 1609-1616 by Sultan Ahmed I, the first thing you notice is that it's not blue... It was named for the blue tiles inside...which are set amongst a lot of red tiles too, though there is a bluish tinge inside!

Whilst a huge visitor attraction, it is still in use as a mosque and visitors must take off their shoes to enter. This is the queue to do that. People on the balcony to the left are taking off shoes and placing them in polythene bags that are provided so you can carry them about. Some twit of an American behind us can't wait and shouts up for some bags to be dropped down. A bag floats down and he calls up "No... a roll, a roll!"

"You want a full roll?" comes an incredulous voice from above. "Yes!" A huge roll, about two metres long and half a meter in diameter with probably over a thousand bags crashes spectacularly to the ground. The American has a near heart attack. "No! Not a full roll! Just a few bags!" He actually wants to throw the heavy roll back up! But the bloke at the top is not about to try to catch it.

"Piss off!" comes an indignant comment. "You got what you asked for!" Ah... Britain can still be Great sometimes!

Inside the decoration is wonderful. It's a bit dark inside. Windows, although small, are full of stained glass and ceilings are tiled with patterns and calligraphy.

The price to be paid for the tiles was decreed by the Sultan. As the years of building went by and the price of tiles increased with inflation, the Sultan would not be moved to increase the budget. This meant that the higher they built, the poorer the quality of tile was all that could be afforded. Therefore reds have become brown and other colours have faded accordingly.

The prayer area, the vast clear floorspace is lit by a huge chandelier hung from the ceiling. The glass light holders were once richly hung with gold and jewels and ostrich eggs. The latter were there to repel spiders and thus keep the chandelier free of webs. The carpet was new and is regularly replaced as carpets become worn. It had darker stripes woven into it to enable those praying to form neat lines facing Mecca.

We left the Blue Mosque, everyone sitting on the steps of the exit to put their shoes back on. It was only when you stood up and went down into the courtyard and turned for a last glance at this beautiful building that you see the signs written on the facings of the steps... Do not sit on these steps!

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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Marmaris by Night - and Day - and Night

Monday, 16 August 2010. The generator problem on the Thomson Celebration hasn't been fixed. The engineering team will work through the night and then assess things at 7:00am. Well... worse things happen at sea, as they say!

Meanwhile we shrug and have a look around the Promenade Deck at Marmaris by night. There's not a huge number of people walking around the deck - 5x round which equals one mile.

The castle is floodlit and the clubs and bars are all it up. Even the Turkish carpet shop is floodlit! In the marina some of the more impressive boats show signs of life, even if it's only the owners relaxing and reading the newspaper.

Onboard the ship the entertainments team were gearing up for their first night. As with most ships there was a variety of entertainment onboard with a West End style show every evening, a programme of quizzes and game show formats to join in with, a classical duo of violin and piano, a four piece band from the UK who had some excellent harmonies and a duo called 2 Intense in our favourite bar, Horizons.

2 Intense were Tomas and Maris from the Philippines and when we first saw them we were sitting well away from the stage near the front windows of the bar. Maris announced a Carpenters song as their first number and I thought "Ooh... that's brave!" But when she started to sing you would have thought Karen Carpenter was in the room! She had a beautiful voice. And the rest of her matched... There will be more about Tomas and Maris in later entries as we got to know them and became good friends. In fact, they were so good we didn't see a single show in the main show lounge all week! Maris even claimed that singing a Carpenters song was her way of relaxing...

We had been up at 3:30am. So it wasn't a particularly late night for us!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010, 7:00am. We hadn't moved. An update to come at 12:00 noon.

17 August 2010, 12:00 noon. The engineering crew have fabricated a new part with the help of a local engineering firm. This is quite a feat I'm sure, having seen a similar repair on one of those fly-on-the-wall programmes set on the Costa Serena cruise ship. And given where we were, trying to get a spare from the manufacturers would have perhaps taken just a little longer. Next update at 6:00pm.

