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2012

skip past holidays || the film The Artist || Whit Friday brass

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HOLIDAYS:

It is becoming really difficult to find self catering accomodation with the room we want for under a thousand a week so our future holidays are going to be limited. Too may adverts say sleeps 6 and then offer just one bedroom. No thanks. And without a car, farm houses umpteen miles from anywhere are not available. So off to Llandudno for one week this year.

The weather forecast was diabolical - indeed on the day we travelled out, closure of the railway and roads due to flooding meant that anyone wishing to travel from Machynlleth to Barmouth was being sent via Birmingham-Chester-Bangor-Porthmadog. Our trip was less eventful- but it was raining when we left. The North Wales trains are not as crowded as they once were, and even in the holiday season, three carriages seems to be adequate. We arrived to find the central heating was on- and, in June, it was on every day of our holiday.

Unfortunately Llandudno seems to be largely closed in June, with the pier shops closing at 5pm. The cafe we have been eating at for ten years was closed at 4.30pm and we were faced with finding somewhere new. Great success, a gem, Barnacles, Mostyn Street, on the surface a chip shop, but with a cafe attached. Both served a good choice for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free meals - and a ten percent discount to card carrying vegetarians. With the choice of roast meals (lamb, beef, pork, chicken) there was a choice of vegetarian roast meals- falafel, veggie sausage, quorn steak. We ate there every evening and enjoyed some nice meals.

We also found a good pub at last, although I expect it would be too busy in July and August- even in June on Friday night reservations were required- they served meals up to 9pm. They had four hand pumps and some nice beer. The regular was Greene King, usually badly kept by pubs that have real ale because they have been told it is popular, but have no concept of keeping real ale. This pub- the Albert- kept its beer well and the Greene King was fine to drink, although the guest ale from Tatton brewery was our favourite.

Sunday was fine but after Saturdays downpour we did not feel confident to go slipping over the precipitous grass slopes and instead walked along the bottom of the Great Orme, enjoying a nice cup of tea at the Rest and be Thankful, returning via the Haulfre Gardens middle path and another tea at their tea rooms.

Monday we walked along the lower Haulfre path to the West Beach and on to Conwy for a nice tea at Annas Tearooms. We saw lots of small blue butterflies- Plebeius Argus ssp Caernensis or Western Silver Studded Blue, unique to the Great Orme. We also met a couple of powerful aggressive uncontrolled fighting dogs on this path, fortunately they were too busy fighting themselves to bother us. Two years ago we noted that the house once stayed in by Alice Liddell (Penmorfa) had been demolished- on this visit we find that the White Rabbit statue opened by Lloyd George (1933), has been removed. (update- 1933 the statue was "found" in 2015, and then repaired -new right arm, new ears- and erected on Gloddaeth Street. Within 12 months his right hand had been removed, then glued back...). A plaque on the statue stated that Lewis Carroll had visited Llandudno but this is now considered probably a publicity stunt. West Beach now has just a small isolated weather vane with a repaired White Rabbit on it. And from June 2012 the main town has a lot of carved tree trunks on large concrete plinths of Alice characters.
Monday night at 7.30pm the Llandudno Town Band play on the front, but it was too cold and breezy for us - but I did buy the bands latest CD. The cover indicates it as a CD by the Llandudno Town Band, but I'm not too sure what it is. Only three short tracks have the band on their own (possibly augmented). The other tracks have "vocals" which make the CD sound like a recording of English reality show rejects. I looked them up on the internet- one is unknown and possibly a friend of a friend. Two specialise in singing at weddings and other events. The fourth has indicated on their website that the CD had "all proceeds going to charity"- no sign of that on the CD, and I suspect the singer may have been misled. Hopefully not to get them to appear for free. The CD was recorded in Abbey Road studios by a famous / infamous producer, who started his career with EMI with a number one hit some years ago. Several of his projects are of dubious musicality. Unfortunately he died just days after the recording, and the indications are the Town Band played some part in having the recordings released at all, probably not in the intended manner. One to go to a charity shop I think.

Tuesday was always going to be "the dry day" and our day for travelling to Abergwyngregyn. First shock- in April a day ticket on the bus was GBP 5.40, but in June it was GBP 6.40- an increase of 18 per cent, due no doubt to local authority cuts. The Red Rover ticket covers all of Ynys Mon, Gwynnedd, and the Western portion of Conwy. Another ten pence would give us an Arriva only ticket, which would have allowed us to travel on any Arriva Wales OR Arriva North West Bus (potentially Holyhead to Warrington!).

Not that Conwy are being very careful or wise with restricted funds- bins only emptied once every two weeks, but they can afford to put up several sculpted tree trunks on large concrete plinths representing the Alice in Wonderland characters. And purchase (possibly) the derelict pier at Colwyn Bay - legal actions pending on that one. I missed the original news but apparently local democratic control was removed from Ynys Mon in March 2011 due to lack of adequate management by the executive (who had their pay removed) and poor control by the elected representatives- and is due to be fully returned in May 2013.

Lovely walk to the falls at Aber (the return journey is just under seven kilometres but has some uphill bits), having tea first at the little tea room in the village (no refreshments available Mondays). At the valley head, Cathy received a text message on her mobile phone welcoming her to Manx Pronto (Manx Telecom). That is a point to point distance of at least 105 kilometres (over 65 miles). Not bad for a small mobile phone. There is no reception of any English / Welsh mainland based phone network in the valley.

At Llandudno itself, one of George's phones picked up a private GSM cellphone transmitter some 22 kilometres away - we suspect it served the operating platform visible on the horizon.

After Tuesday it rained. Wednesday back to our favourite Welsh book shop to buy some Welsh CDs, harp music, folk music and a double CD of classical music by Welsh composer Gareth Glyn. The latest CD by harpist Dylan Cernyw is a treasure, with a wide range of music ranging from Saent-Saens to Bob Dylan and Gershwin. But for me the prizes are two tracks of music written by Joe Hisaishi, a very talented composer (and piano player) whose music is little known or recorded outside Japan.

Thursday it was a wander towards the Little Orme for a nice cup of tea at the refreshment kiosk at the far end of the prom- one of the nicest cups we had. As it was a miserable day we thought we would cheer ourselves up with a nice knickerbocker glory (ice cream sundae) and called into Forte's. On previous years visits, we have found the service there slow, but this time it was silly- half the staff running around carefully doing nothing and the other half just standing there definitely doing nothing. After 15 minutes of being ignored we left (never to return) and went down the road to Cadwaladers, who have nicer ice cream anyway, and in June had a rather quiet buy-one-get-one-free offer on. Nice.

And then on Friday a gentle walk along the road to West Beach and then back along the upper Haulfre path - the gardens must have been nice in the days when they were gardens rather than paths through wilderness. In these troubled times, people are losing their jobs as councils have no funds to pay them, and maintaining gardens is very low priority. Our peaceful contemplation of the sea was spoiled by a vicious loud barking dog being taken for a walk- fortunately on a lead, his owner retraced his steps rather than risk taking the dog past us. If it wasn't for so many lovely friendly dogs around I might suggest killing all dogs- certainly something needs to be done about the irresponsible owners of some dogs, and perhaps the deletion of some unduly aggressive breeds. And so back home, leaving Llandudno in the rain, arriving home with the central heating on, and just missing a very heavy deluge.

Quite impressed with the state of the shops in Llandudno after the acres of closed shops in Stockport. The modern build shopping arcade is quite deserted but there are some fine shops on the main shopping street, which Stockport should have but does not. A splendid huge kitchen shop which has a better range than the exclusive kitchen shop in Manchester (in Manchester's exclusive King Street they will not stock ceramic knives as no-one will pay for them. No problem in Llandudno). A wonderful outdoor clothing shop (Trespass - Cathy bought a colourful 3-in-one coat- waterproof and fleece- at 65 per cent off the price on their web site) which I would dearly like here. The old Woolworths is now a Sainsbury supermarket- the centre of town never did have a good food supply, just a couple of very small shops with limited supplies and little fresh food. A clothing shop selling Jacques Verte. And so on. Worth taking the train to Llandudno to do some shopping!




===End of Holiday Section===

2012-

A new year and a new season of Tuesday lunchtime organ recitals at St Anns by Canon Frost, starting with an inspired performance on 9th January. Poor weather largely kept us indoors in January, just one or two concerts and a little beer in the pub. Busy sorting out family photographs and music.

February- 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore so made a start reading up on it, with mentions of all the parts of the island we lived in and visited- and at the time I didn't know we were living on a battleground. The Brit politicians and army chiefs didn't do too well. Amazed the Brits were allowed back after the American-delayed liberation following the surrender. Not at all surprised at Malaysia's somewhat isolationist stance.

Our first visit to the Derby Beer Festival at the Roundhouse. This ancient railway building is now part of Derby College, and is the only roundhouse left in Derby (they had several). Also the oldest - and smallest roundhouse (round shape engine shed), it ceased to be used for engine storage as long ago as 1860, as the engines became too big. Our journey was easy (chatting with fellow passengers in both directions, not at all the English style!), the beer was ok, and as it was a Camra festival, the beer was available in 1/3 pint helpings, so you could sample lots of different beers. I failed to see any soft drinks and the food was frankly greasy and meaty but we took sandwiches and a water bottle anyway. Pleasant day out. Some of the prize winning beer was offered for as little as GBP 1.40 per pint, which compares to a fiver for indifferent beer in some Manchester centre haunts.

Amazing concert in February by three Brazilian musicians, playing the flute music of Francisco Mignone, on tour to promote their new CD of the music. Too bad the total audience for their tour was under a hundred, the music was excellent and we did not hesitate to invest a whole five pounds for their lovely triple CD. One of those exceptional musical offerings you discover every now and then.

We held off upgrading our computer to Opensuse 12.1 due to reports of so many parts of it being broken - including what for us was an essential package. This was due to the packagers seeking novelty over stability and knowingly inflicting software that did not work, but after three months it was fixed, leaving 15 months support lifetime for the release. We finally installed it taking advantage of the ability to use older software- notably marking "akonadi-runtime" as taboo, refusing to install amarok, selecting the KDE 3.5 versions of software where available (notably Kontact), and using sysvinit instead of systemd. We were not sorry to see Hal disappear but in the absence of a replacement for KDE 3.5, we have used some workarounds. Kbuildsycoca has not been improved in the KDE 3.5 version and is even slower now but that is a price worth paying for system stability. The default installation remains unreasonable.

Only last November I was talking with Philip Madoc (for the second time), and then in early March he is dead, a great loss to the world of a great actor and lovely person. His last work The Hawk (a 38 minute short) seems to be destined for a dusty shelf life, as very little makes it across the border from Wales, no matter how good it is. Philip's readings of Dylan Thomas are lovely.

An interesting lunchtime harp recital at St Anns Church, mostly on the classical concert harp, but also one piece on the national instrument of Scotland - long before the pipes- the clarsarch, most interesting. Also in the same program was a trumpet/piano recital, so quite a pleasant change.

At the end of March, a sole remnant of brass banding in Tameside- Tameside have withdrawn all funding, having previously supported three contests as well as Whit Friday competitions. The two November competitions seem to have now disappeared completely. The Tameside Youth competition was an important outlet for encouraging younger players, and is no more. The National Quartet and Solo competition is looking for a new source of funding and a new venue- the sponsorship was withdrawn far too late to enable the 2011 competition to continue. The withdrawal of funding from the Whit Friday competitions seems to have been mostly replaced by sponsorship- the Council contribution was important but was not the sole income. Coming to the Tameside Open at the end of March- no sponsorship but the Council allowed the free use of Dukinfield Town Hall this year, which allowed the contest to take place in 2012, with higher entry fees and smaller prizes resulting in fewer entries at the top end.

Anyway- for a mere four quid entry (for pensioners! - full price was only a fiver) we had 23 brass bands (about 400 musicians?) entertaining us from 10am to 6pm with a high level of playing. I can't say we agreed with the adjudicators on all the winners, but they were looking for total accuracy to the score while we were just enjoying the music. A lovely day out which was given almost no prior publicity.

At the very end of March, back to Memorabilia in Birmingham NEC. Two halls this time and a large number of attendees. Despite a number of autograph signers, there were few I knew- just four in fact, and one of those was a no-show, a continuing problem with this event.

Leslie Phillips had been booked for the Saturday and Sunday- but he was blogging before the weekend that he was attending a football match on Sunday, and indeed was widely reported to have attended said football match as guest and half-time entertainment. I suspect his agent hadn't told him properly about Memorabilia. Guests appearing with a publisher or a charity have some reason to say when they are unable to attend and have it published beforehand. Guests with the organisers lose nothing if they fail to advise said organisers when something more lucrative or interesting turns up. I had taken along a picture of Leslie in Casanove 73 for him to sign. This was released on DVD a little later, with an interview with Leslie specifically mentioning that he was going to that football match - he clearly had no idea at all about Memorabilia, and the real question is why he was advertised right up to the actual day.

My only new autograph was from an appearance from Nicholas Parsons, who has been working very hard this year with many editions of Just A Minute including ten tv shows. Madeline Smith autographed a picture from The Adventure Game (1981) for me- and said she still had the souvenir crystal the show gave to all of its guests. Had my picture taken with Ron Moody- who is known for playing Fagin but has done much more varied and interesting work as well. Autographs I went for came from a charity stand where all fees paid went to a rainforest charity. Fantom brought a number of guests but no-one I knew.

Then a lovely family event- a memorial service for a brass bandsman (Roy Bennett) of long standing (over 70 years banding) at a local church, with music from three local bands he had played in, joining together under (alternately) their two conductors (who between them had 117 years banding service).

Found the church where the bands played very creepy as it had covered its crosses with purple cloth and its saints were hidden behind red cloth, very spooky. Thought it was the location for the Dark Arts - but I have researched the practice on the web and whilst not unique, I cannot find any reason for it that stands up to the lightest thought- the official guidance is plainly Blair-speak (something suddenly covered in purple is not distracting). I find some aspects of some churches in the modern Church of England excessively none-theological and deeply puzzling.

We live in a strange world, where any idiot can ring you up twelve times a day on your unlisted phone, to sell you home insulation you already have, ignoring the toothless Telephone Preference Service, which takes no action against anyone, BUT the whole population is guilty of unlawfully downloading rubbish music even if they don't have a computer, and if they do have internet access, can be disconnected when some fool solicitor tells their ISP to disconnect them- guilty until (even if...) proved innocent. Where not having a tv licence requires you to be regularly harassed by a government outsourced licensing bully even if you don't have any tv equipment. Where the rich have their taxes reduced and the poor have their taxes increased and benefits cut. Where state pension is paid from an increasing age but employers can legally fire you due to your age (to make room for younger workers, the Supreme Court has ruled, no less). All three traditional political parties have the same policies and grovel to the rich and powerful. Life is not becoming any better. Sorry. Rant over. Pass on.

April comes along and our fridge ceases to work after nine years- seems to be the lifespan of this equipment these days. Our first fridge lasted 25 years. Looking at the back, the water collection pan over the pump is in very poor rusted condition. Unfortunately the technology has moved on, and it is no longer possible to have a fridge and freezer together to fit into in a one meter space, indeed it it now difficult to have them near to each other at all.
Modern equipment has more insulation, so for the same internal space you need more external space. Modern equipment has new eco-gasses which are explosive and blinding- and require a higher ambient temperature. We found some on sale in the UK from budget sellers made for Southern Europe, requiring an ambient temperature of 18 degrees celcius. UK equipment should be class SN requiring an ambient temperature of 10 degrees minimum. So no freezers in the unheated cellar. The explosive gas now requires a minimum room floor area to disperse, so no more freezers under the stairs or in the small pantry.
There are new requirements on the free space around and above the equipment. So we have to redesign our kitchen, minimising the more expensive rebuild- removing six drawers and replacing them with eight smaller freestanding plastic drawers does the trick. Next problem was sorting out how to level the new equipment on our old uneven flooring- only the front legs are adjustable. And of course, where to buy our equipment? Our last set was installed for us- that service has gone. New equipment cannot be tilted when installing, and you must leave it several hours after delivery "for the gas to settle". Improvements?

We ordered a fridge and freezer from John Lewis, who advertise free delivery in 7 days- we ordered on Friday at 3pm and were offered delivery on the next Friday by 9pm- which I suppose is within 7 days. Many placards over the cabinets offered professional installation, but when we asked we were told that service was not available (it applied to just one displayed freezer out of a score) but management required the misleading cards to be displayed. Ho hum. The freezer was very bulky at the back and we had to make spacers to prevent the unprotected metalwork being damaged by impact with the wall. The freezer was delivered with sticky tape at the back which seems to be required, although it does not stick at all well and looked unprofessional- but little sticks to polystyrene. Not even sticky tape... In use we were impressed at how quiet - and how cool- they were. Our electric usage seems to have dropped by 25 per cent.

April weather really wet and cold so very few outings. Our Good Friday trip to Ramsbottom was a none starter and we have not been able to see the bluebell woods at their best- the greenery was battered down by the rain and the overcast skies did not bring out the magic colour of the flowers. We went to a small beer festival at New Mills where the number of beers on sale was quite small (less than 30) and just the one days visit was enough. They were concentrating on local beers, which is actually not a good idea as we had already had them! Our favourite was one which had travelled "a long way" from Warrington, a dark smoky beer with a slight hint of acid drop to off set the smokiness.

We delivered my father-in-laws commercial photograph collection to the Museum of Science and Industry- two large suitcases full, which gives us a bit more room at home. Unfortunately, after consideration, the Trustees decided they did not wish to add the collection, however an archivist there is looking to see if there is an alternative home to be found.

A real treat- an evening at the cinema to see an Oscar best film, which we really enjoyed. The 1932 Stockport Plaza Cinema was pretty full (850 tickets sold) for an evening of rare entertainment. At 6.45 piano music, switching at 7pm to the Compton theatre organ. Many in the audience had not been to the Plaza before, and their reaction as the organ lit up and rose from the floor was wonderful! Then a two reel silent Mack Sennett film- lacking alas any certification or title screen, it was about a wedding in a store, interrupted by a visitor with a rich daughter who wanted the grooms services. A fish eating visitor finally advises the bride to be that she has won a lottery prze. Fade out as the bride elopes with the groom to get married. All to a live accompanist on the grand piano. The audience loved it! Laughs and chuckles aplenty, showing there is a demand for the old films- you just have to get people in to see them.

Then an interval, clearly a surprise to all the new visitors, who were not expecting to have ice creams on sale- there seemed far too few sales for the size of the audience. This tradition has been so lost there is little folk memory of it left now. And finally the big film- The Artist. Released on DVD in a few days and shown several weeks ago at the mainstream cinemas -who never keep a film long enough for word of mouth to work. Apart from a couple of weak points (in the period no-one would use the indecent gesture shown) which were out of keeping, there was a lot of attention to detail and the film worked beautifully. And much appreciated by the audience. Applause at the end of the film. Then another novelty for the new audience- the movie version of the National Anthem- which also drew a more muted applause at the end. A splendid entertainment.

Then the Buxton Brass Festival, a competition for brass bands which had attracted 35 entrants- 34 turned up on the day. The 9am start was just too early for us to travel on the first public transport into Buxton and catch the first band but we enjoyed much of the 4th and 3rd section brass bands (19 bands in all) which finished at around 3.30pm. After that it was steeply down hill as the allegedly superior 1st and 2nd section bands took to the stage and slaughtered the "music" with much volume, muddle, wrong notes, and far too much percussion. This of course is down to the National Championship organisers who are commissioning test pieces with more bang than brass, and as much volume as possible. If there was a petition to ban percussion from brass contests I would sign it, especially the horrible unmusical snare drum, much overused and vastly overpowering any brass sounds. Perhaps next year a musical piece for a Hechler and Koch automatic gun used to utterly destroy the snare drum! We left at 8pm when there were still four "championship section" bands left to play.

Two lovely concerts at Salford in early May, at St Philip with St Stephen- firstly a small group from the Halle Orchestra, Halle Brass, playing a variety of works. The next day a small group of parent players from the BBC Philharmonic, unable to tour Europe with the Orchestra due to children to look after- a flute and eight string instruments. Very pleasant indeed. And after each concert off to the New Oxford for some of Tim's very well kept beer, not too cold, and not kept too long. On the two days we enjoyed six beers between us, including three from the Ossett brewery.

A lovely evening concert by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra at St Andrews Church in Cheadle Hulme which even had an English premier. An arrangement of six of Grieg's Norwegian folksongs, the premier of Agnew's Twilight, Mozart- Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which I know well but I don't recall hearing a live performance before. Gibbs' Threnody and finally a guest clarinetist for Finzi Clarinet Concerto. Lovely strawberry scones at the interval. It has been over forty years since I was last in this church, which has since had added a new porch, the hall at the back has become a car park and new buildings added at the rear of the church. It was almost like going home, a lovely warm-feeling friendly church (although in a modern reordered style with loose chairs). Nice to see a Church of England with no statues, no stations of the cross, no crucifix, no candles. Very rare these days.

Back to the Barrow Hill Beer Festival, this time it was very cold indeed and we spent the day running up and down the short line in a railway carriage with a steam train in front. The tent with the Ashbourne Band was just a little cold. Some interesting beers, notably a couple of wheat beers with rhubarb- which was much nicer than you may think. The let down of the day was Northern Rail, who charged us the Friday fare for travelling on a Saturday. We did get a refund (in vouchers only) but with nothing added- there are no penalties for the railway companies for overcharging you.

Due to increasing weight (despite a 1500 calorie a day diet) I tried to get my doctor to check my thyroxine levels, but four vials of blood later I was no wiser and the doctor was asking for more blood. Not sure I can give any credence to any blood test made on behalf of my doctor. The doctor did suggest statins, presumably based upon a test five years ago, but you need reliable blood tests if you take those. And our government wish to make general practitioners responsible for the whole health service. One way to finish off what is left of the NHS I suppose.

Before heading off to listen to lots of brass bands we had a gentle lunch time concert in the Bridgewater Hall, held in the foyer, by a clarinet quartet. They played one premier where the composer was unable to be present, but another composer was there, who had written some fifteen years or more ago a piece for the band named after them- Chinook. It isn't often you can have a CD signed by a composer. Just one bad note from the hall who were permitting a very very loud rock group (Peter Gabriel) to rehearse in the main hall, and despite the halls strong soundproofing, the yelling (not singing, sorry Peter) could be heard in the foyer.

Whit Friday 1st June, famous for brass bands in these parts. So off to Dukinfield once more- this year it was dry but cool. The beer was as usual sour (a pub with one cask beer it sells little of is not likely to know how to keep the beer well!) but the bands were great. Remarkably few bands bothered to play to the adjudicator, moving as far away as possible and playing with their backs to him (hidden in a caravan)- just one conductor asked "where's the adjudicator".

Once again Dukinfield had the largest number of bands in Tameside- 51, whilst Tameside overall had slightly fewer than last year at 72 bands. As there was a long gap between 20.36 and 21.34 (only four bands) we heard one less band this year (just 40 bands- but totally free) as we had to leave to catch the last bus - and there were nine bands playing after 22.10. The first hour was also slow with just five bands.

The overall winner in Tameside by a long whisker was Foden - making 10 years out of 11, greatly increasing their band funds. After that the money was quite widely spread and Fairey who just missed first place by one point last year, did nothing like as well. But on Sunday Fairey were playing in the big London Jubilee celebration. Adjudication at Dukinfield seemed biased against the top three bands. Foden played at all 11 Tameside venues and came 1st or 2nd at all except Dukinfield where they placed 29th, very undeservedly. We all thought they played better than Fairey who placed 10th.

No foreign bands in Dukinfield (indeed, only one in Tameside) compared to several in Saddleworth area. Many bands new to us and even some new marches we had not heard before. Lovely day.

The following day more music this time on the organ at St George's Poynton. Not really my sort of church, with two electronic keyboards and a drum kit in the nave, and an extended chancel with a working altar really in the nave. But pleasant modern upholstered bench style seating, a nice compromise between the old pews and the usual loose chairs that churches are so fond of. Full church. The organist gave his introduction and went to play. Hmm- where is the sound? St George's is a VERY high church (in height that is) but narrow with a fully carpeted floor. The organ on the other hand is a 7 rank 2 manual organ with perhaps 21 speaking stops, and was never adequate for the building- although in 2003 they had a mixture stop added to try to get more ooomph. Nice concert, but even sitting near the front, barely audible.

I had worked in Poynton in 1971 and then again in 1995, but this year it has changed significantly, with the main roads becoming "shared space" with no pedestrian crossings or traffic lights, just a double roundabout and trafic running slowly while pedestrians had no trouble crossing the road. Down Park lane there were several scarecrows, and an art exhibition. We carried on down towards Middlewood, finally on a little used road with no evidence of other walkers and almost no traffic. And found a huge yellow fungus, so we took a small piece and placed it in a cool bag with ice pack, and fried it up in butter on Tuesday. We probably ate a larger amount than was initially safe at first attempt- a number of people do react to them - but it seems to have had no ill effect (if you are reading this...). The fungus was a Laetiporus Sulfureus (Chicken of the Woods) growing on a fallen and rotting chunk of tree. It is a saprophyte fungus that is fairly easy to identify.

Farther on along the road to the site of the old Anson Colliery, where we spent almost an hour at the Anson Engine Museum- a large collection of - combustion engines. Mostly the engines used in factories for power. They have some steam engines but they never work on days the buses run- eg when you can get there without a car. There were three simple diesel engines running, and we did see an old Gardner 4T5 pre-diesel style "hot bulb" engine from 1925 started (a late model hot bulb engine)- first light the gas cylinder blow lamp, then use that to light the four parafin blow lamps on the engine. Very dramatic. After a couple of minutes you can start the engine and use it to generate electricity. As the engine was running it had a small compressor to build up a reservoir of air pressure to work the engine's blow lamps to start the engine next time- but if the pressure reservoir was empty, there was a little standalone compressor engine standing by its side.

In June another lovely Welsh actor whose autograph I have leaves us - Victor Spinetti, a genuinely nice person, his obituaries mentioned his roles in the Beatles films, but I remember him best for his role with Sid James in the tv series Two in Clover.

It seems that access to towns is now unimportant as roads are closed often and for no reason- one weekend, Manchester was closed on Saturday for (legally censored by statute) and again closed on the Sunday for a sports event. On the same Saturday roads in Llandudno were closed for a sports event, just as you may expect tourists to be arriving at the seaside town. On the same Sunday Stockport was closed for (legally censored by statute) and we were not able to make our monthly trip to Ashton market, depriving the stallholders there of our funds which they desperately needed.

Sunday and some banks are open, due to a reported "technical problem" or "computer glitch". Absolute nonsense of course, the reason was gross mismanagement. A great deal is known about the "glitch". A typical banking IT problem that happens fairly often but never makes the headlines as it is - as it should be- resolved in an hour or two, generally before 9am. Loss of goodwill seems to have little value - as so many have commented, they are all as bad as each other. Whilst society is apparently more risk averse (health and safety tick boxes, wasteful legal actions driving up insurance costs) in commerce the opposite is true- it is often cheaper to pay compensation than to make quality or accuracy checks- after all, many people affected will not claim compensation or can be bought off very cheaply. Market forces have always been a purists dream, never a fully realised fact. Commerce and morality or ethics are rapidly moving ever further apart.

The weather continues very wet- the wettest three months (April-June) on record, and we have been to no outdoor brass band concerts. Our central heating boiler is now ten years old and developed a small leak- unfortunately the condensate was backing up, and the seals had rotted. The condensate being very acidic had done considerable damage to a thick aluminium plate which had to be replaced. Having the outside of the house repainted in between rain was very difficult (and expensive as the scaffolding has to be paid for by the day).

A pleasant concert on the unrestored Compton organ at the Plaza in Stockport. I mentioned above an unknown Sennett two reeler which was accompanied by live piano- this time the same unknown film was accompanied on the Compton. Characters in the film are called "Miss Reilly" and "Frank". The intertitles are headed Mack Sennett, Paramount, and the final END card has an Artscraft logo at bottom right and an old Paramount logo at top which ties the film to the period 1917-1921 but I can't locate anything like it.

To the Plaza once more to see a film using their brand new digital projector, an appropriate film documentary called The Last Projectionist. The picture quality was better than the first digital film we saw at the Cornerhouse, which received a mention in the The Last Projectionist, for the problems it had with its digital projector. The Plaza are also now able to show locally made video adverts, for the first time in ten years - unfortunately, and no fault of the Plaza, the ad seemed to be made by local media students with no idea at all about sound quality, scripting, presentation, editing, lighting, or camerawork - a fail on every subject!

Sunday 22nd July was a first for our local railway line, the first passenger carrying steam train for what- 44 years? With minimal publicity there must have been over a hundred people at our local station to watch it pass by - and as a bonus, the engine was on its first passenger run for four years, having just had its boiler renewed. Steam trains have to be dismantled and rebuilt every decade to keep them safe. It was the A4 LNER locomotive Union of South Africa (BR Number 60009) on its way to Holyhead from Crewe via Manchester. Not a normal route for an LNER locomotive either (which normally ran along the East Coast). The crew seemed to need more practise as the engine seemed to lose traction (not gentle enough accelerating from stationary, causing wheel slip, which damages rail track and can in extreme cases seriously damage a locomotive- eg Blue Peter in 1994) at most halts and needed gentle banking assistance from the rear diesel. British Rail retired the engine back in 1966 when it was bought by an individual- who remarkably remains its owner.

You might expect a newly reassembled engine to be run in a bit, but 60009 just had a quick run up and down the line, then a load test, and it was off earning revenue. The engine ran later tours but was next due through Heaton Chapel on 5th August - and did not run, failing at a late stage so the consist was pulled through Heaton Chapel by a class 47 diesel. A spare steam engine was available but it takes time to get a steam engine up to temperature. It was hoped that the replacement steam engine could take a shorter route and meet up with the passenger train later on its journey but it was not possible to arrange track access and a vacant path in time..

The engine was due to make a third and final journey for the year on 12th August and did indeed make it through Heaton Chapel in the morning, looking in good shape. Unfortunately on the return run from Holyhead it had rather too many niggles and was due to be taken off at Chester, leaving the passengers to be taken by diesel back through Warrington, Manchester and Stockport to Crewe leaving the steam engine to go directly to Crewe on a direct route. About this time the line through Warrington was closed ("major incident" "major trespass" "emergency services" were phrases used). So the whole train took the short route from Chester to Crewe (arriving two hours early!) whilst passengers for Wilmslow, Stockport and Manchester were left to the standard Northern Rail Crewe-Manchester EMU. Three runs and just the one that went the whole way steam hauled. Not easy.

A small beer festival at the Nursery, Green Lane. The once appreciated menu has been shrunk and every dish we purchased is now gone, so we won't be going there for a meal again. Chips Peas and Cheese predominate. Some of the beer seemed a tad on the cold side. Perhaps CAMRA needs a campaign for beer to be served at 12C instead of 5C. No great beers- perhaps served too cold- will try again later and if still too cold will speak to the landlord to see what is happening. Perhaps the chillers are becoming more efficient or maybe landlords really are turning the temperature down- certainly the one thing to drive us away from pubs to coffee shops.

At last a sunny Sunday in July, so off to the Ring of Bells for the first outdoor brass concert of the year - the Hazel Grove Band, a pleasant concert and the newly launched range of Robinsons beers. Goodbye bitter and mild, hello Premium Ale and Cheshire Ale. The old type names are fast disappearing as more and more beer styles appear with hops from all over the world.

End of July and rain rain rain- and at mid day an outside temperature of 14 centigrade means our central heating is on. Having heating on at the end of July is unheard of. No doubt this is what comes of our stupid government passing a law to make certain uses of the phrase "Summer 2012" a criminal offence.

A small beer festival at a local pub saw no beers of great merit - but we keep hearing of beers that are too lively and not settling, not only from more than one brewery and pub but the active bottled beers we have been buying have been fizzing over something rotten, leading to significant beer waste. Is it a new yeast? The problem is not restricted to one brewery.

And so the bread and circuses which has cost our country so much at a time of great poverty (apart from the super powerful executives (robber barons) and their sycophant politicians of course) comes to an end. The loss of so many freedoms - you can't do that, you can't eat that, you can't drink that, you can't use those words, you can't travel on the road, you can't gather in groups of two, you can't wear that, you can't draw that, you can't listen to that, you will work 14 hour days, you will work for no pay, you will work Sunday, no pay if ill, no treatment if ill, guilty if I say so, - and then those rich people don't have to pay any tax at all... and we have had our first homeless person on our home patch, not a drug ridden alcoholic but an intelligent person with no resources. So society improves.

All this cold dark wet weather seems to be having a somewhat negative effect upon me...!!!

Back in 2005 our first web host (BTinternet) suggested they were closing down their web hosting, so we set up a mirror on Connectfree to be ready. That company has changed hands numerous times at dizzy speeds, with the web hosting long forgotten but still at least active. In 2012 the DNS registration runs out and that site went for a couple of weeks- the DNS in now reregistered (Aardvaak Inc?) and our ancient and dead website is back temporarily. Finally pulled 28th February 2013, with a web page in place to say their free services have been disconnected- apparently with zero notice. Meanwhile BT send an email to say (again) that they will be ceasing free web hosting and will let us know when. Finally they pulled the BTInternet website during 2012. Our Zen web site seems - at present- fairly secure.

Two sad events rather close together. One Tuesday we went for an evening organ recital in Manchester. The visiting organist had regularly duetted with the American international organist Carlo Curley- who had played in that church a few years earlier, and we had met him there, also at two other local organ venues previously. The two organists had been on friendly terms - and the death of Carlo just three days earlier had been very upsetting for the visitor, who was quite devastated. And then we heard of the death of SF author Harry Harrison, who we had met about a decade ago, lovely chap. The world is quite a poorer place but you can listen to CDs by Carlo Curley (and watch his youtube videos) and buy the books by Harry Harrison. My favourite is A Transatlantic tunnel, hurrah. His Stainless Steel Rat series and Bill the Galactic Hero series were not meant to be taken at all seriously. He also wrote Make Room, Make Room which led to the film Soylent Green. Check out Gutenberg books by Harry.

Remarkably Lego have chosen the August bank holiday weekend when Manchester is essentially yet again closed (roads and pavements closed, buses diverted or cancelled- 28 pages of changes!), for a major opening of their new Manchester retail store (with pick and mix lego bricks!).

Latest from my pension scheme is that their level of funding has dropped from 84% to 80% in the past two years with current solvency funding at 48%. Unfortunately the Bank of England quantitative easing depresses returns, and therefore increases fund liabilities and reduces fund income.

We started the bank holiday by going to the White Lion in Disley. They have usually had a small beer festival at this time, although their website has been dead for some months, and no mention in the CAMRA magazine this year. As with the Nursery mentioned earlier, their excellent food menu has been shrunk to a single A4 sheet, with chips, peas, onion rings, and cheese predominating- but still at high prices. Their "renowned meat pies" are pottery dishes of stew with a separately baked pastry top afloat, not what I call a pie. As last year the beer festival tent was dispensing beer in plastic glasses so we took our glasses from the bar down and used those. No beer of note. The bar itself was selling beer about three degrees too cold, cold enough to suppress any aroma or flavour. Unfortunately the landlord now thinks chilled beer just fine- last year it was at the proper temperature- I don't think we will be going back. One of the beers listed (but not available) was Fagin. And I was reading Ron Moody's autographed not-a-biography there.

On the way to Disley by bus, passed Stockport School (Mile End Lane school), which I had the misfortune to attend from 1962 to 1967, and noted that demolition of the school's swimming pool is now well under way. For six years I contributed a penny a week so the school could build a pool, it opened the year after I had left. No funds to maintain it so it is demolished with no intention to replace it. When I went to the school it was a "grammar school" not to be confused with the private Stockport Grammar School on the other side of the A6. Stockport School was then boys only, from ages 11 to 17. Now it is a mixed gender secondary school ages 11 to 15 only.

In the evening off to the Plaza Stockport for a big screen presentation of the 1968 movie OLIVER. In 1968 the Plaza was a Bingo hall... The presentation was digital and the audience tiny, although shown with the intermission and entr'acte music, there were no ice creams available.

The next night back to the Plaza for a double silent bill on 35mm film, both from 1928, neither on DVD - Sword Points (Lupino Lane) a two reel slapstick, which didn't draw much laughter, and King Vidor's The Crowd, a powerful drama which kept its secrets- was it pro communism or pro capitalism? Pro or anti individualism? Both films were accompanied with live music on the Compton organ by Nigel Ogden.

The semi sequel made after the depression, Our Daily Bread, had problems raising money and distribution (Charlie Chaplin finally arranged distribution).

At the August Ashton farmers market, still no goat meat as the cold weather is preventing the goats from growing; and their winter fodder meadow has been destroyed by heavy rain - not easy for farmers, but the farmer had just won some awards for their goats cheese. A newish tea stall where we have a lovely cup of Gunpowder tea draws my attention to Flowering Tea, which we are able to buy on Amazon, discovering a speciality tea trader of real quality. Buy some really pleasant green tea, which is brewed with a little more tea than usual for two minutes, but at a very cool 70 Centigrade, producing a very tasty and refreshing drink. Buy some pheasant sausage to try (very nice)- the game trader says this years grouse season was cancelled (in Cumbria) due to there being no grouse. He still had 1000 pheasant from last season when he had 10,000 to dispose of, and was trying to think of new things to do with it- the pheasant burgers were also very nice.

Tuesday lunchtime organ concerts in Manchester resume after the August break- no more building work on the church, hurrah. Just on the road outside. The church is allowed to keep its Grade 1 listed exterior hidden by scaffolding and a football pitch sized advert for kitchen paper in order to raise funds. The organ sounds as good as ever, especially for the opening piece, a Kyrie by Couperin. Normally French organ music on an English organ doesn't sound too good, but the four manual organ at St Ann's has just the right spec both for this and for the more regular English / German organ music.

Heritage Open Day Weekend comes round again and it is even harder to find somewhere nearby to visit. Our local heritage is not being celebrated.

For Friday, despite an unpromising web site, decide to visit a church in Didsbury. Despite not expecting much we found less. We were not greeted, not given a feedback sheet, we found two A4 pages of information about the church, but without any sketches or plans, and nothing in the church was marked. No church history display boards or multimedia screens. Just two sheets of paper, which we found confusing and conflicted.

The Didsbury church was established before 1236 and then the church suffered extensively at the hands of the Victorians and possibly the Tower of 1620 is the oldest part of the church. The last extension Eastward seems to have been 1895, but more alterations internally in 1905, 1911, 1927, 1936. The local council took over the churchyard as early as 1912 and buried those memorials not yet built upon by the church extensions. A handful of gravestones remain. The Local Historian is a very verbal person but with a style I find unclear and confusing- and apparently a hatred of maps. Plenty of issues which to me at least (and also to my wife) are not clearly presented. We found no old photographs on display, no labels anywhere. The church had a sound mixing desk at the back of the nave, a video projector near the front of the nave, and a drum kit. At least the church still had a communion table- carved oak, 1915, at the East end of the church. One of those churches that I could never be comfortable in.

Instead of having a cup of tea in the church as we had planned, we went to a more relaxing and comfortable nearby tea room for a toasted tea cake and a cuppa, and then a walk around the Fletcher Moss Gardens. The old museum/art gallery/greenhouse/parsonage in the gardens was not open on the Friday. The information centre did not look as if it had been open for quite some time.

Didsbury is a little unusual in having a church (built in 1962) which holds services in Welsh but that was not open on the Friday. For Heritage Open Days in Didsbury, a 1990 oblong office block was open on Saturday only for 90 prebooked visitors but we did not feel drawn to that. Didsbury still does have much genuinely old heritage left but it remains secret and liable to destruction.

The following day was such a contrast as we went to St Martin's Church in Lower Marple. Warmly welcomed before we entered, and several times thereafter, we enjoyed a personally conducted (and knowledgeable) tour of the church, enjoyed some fine organ music on the Father (Henry) Willis tracker organ of 1870 which was in superb condition. There was a talk on local history; many items were on display with useful and interesting labels explaining what they were and many people ready to give more information. In the nearby former church school, now used as Church Rooms, there were many more old items to look at, old photos of the church, old parish magazines etc. Lovely food and drink. The church is fairly modern having opened in 1870, but retained a real pride in its heritage and was happy to share. For the first time I have seen a monstrance! And everything clearly explained. I am not inclined to the "high church" mode which this church was built for and still keeps to, but this church had such a warm and welcoming feel, and was in such good taste, the church did not in any way repulse me. I even met a former Deputy Headmaster of my last school Geoff Brammall and enjoyed some fine playing from the recently retired organist Reg Holmes. This was a fine day. Thanks to everyone in Marple St Martins.

Sunday 9th September was pretty well the only dry sunny Sunday in the year, with a couple of dry days before it, so we went off for the last (for the season) outside brass concert in Buxton to hear Burbage Band play. Unfortunately a change of bus operator and a change of bus times meant we either left early or had 90 minutes to kill in an otherwise dead Buxton, so we left early. Although this was a normal Sunday concert, it was posted as part of the annual national Brass Band Marathon and part of the last event of the 2012 Kultural thingy. As such they were supposed to play a piece written for some pop group at 2pm but at Buxton this was omitted. They may have played it after we left- apparently in linked in the the closing ceremony of some sports event in London. Some nice brass band playing anyway and lots of people enjoying a sunny day in the park.

On our bus home from Buxton was a young lass in a wheelchair with her leg strapped up. Once upon a time Buxton was home to a large hospital- the Devonshire, now part of a none-medical educational campus. The cottage hospital is now a "minor injuries unit". When she had injured her foot she went there and they thought she might have broken some bones, but had no X ray equipment. So they strapped her up, lent her a wheelchair, and she was sent off to make a bumpy 75 minute bus journey to the nearest A and E in Stockport. NHS? What NHS? Treatment only if you are very near death (or can be sold a lifetime course of pharmaceuticals), but people who are terribly ill and wish to die peacefully have to go abroad for help.

Lovely organ and trumpet concert at St Anns, Manchester, which I recorded for the two performers. The church has good accoustics, and by using two recorders I was able to post-mix the trumpet with the piano which was used for two pieces. Researching a piece listed as "Andante" from Swedish composer Lindberg was interesting. The piece has a name- Gammal fabodpsalm fran Dalarma. This seems to cause problems even in Sweden where culture and language have moved on. Looking into the history of the piece I found that the Swedish fabod was uncannily like the Welsh hafod, which the BBC claim is not translatable into English. I don't see a problem with "shepherd's Summer house". In Summer when the animals were taken into the hills for the fresh green pastures, the cattle keeper (and maybe his family) went to live in a small house near the pastures. In Winter they returned with the animals to near town. In Welsh hafod is a single word, but in Swedish the roots are still known- Fa (cattle) and Bod (shieling- Scot and N. Eng, fell out of use 17th C- or more loosely shed). The origin seems to be the Gothic language. Modern English has Fa become Fee and Bod become Booth. Where Fee has the medieval meaning of cattle- or what the serf paid his master in return for use of the land. So, similarities between Swedish and Welsh, with a common Gothic root! The best modern translation I can find to meet the circumstances of the composer discovering the tune would be Old Pastoral Hymn from The Dales.

Paid a visit to Bolton Parish Church for an organ recital - standing room only on the train in and out. A most interesting church built about the same time as St Martins in Marple, and again with one persons funds- this time rather more of them. The result is a well balanced building which just looks right. Very large, with a high roof. It is a pity the medieval church (1420) had to be demolished for it, but the new church (1871) has retained parts of the older, including a fine Jacobean communion table, and seven stops from the 1795 Samuel Green pipe organ. Which brings us to why we went. So many Bolton churches have closed over the years, and the best bits have been incorporated into Bolton Parish Church, which now has 13 bells in its tower, and the organ now has 3070 pipes (from 1795, 1852, 1882, 1924, 1953, 1974, 1976, 2008, 2010). Nicely rebalanced, the organ is magnificent. The church has also retained a few fragments from the first 7th century building including a Saxon cross and a "temptation stone" with a reputed carving of Adam and Eve and an Apple. Bolton Parish Church, as is the fashion in Anglican churches today has moved the altar away from the wall, and has candle racks (nothing burning during our visit) but no stations, no crucifix, no statues. The side aisle pews are now chairs but at least the central pews have been retained.

On a shopping trip to Cheadle Hulme we had to eat there- so tried a pub, run by a brewer who is known for their cheap but fairly low flavour beer. The beer was indeed without flavour but as Cheadle Hulme is well known for its high priced pubs, the beer was at what passes for normal prices anywhere else. The food. My stomach was churning 36 hours later, as the plate had several lifetimes of cholesterol (no, I did not have a burger). In addition to the vegetables and potato running in butter, the meat had been partly blackened on one of those silly quick grills which ensure no part of the meat is properly cooked. Then it was served swimming in its own fat. It takes real skill but the potato served was certainly the least edible I have ever been served, impossible to get a knife into or cut, covered in a thick hard layer of something you'd not want in your mouth (if you valued your teeth). And certainly not the cheapest pub food - although possibly cheap for Cheadle Hulme.

A very pleasant lunchtime concert of Indian music - despite having been to several Indian music concerts this was the first with the little squeeze box aka harmonium. Later that day an evening Wurlitzer organ concert by Howard Beaumont, taking a break from his usual electronic organ at Scarborough. The audience was so small we were able to walk into the Wurlitzer chamber at the interval to see the workings, and see the instruments outside the chamber- I knew about the Wurlitzer spinet piano (but didn't know it had a keyboard), I did not know there was a xylophone outside the chamber. The piano organ stop at this installation is regularly used with the organ. Then back again two days later to hear Len Rawle entertain on the Wurlitzer, what a player.

Next evening another delightful concert at St Andrews, Cheadle Hulme, by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra. Cathy recognised one of the string players as a lady we had seen a decade ago in the Gorton Philharmonic. Also formerly Cathy's doctor! One of the pieces was an unusual baroque piece by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (born 1604). His music was so advanced that even today it could be considered rare and experimental. In one movement eight players played eight different tunes at the same time- carefully done to sound right rather than a mess. One movement involved (centuries before John Cage) a prepared bass- the top of the strings had paper wrapped around them to yield a tuneful buzzing sound. One movement used the "Bartok pizzicato" some three hundred years before Bartok. Biber was amongst the first to use Scordatura - alternative string tuning on the string instruments. Certainly music to seek out.

Did I mention the weather yet? Dullest Summer since George was born, wettest Summer since my parents were born. And in this beclouded year people are paying vast sums of money to have solar-electric panels installed.

Our 40th wedding anniversary falling on an inconvenient Sunday, on the prior Friday we had a day of indulgence in Romiley, first visiting the Duke of York, for a nice meal and a beer, then passing the first house Cathy lived in (for only a few months as the landlady threw them out due to the baby's crying!) and also the house Cathy's mum lived in before she married, on to Platform 1 for another nice beer, and back to the Duke of York for a thoroughly indulgent cream tea.

Saturday coffee morning at the Plaza, Stockport with several organists playing the unrestored Compton theatre organ, and a bit extra- a 30 minute silent 1937 film made by Compton for an exhibition (Paris 1937??) showing the construction of their organs - including two famous consoles, the BBC London Compton which was bombed to pieces a few years later (May 41), and the AVRO Hilversum organ (mostly Dutch pipework but Compton console). The film had live organ music on the unrestored Compton organ.

Rare evening Organ concert at St Pauls Heaton Moor, courtesy of the Manchester Organists Association, with music played by five of their members. With permission I recorded the event. Pleasant evening. Amongst the playing organists was Simon Mercer who we had seen playing the Wurlitzer (as a classical organ) for Stockport Symphony Orchestra a while ago. Also present but not playing was Chris Cotton whom I have previously recorded, and Reg Holmes who we met at Marple quite recently.

Prior chairmen of the MOA included the first organist I had heard live- then the Head of Music at Stockport School, Geoffrey Barber. The first organist I paid to listen to - Derrick Cantrell. A near neighbour of ours, Herbert Winterbottom. Herbert was organist at St Anns in Manchester prior to Canon Frost. Chris Cotton and Ronald Frost. and even a man Cathy had worked with, David Rothwell.

Stockport Plaza celebrated their 80th by - amongst many other events- holding an all day continuous screening cinema- in the style of the News Cinemas (the Plaza was never one) using Pathe Pictorial film and a couple of cartoons. Stay up to 6 hours for 80 pence.

Another tick off the list of things to do. I have now eaten vegetable spaghetti. Looks interesting and tastes like courgette. Brogdale plums only available one week this year but plenty of Brogdale apples in multiple varieties- but this year not for storage and after only a few weeks looking rather sad. Last year we were giving baskets of apples from our tree away- this year we managed a grand total of two apples.

Off for a lunchtime recital at Chethams to look at their brand new recital hall- very smart but the chairs were designed for people over six foot six- my feet were a clear six inches from the floor, very uncomfortable. Must take a foot pillow next time. Pleasant recital on the cello, by another pupil on the cello and then on a violin. Since our last visit greater restrictions have been imposed on visitors- no entry to the grounds now until ten minutes before the recital. Frightening how good these music students are.

With Indiana Jones being the most popular film in Hollywood very recently (for a new upscaled version), we went to see the old version of the film at the Plaza Super Cinema in Stockport. Oh dear. Although the film was on traditional 35mm, now that the Plaza has a digital projector we were pummelled and tortured by an astonishing 15 continuous loud boring minutes of loud braindead loud mind numbing loud flashing modern adverts. Aaaaagh. Never again. There are clear advantages to buying DVDs. The good things about the Plaza have been thrown out. Then the big movie. What? Are they talking? Aaaaagh. Everything wrong- the film print proclaims itself as Dolby Digital Stereo but it sounds to us like old fashioned mono. The Plaza have failed to balance the bass correctly and it is effectively cranked way way up - and turned the volume up. The sub bass "anxiety" scenes now have clearly audible loud bass rumble which makes no sense at all in the scenes and obscures dialogue. My son didn't understand what was being said either. I don't think we shall be returning to the Plaza to watch any films- very substandard and extremely unpleasant. And more expensive than buying a DVD.

As a technical explanation, for some decades the cinema industry has been getting people excited or anxious by playing sub bass sounds during a film. Getting lower in frequency as technology develops. Extended use or using too much energy can cause nausea and in extreme cases much worse (and you shouldn't hear it). Often it will be hidden by loud music or sound effects. In 2002 most cinemas could not handle below 40Hz sound but may now be asked to go to a quite inaudible 17Hz. For an old film where the recorded bass track has been ramped up to be effective on old equipment, modern cinemas having a new mega powerful sub bass sound system really do need to drop the bass down. Otherwise the effect is dialogue you can't understand and a headache.

This is why old recordings on modern equipment sound so excessively bass and unbalanced. The recording has to be re equalised for your new equipment. But almost never is.

Another long distance trip to hear an old organ, our first visit to see the nearly 100 year old Binns organ at Rochdale Town Hall. Very nice town hall, and lovely orchestral style organ, in good condition. The organist was Jonathan Scott who played amongst other pieces two tunes from the opening concert in 1913 (In the presence of King George 5). One (Tannhauser, Wagner) required the organist to simultaneously play three manuals and both feet on the pedals all at the same time (keys on three manuals being pressed at the same time). Difficult. Well played and very enjoyable.

As part of its 80th Birthday celebrations the Stockport Plaza had one day dedicated to the Compton organ- still unrebuilt and on an organ lift. I suspect the days events would have been better attended if there was some indication of what was on, and the 10am start was not helpful to anyone travelling any distance with a pensioners bus pass! However, we bought our tickets and went in - no programme at all to tell us what to expect! We missed an opening piece on the organ and came in on a talk by David Blake on the history of cinema organs- which overran and was edited down on the fly. Then came an attempt to recreate a 1930's BBC radio live broadcast, with the General Manager as BBC Announcer, complete with full dress attire, but his role was somewhat ineffectual as his microphone did not work. Apparently the BBC gave the Plaza a visit in 1932 but found it unsuitable for broadcast. We had a mid morning cup of tea in the seatless lounge (I'd call it a pricey bar) - a tea bag and a cardboard beaker for one pound fifty pence, not the cheapest in town by any means. However- a quick tour around the sounds of the organ and then a couple of organists played until lunch time when we were thrown out into the rain until the afternoon session.

After lunch the highlight of the day as local-ish organist Joyce Alldred told us her life story as a theatre organist, which was most interesting, followed by more organ playing. The afternoon ended with live organ accompaniment to two silent films- an Edison film from 1914, Buster Brown Picks out the Costumes (not to be confused with a Buster Brown series from Universal a few years later); and possibly the oldest film to be shown at the Plaza, the 1907 "The Roller Skate Craze".

Then thrown out of the auditorium again, this time we went up to the cafe to watch some old small guage films - we ordered tea cakes (80p each) and got hot buttered crumpets, swimming in butter, no cutlery and no serviettes! WE shook the dust off our shoes and went to a pub for a beer (half a pint for one pound 25p). Then back for what was a lovely recital by Michael Barron on the Compton. Michael played for rather longer than his wife wished and he was pulled up sharply at 10.15pm - he could probably have played for a lot longer!

A member of St Ann's Church in Manchester lent me a transcription recording of a Sunday Morning Service broadcast on BBC tv from the church on October 4th 1959, with the sermon by the Bishop of Manchester W D L Greer. I did manage to get a reasonably clean copy onto CD, with some slight top frequency distortion and plenty of crackle. The sermon was of interest as it was given just 4 days before the 1959 General Election, and MacMillan and Gaitskill received namechecks. As a concluding comment the Bishop referred to Ephesians: "unity of the spirit in the bond of peace"- an early "one nation" call.

A lovely Stockport Symphony Orchestra concert of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with soloist Leland Chen playing impeccably as always, and giving the demanded encore, followed by Brahms Symphony 1. I had previously always considered a double bass was a double bass, but noticed at this concert some exceptions! In addition to the normal 4 string instruments there was a five string bass, which went a note or two lower than usual, and a four string bass with a string extension, where the string was taken over and through the top wooden scroll, allowing it to go even lower still. Interesting. Must pay closer attention.

And as the Brass National competition was coming up at the Royal Albert Hall, the Fairey Band (our local band!) had an open rehearsal, always of interest. We heard the contest set piece, and three pieces for a concert the band are giving the day before the competition. The three pieces were Rodney Newton's Capriccio (Tuba soloist); Peter Graham's Episode (Horn solo) and Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmila. The set piece was Suite 2 of Daphnis and Chloe by Ravel, arranged by Howard Snell, and rearranged in 2012 to make it technically harder to play and to highlight any band weaknesses. Pleasant if loud evening- the rehearsal was in the Priestnall School Hall, so we were just a few feet behind the conductor.

In the event the band placed 5th, with the commentator making virtually the same comments about the playing as the conductor at the rehearsal. Arch rivals Fodens placed first, but Black Dyke came in 9th.

Another coffee morning at the Plaza cinema, with the lovely Compton organ. We bought an 80th birthday celebratory DVD which has some interesting shots of the Plaza at various times in its restoration. Then a quick bus journey to an Indian music recital in Manchester. Most Indian music is by a small group of musicians playing improvisations, but this was an unusual event by the group Tarang playing composed music. The group present was composed of two veena, two sitar, tabla, mrdingam, violin, and a vocalist - every piece played had vocals. It was cute to see one sitar player following the music displayed on his Vegetable(tm) lap top! The tiny ice cream tubs at the Bridgewater Hall are now two pounds 50p each. Go to your food store and you can buy six (or more) for a pound. Not surprisingly, like the cinemas these days, the Bridgewater Hall will make life VERY unpleasant for you if you dare to take your own refreshments!

A later Indian concert was advertised as tabla and sitar, but I was delighted to find these were accompanied by a genuine human played tambura (aka tanpura aka tumburu etc etc). This is a very early manual musical sequencing instrument! played independently of the metre of the main music, but tuned in an appropriate key. The secret of artful playing is NOT to play mechanically but to make small adjustments to timing and volume to better suit the main music - so the digital tanpura now widely used is a definite second best. The tanpura sounds never dominate but support the principal music. Note that Indian music is usually played extempoire rather than from written music. A new instrument to me, and a gorgeous concert. The closest I can come to the use of a tanpura in Western music would be the use of a harpsichord by the leader of a small baroque orchestra to provide improvised decorative sounds (basso continuo).

Another concert by the RNCM Jazz Collective. The last half of the last half I found uninspired- not bad playing so much as a programming problem. It did not help that the final number followed two vocals by someone who had not sung with the group before. On the plus side, they did not shout, did not gasp for breath, and hit almost all the notes- but relied upon (rather than used) a microphone, and failed to obtain a pleasing tonal depth and complexity.

Good concert by Fairey Band with the assistance of the Macclesfield Youth Band (and their Junior Band and Drum Corps). I did pick up the latest CD from Fairey to celebrate their 75th birthday, but again failed to find a copy of their interesting Acid Brass 2 CD. This concert was again just before Fairey played in a contest (the Brass in Concert at Gateshead) and they played their contest programme for us. In the event they placed 4th, just missing third position by one point, but their flugel player Mike Eccles did win "best flugel playing" for his "Girl from Ipanema" (the girl is Helo Pinheiro).

It is disappointing that in the national election for people to commission crime (I may have misinterpreted that, but the information available is very thin...) the government suggests that it is democratic for someone to be elected to a very highly paid job to do what is by no means clear on just 7% of the electorate voting for them. This is in comparison to the CBI requesting (but so far not getting) a minimum 40% of the workforce voting for strike action - no local elections have come close to this favourable vote and our present government was elected by just 37% of the electorate.

In my own county there was no realistic competition, the result could have been simply announced on day one and lots of money saved. (An exceptional weighting was given to a single almost one-party electorate in one town by the winner causing a parliamentary by election at the same time - he won an outright majority of the under 14% who voted. It is appropriate that he did not represent the political parties who forced this unpopular and quite mysterious election.) There is no proper record of spoiled papers. The use of a unique voting system may have led to more accidental spoiled votes but no count has been made of clearly deliberately spoiled votes, indeed what information has been released is misleading. At one point my local polling station had 15% deliberately spoiled papers, but there is simply no democratic record of this. Ho hum. Democracy is what the ruling party says it is.

Not too sure why the Anglican church is described as being in crisis for keeping to the status quo of two millenia. For me the Church of England has no episcopal authority anyway so female bishops are not a problem. What is a problem is the very unchristian comments made by bishops and -especially- female clergy who are presenting as unpleasantly self centred and strident, completely lacking in any understanding of the real difficulties their wishes impose on others. The church prays for guidance, then votes against someones wishes - too quickly taken as a church adrift. I really do not like so-called democrats who when a vote is against them dismiss it so lightly. There is far too much lack of respect for minorities who it would appear can so easily be disrespected, disregarded and steam rollered (or cast off). Why should any female minister who so openly and publicy fails to acknowledge canon law (specifically the law relating to the voting process which was set up to avoid one group overwhelming everyone else) seek to obtain a position to maintain canon law? Aaaagh. Almost as bad as someone being made the preeminent leader of the Anglican Church, the primary archbishop, after being a bishop for just a year...

And so off to Memorabilia at the NEC Birmingham once more. Odd going down as Staffordshire seemed entirely under water, with flat water either side of the train reaching towards the flat sky, with no landmarks visible at all. By evening some grass was visible.

Local trains packed as there are several exhibitions at once including a five-hall motorcycle exhibition. Memorabilia was in the usual inconvenient Hall 9, on a corner at the bottom of the escalator, with usual problems of Q-ing. Really too crowded to buy anything from the invisible stalls, so fairly cheap. Huge number of actors - over 60- and on the day there did not seem to be any no-shows, although eight had cancelled before the day (including three I would have liked to have met). I budgeted for seven actors, and re-met Sally Geeson and Sheila Steifel (who had another new book available!). New actors to meet were Roy Marsden, Gwyneth Strong, Denis Lill, and Eunice Gayson.

In three hours I passed and re-passed the seats reserved for Claudia Christian, Craig Charles and David Hasselhoff but never saw them. David was the most costly autograph of the day- and is in pantomime in Manchester this Winter. Claudia was a no-show on the Sunday.

There were even more visitors in costume, with some excellent ones (notably, a borg, the Joker, Danger Mouse and The Bride from Kill Bill). Many costumes I did not recognise- for example a really fine princess, who was Rapunzel from the fairly recent film Tangled, complete with saucepan and little friend Pascal. The comic section was very small, and I think I embarassed one artist by presenting her with a couple of bookmarks featuring her hallmark character (Sorry!). There was almost no anime or manga presence- apparently this is now out of fashion in the UK.

Home early again for the November concert by the Stockport Symphony Orchestra, just two pieces, not obvious programme partners, by Mozart and Shostakovich, but a really beautiful violin solo to start with and a wonderful piece to finish with - apparently rescored lightly by the SSO, as the snare drummers had a replacement sheet of music to allow for the greater dynamic range from three snare drums instead of two.

Strong rains this year have given the River Mersey in Stockport something of a swollen look - at its highest we have seen on 25th November, and on flood alert, but the peak was only for a short time and there was no local flooding, unlike so many other unfortunate parts of the land. Ashton Market was lacking two sellers we like but we did manage to spend lots. Noticed the "black pea stall" no longer listed black peas, no surprise there as they did not know how to cook them.

Another visit to Stalybridge Station buffet, famous for its black peas. Yet again we are denied this delight as they had forgotten to soak them (an essential step). Off to the one Winter organ recital at St Philip Salford this year. The organist and church want more recitals, the funding is in place- but the purse strings are controlled by Salford University and it looks as though the one person who knew about it has gone. Send an email to the music department in faint hope. No response. Lovely recital and then on to the New Oxford for some well kept beer.

On to our Christmas meal out, with friends. We had the exclusive use of the upstairs restaurant at the Duke of York, Romiley - it was a little early in December but we enjoyed a beautifully cooked imaginative meal in peace and quiet. It should have been crowded out! A nice touch to the traditional turkey was the addition of Pan Haggerty. Northumberland claim this dish but it is also Lancashire traditional with Lancashire cheese. Well kept beer too. My son's vegetarian option was imaginative and looked beautiful- red onion and raspberry are an interesting combination.

After a long pause at last another recital at Chethams School of Music. The pupils are so lucky being able to attend these almost every lunch hour. We went to one in the Whiteley Hall with pieces on oboe, and others on cello. Most pleasant.

The December concert by the Stockport Symphony Orchestra was a trifle disappointing. The opening number was short and had a simple title (Danson) but the music was wickedly complex, designed to highlight any little weakness in the orchestra playing it. Better as an encore piece than an opening number really. Weak strings and poor ensemble work owed more to the position of the piece than the musicians. Two lovely piano pieces played by Ian Buckle resuced the evening. Not at all sure about the 1812 Overture with sampled explosions. And two latin american numbers to finish with didn't really take the place of the more traditional Sleighride.

After a gap of nearly 40 years, returned to the first pub to serve me alcohol, the Blossoms, another Robinsons pub. Tastefully redecorated and freshened (apart from the large televisions) with some very nice beer and tasty meals. Two men came in- and we knew them both! Will return again in less than 40 years if possible.

At years end a visit to the New Oxford at Salford, who had an incredible 43 beers on, thanks to the traditional "cellar run" - where access to the cellar involved leaving the pub and entering the cellar by a very steep external chute. All of the beer was in excellent condition, and some extra special food was available- instead of baguettes we had vegetable chilli.

2012 ends wet, the wettest year on record. Not surprising we have had little in the way of outings. The economy is shot as business and politics lose the concept of morality and ethics. Businesses fail and electoral turnout plummets. Businesses become controlled by target seeking managers with no business expertise, and business and politics is controlled by overpaid irresponsible consultants. Our government heads off to the far right, chasing an ever more aggressive and selfish populace, who are following the lead of the politicians. Three political parties all with the same views and policies, all aggressively selfish and anti-social.
It is not possible to say that politicians do not care about the populace as the politicians have moved to the completely out of touch position typified by Marie Antoinette. Our government seeks to make everyone a criminal and remove all and any rights. Respect for an ever more complex and distant and unaffordable law plummets and the police become almost mythical. Race to the bottom.
The economy is in collapse as the very idea of an economy, involving the movement of assets, is lost as the super rich become ultra rich and the poor become poorer. The welfare state is demolished. Copyright agencies look like getting their wish and killing new music and old music, making lawyers rich and terrorising relatively innocent citizens. Most creators get paid little, a few get loads, the rights collecting agencies do extremely well but fail to represent the creators. Welsh creators at the end of the year en masse move to their own collecting agency where they seek proper rewards. The London based BBC responds by cutting Welsh content for Wales.

Can 2013 be any better? Pass the beer.



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