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2013

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HOLIDAYS: For 2013 a new destination, Tenby in South Wales.

Concerns about the new housing complex built on the South Beach were unfounded- the present building although ugly does not detract much from the beach. If only the building work stops there! (In fact it had, stopped half finished as the developer went into administration...). Nearby Saundersfoot has now fully developed the North end of its small beach, again quite ugly, and is about to carry out considerable work North of the beach.

There are plans to join St Catherines Island to Tenby by bridge, and whilst the artwork looks convincing, it also looks unprofitable. As there is much secrecy concerning the source of funding after the work, there have to be concerns about what is to be done with the large rock. We saw Tenby before it disappeared beneath new buildings. I can't say I have any faith in Pembroke Council nor the National Park.

There are lots of military areas using live ammunition and missiles, and we heard of a day when live machine gun fire was (in error) aimed over a tourist beach. Killing range 3 kilometers. I suspect the army cannot afford ammunition these days as we heard nothing, although George did see a small red missile being wheeled into a building.

Not an easy train journey to get there, so something to look forward to. Made much harder as once we had booked our holidays, Network Rail decided to close the railway lines from Manchester to South Wales. We had to take a long loop around the blocked lines, going via Birmingham, Cheltenham and Bristol, entering Wales not from the North but instead from the South. Our connections were very tight (coming home, 10 minutes and two minutes) but we made them and just had a 7 hour train journey...

A major measles epidemic was also in the area - so just as you need a jab for holidays in the tropics, I needed an innoculation to go to Wales now...

In both directions the Southern leg of the journey was enlivened with large groups of females, remarkably coarse, extremely loud, and on the outward journey, accompanied by a very large inflated P.... which did not seem reasonable on a family passenger train. We already knew that Tenby Tudor Square on a Saturday night was a place to avoid and indeed the Tudor Square area had a very large number of security men, some with the required identity tags, some without. Roald Dahl spent several Easters in Tenby, George Elliott wrote her first novel here and Nelson paid a visit with William Paxton.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to come from Tenby is the equals sign, =. This made its appearance in a book of 1557 from Tenby resident Robert Recorde, "The Whetstone of Witte" which is a book about maths. He was bored of repeating "is equals to" and decided that as there is nothing more equal than two parallel lines, he would use = as an abbreviation. Modern math has introduced "is identical to" which is three parallel lines! Recorde also used the plus and minus signs for the first time in an English book. You can read the book at The Internet Archive. He set up an arithmatic in which all natural numbers were expressed as a combination of primes, squares and cubes- with his own invented notation, rather complex. He went to Oxford and Cambridge, became Royal Physician, also Controller of the Mint - and died aged 46 in debtors prison.

Tenby has reasonable shops and eating establishments but the emphasis is on unhealthy eating- chips, pizzas, burgers. Sainsbury had brown bread rolls marked on the shelves but when we asked we were told they never ever stocked them. We had to go to Saundersfoot to find some tasty large brown rolls from a local baker. Our first meal out was on Saturday at a Greek restaurant and enjoyed a very tasty meal (tsatziki, spanakopitta, kleftiko, stifado, guvech) - but our waiter was not paying attention, and never served the salads we ordered. We told the manager who gave us free Greek coffees, but then found we had been charged for the none-existant salads (we did not pay for them! nor add any tips, which we usually do). The next day we saw the waiter serving in an associated establishment- a take-away.

Sunday in Wales remains fairly quiet with very few buses, so we had a ramble around Tenby, going to the end of the North beach and back and looking around a couple of the churches. The main church (St Mary's) is said to be the largest mediaeval church in Wales. The harbour church (St Julian's) is somewhat newer and smaller.

St Mary's is mostly 15th Century with some earlier 13th C bits and several modifications, mostly to the windows, in the 19th C. Interesting points are the possibly 15th C altar slab, brought back into use in 1889. The chancel wagon roof has 15th C bosses. Many of the nave bosses are 19th C copies but there is a set of figures in the nave roof illustrating god and four angels. The 17th C pulpit has interesting carvings, looking quite female.

St Julian's was a little harbourside church for smelly fishermen, built 1539 or earlier, but by 1780 the rector of St Mary's refused to take services there, and the chapel was abandoned and demolished in 1840. The current chapel was built in 1877, after a promise by the fishermen in 1876 not to fish on Sundays, by local benefactress Minna Forde. The East wall has a trawl net with plastic fish and lobsters, put there for a 1960's harvest festival, and left. Without explanation there is a framed piece of music, published in 1958 by Banks and Son, York, possibly autographed, hanging on the West wall, written by Henry Hargreaves.

We also visited the privately owned museum and art gallery. As usual the modern art works raise the question "why???" anyone would create so much ugliness, but it does seem that life is supremely ugly for many people these days (politicians have some blame here). The museum on the other hand was a charm, no acres of empty space with the odd interactive computer screen, no broken down electronic exhibits. The former National School has a floor to ceiling collection of the history of Tenby with lots to look at and to read. The moulded copies of ancient artifacts allowing you to handle them and see them to up close was excellent. Nice to pick up a mammoths tooth! There was a small corner mentioning Robert Recorde. The museum also acts as a central repository of old photographs and books on Tenby and its surrounds.

Monday we caught the bus to Manorbier where we hugely enjoyed looking around the old castle and church and then a walk around some of the coastal path (passing a cromlech- strictly a memorial as there seems to have been no burial), turning back at the missile range. The nave of Manorbier church is about 1250. The castle is privately owned, and has a small house very neatly inside the walls. The castle is in fairly good condition and is famed as the birthplace of Gerald of Wales.

The castle remains privately owned by the same family since 1670, and many parts have been made safe from the weather, with new internal wooden floors. The original Hall Keep from about 1130 remains roofless. It may be the oldest surviving stone building in any Welsh castle. The castle was used by the BBC to film their version of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. Also used for I Capture the Castle, and a couple of minor films not worth mentioning. Plenty of bits to explore and beautiful gardens in the Inner Keep. The Chapel built about 1260 is quite large and you can be married there (civil ceremony) - for which reason the castle is often closed on a Saturday. Allowed to fall rather into some disrepair the castle was finally restored (but not over restored) around the 1880's, at which time an inner barn was converted into a small more modern living quarters (which can now be rented- sleep up to 12).

The church of St James the Great in Manorbier was mentioned by Giraldus Cabrensis (Gerald de Barri) as a place of refuge in 1155 when he sheltered in the tower- the only access then was by a ladder which was drawn up and stored inside. The church tower may be the same date as the round tower of the nearby castle where Gerald was born. Most of the church is 12th-13th C with extra bits added 14th-15th C. The building was rescued from dereliction by a restoration in 1865 when the usual 19th C modifications to windows were made. To the South of the church a ruined wall may be part of a monastic farm.

Before catching the bus back from Manorbier we had an ice cream, giving our business to a local cafe.

Tenby is a walled town, and although there was a period when the town encouraged buildings incorporating the wall, and amendments to the walls - just before they were listed as historic - much of the walls remain although the walkway (which you can use for example at Chester) has now gone. In the centre was a gateway with two entries at right angles. Too inconvenient of course and this is now Five Arches - the other three are just driven through it with no attempt to support or stabilise it. On returning from Manorbier we found a young lady in the enclosed gateway playing a chromatic drum - a hand pan. Very pleasant and excellent accoustics for it. Subsequently identified as one made by Bill Brown in Germany under the name Caisa, with a retail cost of GBP 1200. An interesting find.

Tuesday was always going to be wet, the weather forcasts were very clear, and indeed it did rain. A day in, a bit of shopping and a Chinese meal at China Town.

A lovely Wednesday saw us catching the boat to Caldey Island, a 20 minute journey, and George's longest sea journey to date. There are eight boats operating for maybe 150 days of the year at least every 20 minutes. The journey (20 minutes there and another 20 back) is just GBP 5.50, plus another GBP 5.50 as landing fee / entry fee to the private island. The boats run a more frequent service than any of the Tenby bus routes which are generally hourly or less.

Caldey has been home to several orders of monks, and seems to have been a problem to them all. The Celtic monks (5th to 9thC) have left little record apart from a mention of some drunkeness. After a long break the Benedictine monks arrived, in the 12th C, built a priory, and stayed until thrown out in the 16th C by Henry. Another long break and then in 1906 some Anglican Benedictines purchased the island and built what was to be a prep school but became an Abbey. The Anglican church and the monks did not get on too well and in 1913 the Abbey became Roman Catholic, but the monks still did not do well with their new Church hierarchy and in 1925 the island was sold to Cistercian monks from Belgium (Trappists from Chimay) and in 1930 they moved in.

In 1959 Caldey obtained autonomy and its own Abbot. Finance is now mostly from tourists, with sales of perfume and chocolate added. Farming has almost ceased apart from some beef rearing- the cows leave the island on the same boats the tourists use but with two cows inside a small horse box. The handful of monks (about 15 in 2013) live mostly on the work of others. The perfume, which started with local lavender, now relies on imported compounds. The chocolate is imported and the preparation outsourced. The gift shop has mostly trinkets imported from overseas. The monks have almost reverted to a more medieval feudal pattern of traders and employers.

There are lovely walks and we took the woodland, quarry and cliff top walks. We omitted the brand new farm path which is currently only shown on a map in the Post Office window- but is clearly marked on the path. We visited the old priory church, the abbey church, and the parish church. It was interesting to see the handful of vehicles using the few roads did not have licence plates nor road tax discs - not required. Returning to Tenby, in the evening we had an Indian meal at the Bay of Bengal, very tasty.

Thursday morning was very damp but in the afternoon we went along the South beach and turned inland after reaching Giltar Point Quarry to visit Penally Church and then returned by the alternative coast path alongside the railway. Penally church seems to have few visitors but has a fine collection of celtic crosses. At Penally we gave our custom to the local corner shop (well hidden inside what looks like domestic premises) and bought drinks and ice cream.

Finally Friday and a bus journey to Amroth- a 40 minute journey, and our first ride on a bus with five seats across instead of the usual four. The bus deposited us at 10.40am outside the Amroth Arms, which had its doors open so we went in and enjoyed a couple of real ales, well kept and well served. In Stockport at this time some pubs would not be open for another six hours or so! We enjoyed a fine PPA from the very local Cych Valley Brewery (opened September 2012 upon transfer from Herefordshire) - ABV not declared, OG 1042, FG not declared either, so impossible to determine its strength! Presumably -in the complete absence of any information about this brewery, whose website is inaccessible, the PPA stands for Pembrokeshire Pale Ale. No marks for trying to be noticed, perhaps they are too small. We also had a very tasty and hoppy "Dragon's Heart" from the somewhat larger Felinfoel Brewery at 4.3%ABV and in superb condition.

Up the hill to take a look at the church, built around 1490. Amroth was a source of iron and there was an ironworks nearby, but it was still a little unusual to see gravestones made from iron. Then along the coastal path heading South, first climbing up the cliffs to walk along an old coaching road to Wiseman's Bridge. Here we saw many bright read fluttering things - Scarlet Tigers. Trying to photograph them was a problem but one did land and stay on my camera for a while. Hmm. Then along the level railway bed to Saundersfoot, passing through some tunnels. The solar powered lights might have worked if the solar array was not pointed to the North. It was dark in there. And so a bus back from Saundersfoot to Tenby and a meal at a fish and chip shop.

Our return train from Tenby had an unusual coach- an Entertainment Coach- with video screens on the back of seats with minor tv programs, BBC headlines, and a live map of where the train was- with speed and current altitude. No extra charge unless you wanted a film to watch.
At Caldey we purchased the current island guide, a short history by the man who sold the island to the Anglican monks, and a costly picture book by Christopher Howells. Subsequently I bought a most interesting but older book by Roscoe Howells called "Total Community" (1975) with lots of interesting facts. A slightly later book by Roscoe Howells, "From Amroth to Utah" (2001) gives much information regarding Amroth, and is available on the Internet Archive.


And a return to Bakewell to enjoy once more their unique Bakewell Pudding (nothing like the Bakewell Tart). This year the bus service to Chatsworth has been improved with direct buses to Bakewell every day. The two Indian restaurants we used three years ago are no more- or are they? Max's is now occupied by Raja's with apparently the same owner and they still make their own paneer. Scrumptious. Borivli is no more and we were not staying in town long enough to work out what on earth was in its place- apparently a chip shop downstairs with an Indian something upstairs, shared with the chip shop, open daily til 10pm according to the signs and leaflets, but we found the entire establishment was closed on Market Day (Monday). Apparently buffet (only???) on Thurs-Saturday. We gave up on that place.

So eating out in the evening was a problem, with one open Indian restaurant, one Indian something, a Chinese takeaway, and an "Italian" open til 8pm where the "imported from Italy and local produce" seemed to all be from Sainsbury's- simple pasta, bottle of sauce, Sainsbury packet salad. Edible but nothing exciting.

Eating at lunchtime there was a profusion of outlets, far too many. A brand new establishment was an artisan ice cream shop, Hedgehog, advertised as open til 6 but really only til 5, as Bakewell was simply dead by 5pm. Some very different flavours. We enjoyed the Basil, and also the Melon and Cinnamon. We tasted several other flavours.

The local supermarket was the Co-Op, with competition from a local Spar. Together fairly adequate.

Sunday was the long looked forward to return to Chatsworth House to really explore the massive gardens. Not many gardens have mileposts. This year we walked through the coal tunnel, where coal was trucked to the seven furnaces in the now demolished big greenhouse built by Paxton as a precursor to his Crystal Palace. We also saw the very long smoke flue as it made its way underground to the woods, so that the house would not be disturbed by lots of smoke. Unlike 2010, all of the gardens were open this year, although the Sunday brass band seems to have been dispensed with. We bought the local Chatsworth "Gardeners Tap" beer, brewed on the Estate by Peak Ales. We also enjoyed a couple of different Peak Ales beers in the Red Lion at Bakewell.

Monday and Tuesday were for walking the Monsal Trail. In 2010 we walked from Bakewell Station to Monsal Head so this year we first walked from Monsal Head to Wyedale and then from Monsal Head to the Bakewell end of the trail. Very busy, with more footfall than many high streets, and only one toilet in 11 miles, and one rather poorly staffed cafe near Bakewell. The refreshments marked as being at Millers Dale have not been there for years. Unlike 2010, the railway tunnels have now been opened to walkers with lights inserted, no major detours required.

A nice treat on Tuesday evening was a brass band concert, by a band we did not know- the National Methodist Youth Brass Band who were playing at Bakewell Methodist Church as part of their one week annual tour- this year of the Peak District. Much enjoyed and bought all their CDs.

Wednesday we walked along part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Trail from Rowsley to Baslow. The start of the trail was through knee deep dung, but fortunately it was possible to avoid this by taking a path through the churchyard. The other end at Baslow was not much better, taking us to a road as busy as a busy dual carriageway- and no way at all to cross it to actually visit Baslow. We had a problem getting back as the local bus only stopped in the village which we could not get to, but we bodged our way back in the end. Some places it is very hard to get a bus back from- where the buses only stop at bus stops, which are completely unmarked. Much hard online research required before next visit to this area. On our walk North we took a detour and visited Edensor (pronounced Enza) the private walled village on the Chatsworth Estate. Here I stood on the spot John F Kennedy did just five months before he was murdered (His sister is buried at Edensor).

With the weather holding up for the whole week, we had to take a day off from walking in order to visit the lovely vegetarian restaurant at Rowsley, and later strolled near the river, sampling the fresh water cress and water mint.

Our last day saw a half a walk from Over Haddon to Youlgreave, walking along the River Lathkill and the River Bradford. The Lathkill is unusual in being entirely on limestone, and various parts of it are dry at various times requiring the brown trout to be manually taken downstream from their traditional upriver breeding grounds as they dry out. Youlgreave still has its own community run water supply.

This was a good year for butterflies, we saw hundreds of Peacock butterflies, and a small number of Small Tortoiseshells. Two news ones to us this year were the oddly named Comma butterfly and the Speckled Wood Butterfly.



Starting the new year in fine style with an organ concert at Rochdale Town Hall on their hundred year old Binns organ by Canon Ronald Frost who permitted me to record the event. Excellent. When Ronald arrived it looked as though an entire organ section was out of order due to a sticking wooden slide caused by water ingress but at the last moment it gave way and he only had to make a few minor adjustments to his playing.

2013 is the last National Winter Ales festival to be held in Manchester for a year or so at least. In 2014 it will be in Derby. Manchester did not win fans by holding the event in a venue out of town with utterly inadequate seating and rather poor food. Anything you wanted for five pounds flat. