Monthly Archives: September 2017

Record Of The Week # 27

September 23, 2017

The Who – Who’s Next

In terms of record collecting then one of the few, if only, benefits of having little money are that you listen to what you buy and absorb any and every nuance. In 1971 my record buying activity was limited but no doubt buoyed by an epic album review in Melody Maker I bought this record. It was a wonderful experience and still is. A record where there are new discoveries and pleasures on every rendition.

The Who had migrated from being an important and creative singles band, as were all acts in the 1960’s, to become a phenomenal vehicle of Pete Townsend’s brilliant writing. The previous studio album Tommy itself was an ambitious Rock opera that spawned ‘Pinball Wizard’. The lyrical story led to translation onto the West End stage after a successful film/movie. However 1971’s Who’s Next was a harder Rock album that came from the opera workings of a project called Lifehouse.

Album opener ‘Baba O’Riley’ has an introduction that is incomparable as an exciting yet arresting repeated electric harpsichord sounding sequence. Eventually the piano arrives hitting loud chords and then Keith Moon arrives with large demanding blows. John Entwistle has by this stage started to anchor the rhythm with his bass whilst Townsend’s guitar plays chords. However as this delight is unfolding Roger Daltrey’s clear, but muscular, voice starts to deliver the vocal. Beyond compare, peerless. There is probably no superior 5 minutes worth of Rock music anywhere to improve on this.

The scene is set and the album crashes on. I say crash because the sound is so full and exciting. Many cite Moon as the ultimate Rock drummer. This album is a testament to his wondrous gift – but forget rhythm and ‘holding it all together’. Throughout he solos, fills and steps up to make bold and brash statements whilst guitar or keyboards just hover beneath his master class. ‘Bargain’ says it all and I can only hear the drums rather than any other instruments throughout.

‘My Wife’ sees Entwistle’s contribution, the only song not written by Townsend. Entwistle competently sings the lead and the horn arrangement adds some competition to Moon’s drums. ‘Song Is Over’ takes it down to start with and so the vocal comes up! Townsend picks around Daltrey’s vocal and Nicky Hopkins’ piano provides the rhythm. Eventually Entwistle and Moon join proceedings. Again listen to those drums! Daltrey tells us about a love being over and how as part of the process he has to ‘sing out’. It works for me Roger. Epic

‘Getting In Tune’ starts Side Two with piano and a bass line that provides an introduction for Daltrey to deliver the wistful melody about how he feels on his intuitive relationship with his lover. His voice is a unique instrument that is able to swoop, rage and caress with beautiful control. ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ is again Daltrey and a melody over an acoustic guitar with chorus harmonies. However it builds and gives way to a Townsend solo and the rumble of the bass and drums arrive.

For ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ the synthesiser hits a hypnotic sequence before a guitar riff accompanies the beat and in good time the vocal arrives and a loping rhythm emerges:

We’ll be fighting in the streets

With our children at our feet

And the morals that they worship will be gone

And the men who spurred us on

Sit in judgement of all wrong

They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I think you can see that something anthemic, bold and revolutionary is on the cards. Of all the tracks then this is one where Townsend imposes his scything guitar and takes the opportunity for exquisite flourishes. By this stage of the album Moon is beyond control and is doing what he likes. 

As the band jam the synthesiser then reappears and the band depart. We wait for this hypnotic set of chords to play out before a flurry of drums and then the most amazing vocal moment of my life… Daltry unleashes a blood curdling scream. Oh, my teenage heart.

If you haven’t got this then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Record Of The Week # 26

September 22, 2017

Eilen Jewell – Down Hearted Blues

Eilen Jewell is one of those hard working troubadours who regularly tours all over the world and, for me, comes under the category of ‘I think I vaguely know her’. In fact in my iTunes library I found a few tracks of hers (but as I have nearly 22,000 tracks in there then I have most people).

She defies a number of pigeon holes as regards genre and floats beautifully between several. You’ll always be guaranteed to enjoy her effortless, easy paced seductive vocals, superb arrangements and the stellar guitar playing of Jerry Miller.

Her latest release of 12 tracks recorded over two days is the realisation of a dream. Inspired by her father’s blues record collection she now dips back into the catalogue of roots music and selects classics from Memphis Minnie, Willie Dixon, Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith amongst others. It would be fair to say that she has been this way before but never with an album devoted just to the blues.