17 August 2010, 6:00pm. Hoping to sail at Midnight. There's a revised itinerary. After an extra day in Marmaris, tomorrow, which is Wednesday will be a day at sea. Thursday will be Istanbul, currently 321 nautical miles away as the crow swims. We will stay in Istanbul until 5:00am on Friday to allow people to savour Istanbul. Then Friday will be another day at sea but with a slow pass through the Dardanelles and a commentary as we pass Gallipoli and the monuments to the fallen of World War One. Saturday will be Kusadasi for Ephesus and Sunday will be our final (and only the third) port call in Santorini. So both Troy and Rhodes are off the plan. There's a slight atmosphere discernible and several passengers are seen to be counting on their fingers and shaking their heads.

Now all things being equal, one day lost would only equal one port lost. When you think about it though it requires ports to be able to accommodate an extra ship on a day it wasn't expected and for something like 12 to 15 coaches to be found for excursions to places that can cope with the extra numbers. So perhaps not all that straightforward.

To be honest, the ship's crew didn't really explain the loss of an extra day all that well. It was me who came up with the above arguments for instance. So from that point on the restaurants and bars all had their share of would-be lawyers preparing their case for compensation whilst we just shrugged and watched them ruin their own holidays by working themselves into a frenzy of indignation. There were even conspiracy theories that it was a ruse to save fuel - ignoring the fact that Istanbul was the furthest port and we were going there anyway and would pass within spitting distance of both Dikili and Rhodes.

17 August 2010, 11:30pm. Coming out of Horizons bar, still miles away from the stage but having enjoyed the music.

Wednesday, 18 August 5:00am. Ooh! Movement! We are sailing!

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Skipton and a Huge Lunch

Yesterday we had a ride out to Skipton as I'm still off work on holiday this week.

The car park was fairly quiet when we got there, but the town was anything but. There always seems to be a large market on in Skipton. Stalls run on both sides of the wide roadway leading up towards the small roundabout in front of the church, with Skipton's famous castle just to it's right.

The photo shows the Library with market stalls standing before it and a row of folk catching their breath before tackling the next set of bargains...

There were so many people wandering about even I, who don't normally race about at top speed, was getting frustrated. When someone decided to stop we all had to stop until they moved on. It was a slow progress along the stalls. I'm not sure why Fran seemed to think I'd rushed her along the stalls therefore...

"It's a good job I didn't want to buy anything!" she said. Grossly unfair - because she had bought some plastic containers at one stall! But it's a husband's lot in life to be scolded and I looked suitably contrite. (Some people mix my contrite expression for my astounded and affronted expression - but surely that's not my fault?)

So we headed away from the crowds down to the canal. Here was a scene of tranquil serenity. Colourful longboats chugging quietly round a corner, a row of cottages ascending a steep hill in the background.

Totally unlike the scene behind me which was of 973 old folks jostling in their starting grid to board another canal boat for a half hour trip up the canal. Half were jostling for the closest seat to the bar. The other half for a clear run to the toilet... Coaches were disgorging yet more blue rinses, linking arms and brandishing walking sticks to knock any unsuspecting youngsters of 50 years or less out of their way. Linking arms to sing Gracie Fields songs that no one else but they could remember. My mother would have been right at home...

We had planned on fish and chips for lunch but that place was packed as well. There were mutters of "There's youngsters taking up places!" coming from behind us in the queue and we ducked out and walked, but did not run, back to the car. It doesn't do to show fear in front of pensioners...

We had seen The Cross Keys on our way in along the A59 road. It was a haven of peace apart from one old couple, torn between cooing over a baby but also wanting to castigate the mother for being unmarried.

The meal was huge and very very good. We both had gammon steak, egg and chips and could probably have shared a single portion.

Fed and watered we went back to the car park and I picked up the camera and walked back to take a few photographs.

As I walked back past the pub there was an indignant yell from the kitchen. I turned in surprise, wondering if it was directed at me, but no... There was an old chap of about 70 who, in the middle of the countryside, had chosen to wheel his bicycle into the back yard of the pub in order to urinate against a tree at the far end of the yard...

Nearly all of these people will have said to their children at some stage; "If I ever get like that - shoot me..."

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Cruise Celebration at Marmaris

Monday 16 August 2010. We were up early as the airport taxi picks us up at 4:30am to head for Manchester where we catch a flight to Dalaman in Turkey. Once landed we pile onto a coach and swap excited banter with fellow passengers about the heat.

An hour and a half later finds us in Marmaris to embark for a week on the Thomson Celebration cruise ship. The itinerary is a day at sea, Istanbul, Dikili for Troy, Kusadasi for Ephesus, then Santorini and Rhodes.

It's our second time on the Celebration and we find ourselves in the cabin next door to where we were last year on the Pearls of the Aegean cruise. This year we are taking the Ottoman Treasures cruise.

This is Cabin 016 up on Deck 9. Spacious enough for a week's wandering around exotic ports! Ok, let's have a look where we are!

There's a marina to our port side and looking forrard (how these nautical terms just slip easily onto the keyboard...) we see the gorgeous blue of the southern Turkish coastal waters. Lunch. We find a few faces amongst the waiters who we recognise and, astonishingly, who recognise us from last year. Was I so badly behaved? Surely not!

There's a castle off the starboard side, aft of the ship but the low sun coming from behind it makes a photograph impossible. I have my trusty sketch pad with me however and spend half an hour scribbling until something vaguely resembling the scene appears. There may be one or two more buildings, their sizes may be a little more comfortable for their occupants than my depiction of a model village on the front corner and there were certainly more boats, but hey, whose sketch is it anyway?

And what's this on the intercom? The engineering crew are struggling to fix a faulty generator and are having to fabricate a part! There could be a bit of a delay to our sailing...

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Morecambe FC Part 2

Yesterday we were back at the new Globe Arena in Morecambe to play for an hour and a half before the match. There were some seriously mouth-watering smells coming from food being served in the room.

Thanks to all those who gave us such wonderful feedback and comments both about yesterday and our performances on Tuesday.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Annual Reunion 2010

Spent time rummaging this week through the closets and cupboards, looking for the old school tie and scarf ready for our annual get-together.

Alex, Jackie and I met up this year at Nutters Restaurant in Norden near Rochdale. These reunions have come to be a celebration of fine food and wine as well as a chance to regress to 17-year-olds and swap memories and jokes.

I never fail to be utterly entertained and entranced by these days which happen just once a year in August. We rotate the arrangements for the meal and Alex did the honours this year with Jackie looking for a suitable eatery in or near Liverpool for next year. If any other old friends would like to join in, my email address can be found in the left hand column.

We swapped personal news and dissected school life at Heywood Grammar School and its successor, Heywood Senior High School (now Siddall Moor). We were there at the start.

Jackie wanted to know what had happened to my old Nostalgia website which had lots of memories about the school. My main website disappeared when I moved ISPs and the intention is to recreate the pages here on this blog - hence old stuff like the Amsterdam weekend being uploaded.

The only problem with the blog format is that entries appear in reverse order...

So my task for sometime during the next year is to get the old Nostalgia site recreated here. There are already a number of entries under the nostalgia label and they will get added to that and also added to the family and friends label.

So of course most of the jokes told on Tuesday were far too politically incorrect to put on here and many of the memories meaningless to outsiders or have already been covered or will be recovered once I get cracking on the pages about Heywood Grammar.

The food was wonderful, I had salmon in oyster and mussel sauce - this came ringed with mussels which I really cannot bring myself to try. Sorry to the kitchen who may have been affronted at them being shoved to one side and not touched! The salmon and the sauce was beautiful though, with a herb crust and set on a bed of fine shoots and onions. Alex had fillet of beef which looked gorgeous and Jackie had ... well I can't remember actually...

We stayed for three hours and customers were coming in for afternoon tea which looked wonderful - sandwiches and cakes and pots of tea. Almost as gorgeous as the stunning young lady who came in with two friends or relatives...

"Don't mind me, lads..." muttered Jackie in exasperation as we sat goggle-eyed for a moment... They really did look delicious those sandwiches...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

BBC League Cup Show Appearance

Well, perhaps the two cameramen weren't both from Sky... We picked up a goodly 2 seconds of exposure on BBC One's League Cup Show last night with the camera zooming into the band.

It can be seen (for a week only I expect) here: BBC iPlayer

Addendum 13 August 2010: Sorry to all overseas readers who have tried and failed, but the BBC iPlayer is only available within the UK. Especial commiserations with the Ladies-Over-The-Water, Marlene, Evy and Amanda, Moya in NZ and John in Oz..

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Creeping Bentgrass at the Globe Arena

Great night last night as we played at the very first home match at Morecambe Football Club's new Globe Arena.

We were filmed by a Sky Sports News crew, playing before the match.

I had a little trouble with feedback through the guitar for some reason - never happened before but the ceiling was very low where we were and there were accoustic panels next to us bouncing sound back so I suspect it may have been that. We set up in a corner during the match, coming off the stage area and it improved enough to allow us to play a decent volume with a clean guitar sound.

We had to keep away from anything requiring fuzzed guitar but we have over 6 hours of material to draw on and we played for only a couple of hours after the match.

We got some good feedback (from guests and staff rather than the unwanted sort) and picked up another booking for a wedding and are back at Morecambe FC for a pre-match spot on Saturday! Morecambe won their match against Coventry 2:0 so it was a winning night all round!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Clogs, Cheese, Canals and Crispy Fried Duck...

19 August 2001. As we attempt to draw the Netherlands weekend to a close in one entry brought to you by the letter "C", we start off in a clog shop in Marken.

The tools of the trade are there but not the clogger himself as Marken is still acting a bit like a ghost town.

There are rows and rows of freshly caught clogs hung up waiting to be smoked in the time-honoured tradition... hang on... it's what? They don't have the shelf space? They are waiting to be painted?

Now at one time my dear old dad taught me how to apply shoe polish. Using a soft brush you dipped the bristles into the Kiwi tin and then using gentle circular motions of the hand, brushed the polish into the shoe leather.

You then took a slightly stiffer brush and vigorously scrubbed and buffed the shoe until the shine dazzled your eyes. Then you took a duster and repeated the buffing until you had to either draw the curtains or turn the lights off in order not to hurt your eyes. This occurred every single morning.

I'm ashamed to say that the last time I actually polished a pair of shoes that way was probably some time in the early 1970s... But hey! How easy do the Dutch have it?!? A coat of Dulux and an annual application of varnish and there you are! Permanently sparkly shoes and with an image of your choice!

Well, to be fair windmills featured quite a lot... The only downside would be the clatter as you walked down the street and not being able to visit mill towns in the north and villages in the south of England in the summer without being given some bells, a stick or a hanky and being dragged into some loony dance where fearsome men with antlers strapped to their heads attempt to poke your eye out or knock your hat off with the stick or dust the fluff from your ears with their hanky!

Even the coach driver was getting spooked at there being so few people about - we left Marken and headed for Volendam, stopping on the way at another clog factory where someone demonstrated chopping logs into footwear and I got engrossed with a cheesemaid...

This could have been scary - I still hadn't forgotten the dancers stabbing Barbara Parkins with pitchforks in Alistair MacLean's Puppet on a Chain - but I made her put her pitchfork down...

And so, on to Volendam, across a causeway with the sea on both sides of the road. Volendam is another of the places where traditional dress is worn by the locals - just not when we were there...

It was picturesque, it had lots of tourists, lots of shops and a tiny, tiny corner of beach.

Our guide Chris, found a suitable bit of headgear and as we drove back out of Volendam for a meal in Amsterdam she got Peter, the driver to wear it. The looks on people's faces as we drove past them were priceless...

We ate on the floating Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant in Amsterdam and an excellent meal it was too. This floating eatery boasts 800 seats but we were told that unfortunately on the day it opened to a full house, it started to sink as it had been designed to cope with the average weight of Chinese people not tubby westerners... Whether this is true or not I'm not sure because I couldn't find anything about it with a quick search through Google! But a good story none-the-less!

From the restaurant we went onto barges for a tour of the canals at night. There were a couple of snags. One: it started to rain heavily. Two: it wasn't yet night. The idea had been to view the canals whilst they were all lit up with electric lights along their length, but the firm had double booked and we had to go whilst it was still light...

However, once the rain stopped, the sun came back out for a while and we had a brilliant sunset and a rainbow too, to enhance the view over the harbour with the venerable Grand Turk looking wonderful in the golden glow given to it by the low sun.

Towards the end of the trip, during which we had demolished several bottles of wine, we passed the Skinny Bridge. Our last major Amsterdam landmark.

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