Sunday, 28 February 2016

Domestic Extremist

Last Wednesday Mrs A and I were out and about again. We headed off from the sleepy shire into the sprawling urban metropolis that is Leicester, to see Mark Thomas’ new show Trespass.

After parking the car and before walking down to The Curve to catch the show we stopped off for a curry at Kayal on Granby street. We’ve eaten there a couple of times in the past and the food is always good (for which they won an award in 2008, as the gently ageing sign tells you). One of the many things I like about Kayal is that there is no chicken korma to be seen on the menu. I ordered something from the menu I’d never heard of before, the waiter looked vaguely alarmed and told me what to expect, which I took to mean it might not be quite what customers generally expect and he was heading off complaints before the food arrived. we pressed on anyway.

Mrs A ordered an aubergine dish and a paratha bread. The food arrived (mine was a chicken curry with rice dumplings in some kind of spicy coconut stew) they were both lovely. You should go, trust me. Just as good now as 2008.

After food and a couple of pints of Kingfisher to the good we made our way down to the theatre. Mark Thomas came on stage and headed off as he meant to continue by haranguing the venue for the exorbitant percentage that they wanted to take a commission on his merchandise. He told us that in order to stick it to The Man he was going to head out into the street at the interval and sell to anyone who wanted a “Domestic Extremist” teatowel they could get one then and the commission that would have gone to the venue would go into a hat for a charity helping refugees in Calais. Perfect.

So the show passed in a blur of right-on, expletive-strewn, thought-provoking laughs based around the awful move towards selling off public spaces to big business and its impact on Joe Public. One of my most favourite bits was the photo of him being wrestled to the ground by bank security guards whilst dressed as Sean The Sheep beamed onto an enormous screen behind him. He looked deadpan at the audience and said “it’s hard to tell who’s lost the most dignity here, isn’t it?”. I laughed like a drain.

Come the interval, and after the show too, he was indeed outside flogging teatowels and generally chatting to people like a regular human being. It was great, although a highly developed sense of social conscience and comedy timing clearly doesn’t translate to supply chain skills as he’d run out after about 5 minutes. We never did get one…

I’ve been a fan of his since I first saw The Mark Thomas Comedy Product back in the mid 90s and he’s just as funny today. Mrs A is now worried however, that she’ll get a call at some point asking her to collect her sheep-outfitted husband from some police station.

Monday, 22 February 2016

North & Deep South

So after the adventure of Riga, a jaunt across the town to take The Boy Wonder swimming and a single night in our own bed (oh, the joy of sleeping in a temperature of less than a kazillion degrees!), we were straight back in the car and driving North to Glasgow for a catch up with the in laws.

Time is recalling its dues on them.

Whilst we were there we stayed in a couple of hotels, one new and one old friend. The new one was a real find, called Goglasgow urban hotel. It was ferreted out by Mrs A for its location and turned out to be a refurbishment of an old hotel that was a bit down at heel. The staff were really nice, the décor was brilliant with an overall industrial/shipyard theme (really appropriate to its location) and the place had just the right kind of bonkers going on, with one of the dancing Tunnocks teacakes outfits from the commonwealth games opening ceremony on the wall in reception. If you don’t remember this quintessentially mental piece of history, here it is:

They even had teacakes on the coffee tray in the room (sadly only normal sized).

Best of all, we found out chatting to the guy on reception that the the hotel is owned by a small Scottish company and they donate a healthy percentage of their profits back into micro-local causes and charities. If you’re there I would recommend them entirely. Here’s a link to their site:

After a day visiting with the in laws and taking Eldest son and his girlfriend out for dinner we headed back for our last night in Glasgow at One Devonshire Gardens. We absolutely love this place for its memories and for the fact that it is such a beautiful place. If I had the money I’d just move in (and turn down the heating…..)

The following day we drove back down south, ate our tea and then headed straight back out to Stamford (possibly the only sleepier town than ours in a 50 mile radius) to see Rich Hall. It was the funniest hour and a half of standup I’ve seen in a long time and is definitely one of my favourite gigs. He was sharp and funny and had both Mrs A and I in stitches for the whole show (even the songs were funny). If you get chance to see him, go. And take his advice on online gambling.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


We’ve been at large again.

This time our flight was heading for the most easterly point in Europe that I’ve been to so far. This particular trip was a Christmas present from the lovely Mrs A (she does good presents) to Riga.

The flight was a little delayed so we amused ourselves in the fun-factory that is Luton airport by putting on far too much perfume/aftershave whilst avoiding the ever watchful sales assistants (or anti-freebie Stazi as I like to think of them). In the absence of free whisky samples it’s the best we could find to fill the time.

Eventually our flight got sorted; a couples of hours and the smoothest landing I have ever experienced later, we found ourselves wandering out of the terminal building at Riga international in search of a bus. We picked one that looked about right, stumped up a couple of Euro and waited to see if we’d chosen the right one. Half an hour’s worth of traffic, bridges and communist era scenery later we walked into the reception of the Wellton hotel and spa. Located right by the old town, I can’t recommend them enough if you’re ever there. The staff were all nothing short of excellent, they even cheerfully put us into a different room after our first night just so we could have a better view:





See? Lovely isn’t it?

Also this is an example of breakfast:


Yes, that is indeed Champagne. At breakfast. Also, I apologise unreservedly for the placement of the comedy sausage. It didn’t even register until someone pointed it out with great glee on Facebook. Such is my circle of friends. The only complaint I have would be the Bahamian temperature in our room that made sleeping nigh on impossible, but I think there is some secret code for hoteliers that means the thermostat must NEVER be allowed to be set below something suitable for Old Nick’s sauna, so I’m resigned to it now.

Riga itself was (is) achingly beautiful, the old town particularly was glorious – the architecture, public art and parks were fantastic. The mix of incredibly intricate art nouveau buildings and brutally austere soviet monuments was fascinating.


The history of the region was something that I wasn’t really too aware of until visiting a couple of the museums/tours dealing with Latvia’s rollercoaster past at the hands of several totalitarian regimes. To say the Latvian population suffered between the 40s and the 90s is a massive understatement. The tour of the Cheka (KGB) building is something that will stay with me for a long time. There was no gloss or polish put on anything. It was truly grim, even for a visit of a couple of hours.

The food there was great and relatively cheap. Mrs A played a blinder with her late entry in the ‘Adventurous Dinner’ award competition, for this burger:


Yes, it really was that colour. It tasted ace too.

So now, after a short bus ride and another round of perfume/aftershave/questionable face goop at the airport, I’m writing this on the plane to sunny Luton. We will sleep in our own bed (at a mercifully sensible temperature) tonight before heading north tomorrow for a couple of days in Glasgow.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Happy Birthday

Today The Boy Wonder has turned 10. A lot has changed in the last year, for a start he’s been doing a ‘how to stay safe online’ study at school today, hence there is no picture of him and we now have a super-secret password just in case someone decides to hack my email account and tries to start an illicit conversation with him, so he can check it’s really me.

We had a birthday for him on Saturday with us, with cake and bowling with his mate and burgers and presents. It was lovely.

Happy birthday big fella, may the wind always be at your back.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Photographic Memories

Once upon a time I used to be a quite keen photographer. When I was in my early twenties I spotted an old Minolta X-300 35mm SLR  in a charity shop and got bitten by the bug. Over the space of a few years I began a learning process that took me from knowing very little about f-stops and  apertures, to being able to discern between specular and diffuse reflection and take a pretty good shot at setting up a multi-light arrangement for most occasions. The full manual setting on my SLR was my weapon of choice and I even managed to take a handful of decentish pictures.

I was, in short, a nerd.

Years later digital arrived and I gradually moved over, eventually assembling a pretty decent digital outfit including one of Canon’s legendary ‘L Series’ lenses (see nerd comment above) and I lived it all over again. There was a new learning curve to be had in post production which had previously been way outside my scope. It used to be that I’d think nothing of lugging around a couple of kilos of gear for hours in search of that one elusive, perfect image, a choice made a little more straightforward by the fact that compact cameras were pretty limited and phone cameras were laughable.

But times change and since I was really firing on all cylinders with this stuff, technology has moved on (along with airline luggage weight allowances). I picked up a pretty decent compact a couple of years ago to travel with me to Sri Lanka, I’ve found that it has more than enough manual control for me to be happy and to get 99% of the shots I could have got with the full fat setup plus others that I would have missed through being too slow with heavy gear. As a result the bulky old SLR has languished entirely in the back of the wardrobe along with flashes, light modifiers, stands, tripods and assorted other bits and pieces. It’s time had been and gone for me so its currently finding various new homes via eBay and charity shops.

And the proceeds of selling off my gear?

Well, please allow me to indulge myself in one of my favourite photographer quotes, attributed to Jim Richardson:

If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” 

Next stops Riga and Berlin, maybe more depending on how much people value L series glass these days…

Monday, 1 February 2016

Not So Dry February


So here we are in February, the start of a new month and the first beer of the year for me.

Mrs A and I decided to pack in the booze for a month after a hectic Christmas and new year, a cheque written by my confidence that I wasn’t entirely sure my willpower could cash. I thought that the early part of the month would be tricky but it was surprisingly easy (I think because we were both on the same wagon) and I always knew that once I’d got past the midway point only a forcibly administered pint would spoil the challenge, such is my competitive  nature.

Mrs  A is talking about extending the dryness through February as well (I’m not sure if she has, as she’s away with work this evening), but that’s not for me. I’ve done my time thankyouverymuch.

The beer in the picture was a Christmas present from The Boy Wonder, suggested by our local wine/beer merchant and is a belter. Apparently the brewery in Belgium that produces this beauty only make one batch per year and that’s that. To do my best to mirror the time and care taken in production, it’s taken me all evening to drink it, as it’s 11% and should probably be categorised as ‘weaponised beer’.