These interpretations seldom depart from the pace and feel of the originals but they all have a contemporary feel. One of the more recent covers is of Betty James’ “I’m A Little Mixed Up”. Not least we start to understand that there is something of a Country swing about the album and that if Jewell enjoyed compiling this homage then not half as much as Jimmy Miller. She really is lucky to have his services and he has full rein to pick, strum and bend strings in the most delightful way throughout.

“Down Hearted Blues” swaps Bessie Smith’s original’s piano accompaniment for acoustic guitar and upright bass (Shawn Supra). Somehow her lilting and more optimistic tones sit very differently from Bessie’s interpretation. If you have read any of my web site then you’ll know that I once cycled to the site of the hospital where Bessie died after a car crash in Mississippi. I’m touchy about anyone covering this legend’s work. That aside then the more that Bessie gets her legacy published then the happier I will be.

In fact Jewell has acknowledged the importance of American roots artists before, not least with her Loretta Lynn, 2011, tribute album, Butcher Holler. On Down Hearted Blues then half the tracks are originally by female artists and she invites you to hear how exceptional they were in a very male dominated industry.

Through out her husband and drummer, Jason Beek, sets a danceable swinging rhythm on many tracks and not least on Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine”. Another Willie Dixon composition, “Crazy Mixed Up World” has all that dance allure with the addition of Miller’s guitar picking.

“Poor Girl’s Story” includes violin and the band gently keep the rhythm behind the pair of them as this tale of rambling the USA comes as an album closer and welcome addition to the various styles before.

This is hugely enjoyable and I’m secretly returning to this album, as it is a real grower.

Wales Cycling – September 2017

September 21, 2017

Martin Appleyard was this tour’s victim and frankly he should have known better.

As an old friend and colleague he’d been saturated and subjected to steep hills on a 2008 cycle adventure between York and Edinburgh and in a further deep loss of reason he’d signed up and had more of the same on a 2010 bike ride from Toulouse over the Pyrenees into Spain and back again by the coast. It appears that after a further seven years he’d forgotten the misery. On mature reflection he must have known that 2017 wouldn’t be a better experience. In fact this tour rolled all the biggest challenges of previous expeditions into one and even I was frightened at one point that I’d pushed my luck too far as regards safety.

Sometime after the ride finished; I’m still feeling sorry for doing this to him. Read on.

A long train ride brought me from York to Swansea and Martin from Abingdon. On one of those trains that stop everywhere I’d noted the development of light rain into something less pleasing as we penetrated into deepest South Wales. Meeting at the station exit we pedalled the short and wet distance to our first hotel, Ibis, to discuss the maps, wind and hills.

(Along the cycle path we came across a prostrate cyclist being attended to by an ambulance. He’d hit a lamppost at speed! Not a good omen for what lay ahead).

I’ve cycled in lots of places in the UK and spent time in South and North Wales but I’d never been to the west coast or seen the interior. Martin had mentioned about fancying a cycle tour in a random conversation a couple of months earlier and so I’d scoped a journey from south to north. 

We were evenly matched as regards fitness and so after packing a selection of kit to cope with heat or cold then what could possibly go wrong?

Leaving Swansea was on Sustrans National Route 4. This is a cycle route which broadly follows the south coast, to start, and is signposted (most of the time). It is serviced by maps that miss out the distressing details such as distances or hill gradients: after all why would you want such detail to ruin your bike ride?

As a marker for how things would continue we pedalled out in heavy rain noting the choppy sea on our left and rush hour traffic on our right. Not all bad however as we proceeded down the cycle path broadly ‘sealed’ from the rain with our clothing whilst other commuters, on push bikes, came into view not wearing any waterproofs and with one student still brandishing their heavy, now sodden, headphones around their neck.

This ride out was nearly the flattest of the trip and when eventually the sun came out it was a sensational ride. Note the smiles and posing in the photos! On the route we came across joggers, dog walkers, hikers but no other cyclists. Maybe they knew something we didn’t? I love history and the plaque to Amelia Earhart was interesting. Can you imagine that long, cold, lonely and dangerous flight in an aircraft with the reliability of an Austin Allegro?

Llanelli was very wet and windy. We cycled past the impressive new rugby stadium. The Welsh love their Rugby Union and for a small nation then you have to acknowledge their talent. Our ride passed many pitches and clubs. On the Saturday you could hear the spectators bellowing as they huddled on the touchline.

The rest of the town looked old and a little past its best and sadly as heavy industry declined it took away much of the prosperity. It was telling in a chat with one waitress later in the day, that when we mentioned the local economy she identified the large supermarkets as major employers. And so it was with Llanelli, which boasted a large Asda in its centre.

If there was any reason to be glum about the increasing wind then, thinking on the bright side, we’d be entering Pembroke Dock long after the BBC’s forecast of thunder and lightning there!

Eventually as we got further west the road suddenly went skywards. It was my fault! I suspected Route 4 was taking us on a long detour and opted to take the B road from Kidwelly to Ferryside. Wow, what a hill! For half a mile we edge closer to the firmament and around each corner we discovered another additional climb and never the summit. It would be fair to say that I was the first to decide that what remained of my knees was best served by dismounting and pushing up this 12% incline. Yes, to coin a phrase, weak and increasingly wobbly.

From here we plummeted into Ferryside and after re-grouping I promised Martin to stop for lunch in Carmarthen. This was quite an easy ride but the sun was gone and rain was falling. No problem then with lunch in sight?

Martin got a puncture! This was made worse by elderly tires and one of which, when inspected by turning inside out, decided to refuse to return to its original shape. So Plan B was agreed to push the bikes the next 2 miles into Carmarthen where we’d find a bike shop and a new tyre.

Half a mile later, probably in response to Martin’s silent praying, a McDonalds came into view. This would be our second visit of the day! However, an apparition greater than any religious icon also appeared through some trees… Halfords. I disappeared to MaccieDee’s to dry out and devour deeply unhealthy fried and processed food (yum) and Martin went to the store to invest in new tyres and mudguards (who tours in the UK without mudguards?)

Well despite the pleasure at finding Halfords then the bike fixing took some time. From getting the puncture to getting back on the route took 3 hours to complete. Martin after having created a useful time gap to hold the Yellow Jersey was soundly disqualified and put on notice by the commissionaire (me) that any other delays would be reported in my subsequent blog. Always a man of my word (not) then I decided that this would appear in a blog in any case!

Well from here Martin led me along the horrifically busy A40 before we returned to Route 4 and a hoped for gentle amble to Saundersfoot. Sadly the road went up and up. There was no difficulty in the ascent but the cycling was slow and time was passing quickly. At this time of year the light starts to fall off after 7pm and it is no fun to ride in darkness even with lights.

Apparently the Welsh also have another use for sheep, but as my Favourite Eldest Daughter remarked  – ‘how can you tell who’s won?’

Along this coast some delightful places came into view. Not least Amroth where along the sea wall a couple of ladies were perched looking out to sea on a warm sunny evening clutching some champagne flutes and polishing off a bottle of something delicious and fizzy. However, we had to push on and after a lovely run down a cliff path we got to Saundersfoot. This seemed a lively and attractive place with diners and drinkers perambulating along the front.

Despite time passing for us we rang the hotel and confirmed that we were coming but not until maybe well past 7pm. At least we now had a guaranteed room for the night.

Agreement was reached to abandon Route 4 and its evil and wickedly hilly ways for a quick dash down the A477 to Pembroke Dock. This we did and bowled into The Dolphin Hotel, just before another deluge. The hotel was a pub with rooms above. The staff seemed nice and the room basic but adequate. A considerable downside was the buoyant and noisy bar beneath our room. I can cope with loud music but for heaven’s sake, Coldplay?

Before retiring we scoured the streets for a restaurant and as we were pushing 9pm and the fact that our part of town was away from any shops etc. we settled for an Indian. It was the second worst Indian I have ever had in my life. Yet again my fault. I’d chosen the town and accommodation. I’d like to think that it was in some ways fitting retribution for the puncture delays and I was proud to even the score with Martin.

DAY 1 – 79.3 miles, 7 hours & 14 minutes cycling & 1,403m climbed

Our breakfast was a cooked one and the first in a succession of depleting the eggs and bacon reserves in Wales. The food was served in the pub where at 8am one of the locals was on a bar stool cradling a glass of cider. Sadly that was my lasting impression of Pembroke Dock. A town that probably had a thriving dock and workforce maybe 60 years ago but was now looking steadily abandoned and tatty.

The plan was a brisk ride to Haverfordwest. This was on the route and looked a large settlement that might produce carbohydrate options to go with the cholesterol special back in Pembroke Dock. Cycling does allow you to consume a ridiculous amount of food but you do need to eat food that is fuel and if you try and cycle for seven plus hours on an inadequate diet then your endurance and condition will fail you.

Haverfordwest was unsurprisingly built on a hill and at the top of the steep climb was the Tesco cafeteria. Martin was now starting to understand that fine dining would be a hallmark of his short adventure in the Principality. Porridge was consumed and a few extra gel bars bought.

So Broad Haven next, on the coast. Quite a nice small settlement on a cove. Up above it the rows of static caravans were stationed looking out onto a very rough sea. Middle aged couples, in garish anoraks, with wind swept hounds at the end of leads battled against the gale on the beach. We had little reason to stay and headed north. This led us along narrow roads with 3m high hedges and face offs with occasional pick up trucks driven by impatient farmers. The route would drop you down to beaches along the coast but that fearful dread on the descent would consume you, as eventually you knew that a bill had to be settled by a 15% gradient climb to escape the beach. The sun shone but the wind blew.

Newgale (a clue in the name) was the end of this northerly coastal ride before we headed west to St Davids. The wind at the resort and resulting climb up out of it were demanding. Not as much as the westerly wind that prevented our easy progress to St Davids. Solva looked idyllic and was a foretaste of how superb St Davids was with its cathedral. The building in the photograph is mainly a 19th century construction but this site has housed a cathedral and abbey from the 6th century.

Here Scandinavian and French tourist voices could be heard milling about in the sheltered sunshine. In fact such was the international ambience that we fell into conversation with two ladies from Vancouver in a cafe over a panini. I usually forget the detail of my travel but having only just been in western Canada two weeks ago I could compare their experiences and also got to berate them for pronouncing aluminium as ‘aloominum’. A simple pleasure I know.

With a tailwind we set off for Fishguard with a mere 40 miles (!) to go before our night’s stop. Fishguard was reached quite easily but there was a major hill climbing project to get in and then out of it. It was here that Martin suffered from ‘kind motorist syndrome’ as he ascended from the harbour.

‘KMS’ is where somebody doesn’t overtake you and therefore doesn’t leaves you in peace and solitude but hovers behind you for about a lifetime. They think they are kind, as you move up a hill at the pace of a glacier. The reality is that you feel under pressure and have to expend precious energy riding as quickly as you can steering a straight line up a horrid hill. Another unpleasant side effect is a long queue of less tolerant motorists behind who when liberated from this slow moving traffic jam nearly graze your hip to make up for the 3 minute delay they have suffered.

To add to this incident Martin then witnessed a motorbike surge past a car so closely that it clipped and destroyed its wing mirror. The unlucky car had been giving Martin space as he resolved a slipped chain at the side of the road. The motorcyclist was in a hurry. Further up the road I then saw the chase as both went past me at Mach 5. The motorist was no doubt anxious to discuss the damage and the motorcyclist less so. Oh these crazy Welsh folk, how we laughed.

The road to Cardigan was very up and down. If the road was not necessarily brutal then the rain was. Hell, it chucked it down. Proper cold and vertical stuff. We weren’t just damp but completely sodden. Cirgerran was eventually reached but our lodgings were hard to find. I only had a post code and the house we sought wasn’t visible.

So down a street as I’m walking around looking for a property called ‘Y Allt Rheini’ Martin befriended a dog owner to ask where we were and where our accommodation might be. She was not a lot of help until we dialled the establishment’s number, handed her the mobile and requested that she liaise with the proprietor to get directions. I shall always treasure the immortal words that she uttered to let the proprietor know where we were as she spoke “we’re on the street off the main road. You know, opposite Dog Food Dave’s”.

With some ropey directions we eventually went down a long slippy track to find the mansion and dripping wet we were shown to a lovely room that quickly became a steamy laundry as various layers were peeled off to dry either with or without washing. Then back onto the bikes and back into Cirgerran for a pub dinner.

DAY 2 – 71.6 miles, 7 hours and 4 minutes cycling & 1,758m climbed

Martin dry and rested seemed chipper at breakfast.

After yesterday’s arduous ride I suggested that today would be easier. This was a despicable lie because today was a similar amount of climbing and distance, as Martin pointed out (cough).

Nevertheless, we set forth and on a sleepy Sunday and wended our way to Lampeter. This was really back roads riding with lots of small farming settlements and sheep!

It was difficult to quickly cycle the 30 miles to lunch but there were a few interesting discoveries on the way. I love the 1960’s era of British cars and this was a complete treasure trove with other cars under tarpaulins here hidden in the forest at Pencader.

Lunch turned out to be epic and winner of ‘The Tony Ives Meal Of The Tour Award’. Sunday lunch at Granny’s Kitchen in Lampeter. The photo reveals the artist’s joy at the roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding etc. (The expression may suggest doping was involved).

Next three unhappy events came to pass. The first was biblical rain.

The second was a text from a very good friend, Robert, advising that his mother had passed away after a long illness. I had known the lady since I was a very small child and whilst she had been unwell for a considerable time it was a sad day and in the scheme of things then I would want to attend the funeral.

The last event was the failure of my iPhone to receive any consistent reception. Over the last couple of days the texts were delayed and telephone calls nigh on impossible as the signal was so weak that it read ‘No Service’ or calls were cut off. This issue had led to my not receiving the message of the death promptly.

With only 45 miles to go (!) we enjoyed an initially flat run before we got into the real hill farming countryside and ground away endlessly on granny gears that silenced the banter as the weariness kicked in. We were heading for Llanidloes in mid Wales.

So you haven’t mentioned the Welsh language yet Tony? True, I was about to come to that… Being a recidivist Englishmen then I am bemused at a language that can best be described as sounding like a heavy cold with a surplus of phlegm and spelling that would win any game of Scrabble. Also every person in the Principality speaks English.

However, there are two other revelations that I can share – one is that every other settlement starts ‘Llan’ What does this mean? I don’t know but then endless typing of destinations into my Sat Nav of new towns or villages to head for started with this. The second revelation is that people actually speak it!

This is taught in school and so maybe all the duplication of language on road and public building signage isn’t a waste of money. One thing they could teach the children of Wales is that after getting into a car it is not mandatory to buy a sweet fizzy drink in a plastic bottle, to consume it and then with scant concern to lob it from your car window into the beautiful countryside. Plastic waste is killing wildlife in the oceans and there is a focus on reducing it. I think the Welsh Government could well use some dosh to educate people to use a bin, preferably a recycling one. Seriously the countryside is being used as a waste tip. Shame on you Taffy, not ‘tidy’, as you are oft prone to say.

In our usually sopping state we reached a very nice hotel in the centre of the town, showered and found a pub for dinner and a pint.

DAY 3 – 79.9 miles, 7 hours and 33 minutes & 1,914 m climbed

Well of course rain fell as we watched the hotel proprietor’s partner use a blower to move the petals that were on the pavement in front of the hotel. These had fallen from the hotel’s hanging basket in the rain. He blew ‘his’ petals to be in front of next door’s pub! Neighbours eh?

Overnight I had spoken to Robert and established that the funeral was the day after next. This was a day when we were still touring. If matters were a little challenging given that we were in deepest Wales with poor transport links then abandoning Martin to the next day with its mountain climbing and weather was not kindly. What was I to do? Should I ride with him until the worst of the climbing was completed? I have no doubt Martin would have coped but read on.

We abandoned National Route 82 to stay on the main road to Machynlleth, oh what an error! The road was vertical in places and as we ascended to over 500m the weather became horrific. A steady fall of cold rain took the temperature down to just over 8° C and the wind picked up. In fact it nearly picked both of us ‘up’ as we crawled along at an average speed of 6mph. The descents were possible squeezing the brakes every inch of the way down to maintain control. The ascents, against buffeting wind and through a stream of water (coming down the road) were dangerous and pushing the steed became the order of the day. A few cars and trucks passed by to make our passage more difficult as they came around sharp turns quickly. I wondered what the drivers were thinking about these two fools battling the elements.

It has to be said that even the sheep and cattle took shelter by copses or walls as this hell rained down on them. I literally shuddered to imagine being up on these hills exposed at lower temperatures. At Staylittle Martin dived into a pannier to find extra clothing. I was so cold and wet through that standing there was numbing and I pedalled on slowly just to keep the blood flowing. Reunited we ascended to 600m and now the hillsides were exposed with no wind breaks. Occasionally slippery cattle grids had to be negotiated and then the descent began.

I was now shivering uncontrollably and hurtling downhill holding onto the brakes was not easy. The wheel rims were so wet that grip took some time to happen leading to entering some corners too fast. The bike juddered beneath me as I shivered, it shook. 

Eventually the winds fell (and the rain continued to) but the temperature might have only just edged upwards when we entered Machynlleth. First I found a supermarket to dive into to warm up but then about 100m down the road we found a cafe for a hot drink. I peeled off the sopping layers and clutched the cup tight to warm up. The thaw began.

In the cafe was Ben, a third year student at Falmouth University studying Marine Biology. He was cycling to Cornwall via Llanidloes. The mountain run that we’d endured was his next two hours bike ride. He’d ridden up from Barmouth and wanted to know about the route ahead. “Stick to the Sustrans route and wear all available clothing” was my advice. I couldn’t think of a more hellish two hours to complete. Poor Ben.

We left puddles in the cafe and set off for Barmouth. It was a bit up and down and the selection of an A road meant a few trucks and the odd toot on the horn from an impatient and irrational motorist. However it was a lot easier and we rolled into Barmouth at around 3pm.

I planned to get a train back to York that night and was dashed in my ambition to check with the ticket office about connections etc. It was shut being refurbished and a note said buy a ticket on the ‘Arriva App’. To show how customer unfriendly that was then an old gentleman suddenly appeared over my shoulder as I’m looking at the timetable on the wall and asked me to confirm a train time. He said his eyesight wasn’t good enough to read the listing. Clearly the chance of him having a smart phone to use an App seemed very unlikely.

Anyway with no ticket but a plan we adjourned to have our third portion of fish and chips in four days and say our goodbyes. At this point I’d like to think that I had improved Martin’s life forever. Not by the bike ride but by teaching him how to transfer photos between iPhones using AirDrop.

Martin armed with the map was keeping to the plan to continue up the coast to Harlech. Here I’d booked a room. From here he would, the next day, cycle into Bangor and catch a train south. By all accounts this he did but not without the odd hill and another 60 miles riding.

I got the train at around 5pm to Machynlleth (yes back there). Changed platforms and proceeded to Shrewsbury. I had a bit of a wait before catching a train to Manchester before my last connection to York. Here I unloaded the bike, mounted it and rode onto my driveway at 11.30pm. Quite a day.

DAY 4 – 50.1 miles, 5 hours 21 minutes and 995m climbed.

So Wales is beautiful and hilly. Has an often spectacular coastline and is definitely tourist friendly. The weather was atrocious on balance with mixed days of some calm and sunshine but demoralising rain and wind usually on long very steep parts of the day. Martin may never forgive me but the next ride can’t be as awful can it? Can’t wait.

Finland & Estonia – Wedding Anniversary Trip – September 2017

September 18, 2017

September 12th was our 30th wedding anniversary and a break was planned to another European city we’d not yet visited – Helsinki. We’d both ticked off most of the other Nordic capitals together or separately but never this far north. My knowledge of Finland was limited and knowledge of anyone famous really stopped at the former Bolton Wanderers’ goalkeeper. So this trip quietly excited your intrepid explorer.

I am not that devoted to loyalty schemes but I’ve had a BA American Express air miles card for some years and occasionally cash the miles for a journey. A return flight to Helsinki in Business Class was booked!

Part of the deal of cashing these ‘miles’ is that everything flies out of Heathrow. So we plummeted down the M1 for an overnight stay prior to a flight the next day on Finnair. An evening meal was hastily planned at Newport Pagnell and a Turkish restaurant called Capadocia was selected. Anna and myself like Turkish cuisine and she could select a vegetarian selection with ease. The restaurant was busy for a Wednesday night and our meal was fine. The Turkish proprietor who floated around the tables introduced himself and asked how we’d found out about the restaurant? ‘Trip Advisor’!

Oh dear, light blue touch paper and retire…

From here he recounted a brutal review of a day earlier from a diner that had given him one star. In fact he visited the table twice to show genuine hurt and pain and even brought up the review on his smart phone to show us. The diners had thought that the food bland. “Why didn’t they tell us when they were here? We would have changed the meal or given them some money off?”

His lament continued at the low score. “Maybe three stars would have been fair?” He’ had looked through their other reviews and establishments visited recently and even opined that they were saboteurs who preferred another local Turkish restaurant and was attempting to hurt his restaurant by posting this review!

As I say the place was busy with happy customers and getting so upset over one review was not worth it. However, it does highlight the damage and outrage some reviews on Trip Advisor can create. In fact you don’t have to stay at the hotel or eat at the restaurant to write a review. By the way, my main course had little flavour! I will not be noting this with a review on Trip Advisor.

Terminal 3 is not a venue that I have any affection for. We stayed 3 miles away from it but it still took 25 minutes to reach in the rush hour. It is a tangled web of entrances and various phases of construction and I pity an elderly or less mobile traveller using it.

We were chipper however as we had use of the Business Lounge and copious coffee, fruit and pastries were consumed along with our free newspapers before embarkation. Ordinarily then any turn left would cause me discomfort but on entering the aircraft a platinum blond goddess looked at our boarding pass and sent us toward Business Class. Oh deep joy!

I had often trouped past these little cubicles after an uncomfortable long haul flight envying the lucky so and so’s who luxuriated in these pens whilst I had got a crick in my neck and little or no sleep back in ‘cargo’. Now it was my turn but sadly for only 2 hours 50 minutes. It did cross my mind to suggest that they took the ‘long way round’ to Finland to enjoy this experience more. It was bliss and a wonderful way to travel.

Helsinki airport is modern but was hellish on our arrival. The trek to the train station is past endless Duty Free shops and not only was it a long walk but the place was rammed with travellers. Most I would volunteer were Chinese nationals who transit via Helsinki before flying onto China via the shorter northern route.

We eventually made the train and had a pleasant 30 minute ride to the city centre. From here we had another walk to the hotel. We could have used an Uber or some such but it’s not our way, we’re addicted to the step counter on the iPhone! A taxi only seemed a good idea as the rain started to steadily fall.

The Four Star Boutique hotel was a 19th Century converted prison! Anna found this on Trip Advisor and it was a little strange to check into three converted cells via a heavily fortified wall but everything was quite classy and plush. In the basement they had kept one of the original cells and encouraged recent visitors to write on the walls. It was utilitarian, brutal and dimly lit – any lengthy stay here would have been hell.

We wandered the short distance into the centre near the front for dinner and dined at ‘Toca’. This was a gourmet dinner which didn’t run to à la carte menu but various choices were explained to you and then modest but adequate portions of modern cuisine appeared. It was surprising and delicious… especially as we had selected it at the hotel thinking it was a pizza restaurant! The bill before the tip came to €110. This brings us to Finnish prices. Certain things were expensive but overall the prices were fine. Food and drink was a high price but frankly eating in the centre of any major capital is never cheap is it? Everything we ate was usually delicious and beautifully presented.

The next morning we did a walking tour of the centre of Helsinki. We’re avid walking tour fans and I reckon I could write a guide for those leading them to maximise the entertainment. Our guide failed to mention that whilst the tour was free that she’d welcome tips. A lot of the folk abandoned her after two hours, literally receiving a free tour. The guides are usually students trying to raise extra funds. I think we tipped well.

Finland, like a number of the Nordic nations, is quite young. It only has a population of 5.5 millions and around 11% live in Helsinki. Over the centuries either the Swedes or the Russians have occupied it. It only gained its independence in 1917 when it took advantage of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution to break free. In the meanwhile they have a very long border with the Russian bear and know that if they want to come back then not a lot will stop them! The Soviet Union was very hostile and repeatedly tried to occupy the country during WW2 and eventually took some territory.

The Finns seemed very calm, organised and open. We were struck by how a large sand pit used by children in a park had toys left scattered around for the next day’s play. In the UK these would be locked away and the sandpit surrounded by a high fence to stop the local youth doing something horrid to it overnight. Around the city were embassies and Government offices that all looked very vulnerable to easy entry and terrorism should a malign party wish to cause harm. This Scandinavian innocence is quite a contrast to our UK world. (As we were in Helsinki then the Parsons Green Tube explosion was reported).

In the afternoon the sun came out, briefly, and I found a few vinyl record shops to look around and Anna looked at the shops in the centre. I was short of time on my tour and didn’t buy anything but found a great jazz record store where the owner seemed to be having a great time playing his personal favourites. Next door was a record store specialising in reggae. Love it.

That night it was a couple of drinks in a local bar and an omelette.

The next day we had a leisurely start and got the ferry to Estonia. It was a two and a half hour sail to Tallinn. There were cars but most of the passengers were going by foot. Near us in the queue was a party of primary school teachers going for an overnight stay and a night out. In fact many of the passengers seemed to be getting into a party mood on the ship and there was much imbibing. (The return sailing saw lads wheeling on cans and cans of beer and many others wielding carrier bags of booze. It seems a long time ago that the Brits visited mainland Europe on booze cruises, or do they still do it?)

Tallinn was beautiful. The old town was beautifully presented with its cobbled streets and old buildings. Again another walking tour filled our time and we learned quite a lot about this nation of 1.3m people. It was the usual story of occupation over the centuries by Swedes, Germans and Russians. Whilst they celebrate 100 years of independence shortly then they only got rid of the Russians in 1991. From here they achieved the Holy Grail for these small nations by joining the EU in 2004.

It is easy to see that the EU is an attractive option for these smaller nations. You get access to markets, you get subsidy, you get an internationally recognised currency and not least you get an umbrella of supposed security by being part if a larger group. Especially useful if your neighbour and 25% of your population is Russia or Russian. Add NATO membership and you may even start to dream about another 100 years of independence.

The guide for all his earnest explanation about the history and economy did excel at talking about the Estonian character. They don’t like people and seldom, if ever, socially greet each other. They are not tactile and the concept of dating is foreign to them! Meeting the opposite sex was described as either as a sort of stalking for several weeks and pretending it is a coincidence to run into the desired target repeatedly. Or the popularity of binge drinking and finding yourself, the next morning, beside a partner that you couldn’t remember meeting seemed common. I suspect this is rubbish but it did give an illuminating insight into this small nation.

Our visit to Estonia, and back, never involved the inspection or even presentation of passports. I am not sure if they are in Schengen but it seemed that terrorism could move easily between the countries. Back in Helsinki we had a pizza and checked the football results back in Blighty. Yet more rain as we walked around but never very cold.

The next morning we took a couple of bikes from the hotel and toured the peninsula where we were staying. The icebreaker ships were moored here along with other more traditional forms of sailing craft.

So from the hotel we got to a quiet Sunday airport and relaxed in the Business lounge before the flight home. Whilst Business then the cabin wasn’t the new layout, but everything else was pampering! We picked up the car and, listening to the football, drove to York.

Back To School Special – Week 35 : 2017

September 5, 2017

I was enchanted by a story about my daughter at York Races during August. One of her friends was betting fairly blindly on various races and was taken with a pony called ‘Neigh Neigh’. In fairness we can be sure that having this name ticked one box and it was indeed a horse. Like all Millennials then making an appearance at a bookie is so “2005″ and so clicking their Apps a bet was placed on said nag to win.

The race was run and ‘Neigh Neigh’ didn’t make an appearance on the winners’ board. There was much disappointment but neither did he appear amongst any of the runners? In fact she’d bet on a race at Newmarket! ‘Neigh Neigh’ won!

Slightly younger then I felt for a poor teenager who was standing in a queue at Starbucks. He was brandishing a £50 note. Such is the rarity of sightings for such a note that I can remember when I last had one. It immediately seemed that this kid was unusual. As some of his friends drifted past him and out of the shop speaking German to him then it became clear he was a tourist. I can imagine his mother coming back from the Bureau de Change with his spending money thinking that a £50 note was fine. Needless to say he was bounced at the counter when the barista informed him that they didn’t accept such notes! Vorsprung Durch Tecnik.

In talking with my Favourite Eldest Daughter I enquired as to how she was spending the Saturday. She was doing ‘life admin’. Wtf? I was told that this again was Millennial speak for paying the window cleaner, buying a travel season ticket and no doubt speaking to your father.

On the weekend I was ‘down with the kids’ at the adidas sale at their warehouse in Stockport. The company clears out lots of stock periodically and employees can attend with two guests. I qualified as a father with the Favourite Youngest and discovered that I was at least 25 years older than all the other shoppers. You can see in the image below some of my booty. If I told you what this cost then you’d be suspecting theft! Tiger feet?

As you might expect then my vast disposable income will attract luxury brand manufacturers to approach me. To this end Porsche Cars Of Great Britain have invited me to an exclusive preview evening. I won’t go but if I was wavering about whether to attend then the letter made up my mind – ‘It is made for those who have the courage to forge their own path.’ Grant me strength.

Young Ted, son of my nephew, was over in York on Monday and due to Anna having to unavoidably be away, for a couple of hours, I got a shift. So we went to see the nice man to repair my iPhone 6 and then to the playground. Ted, 4, keeps a good chat going, only occasionally pausing for breath. I was soldiering on trying to deal with various observations and questions:

“Oh look there’s a JCB, they go on motorways”

“Well not really they are too big and slow”

“No, I’ve seen them on the motorway”

“Err.. well there might have been one on the back of a lorry”

“No, roadworks”

Lastly, sometimes people admit to ‘guilty pleasures’. These are things that are naff or out of character as to their regular tastes but somehow fit. ‘Cruising with Jane McDonald’ on Channel 5 is such an admission. Common as muck (and she doesn’t care), endlessly engaging and often hilarious. I usually want to sail on every ship she’s on or go to anywhere she visits.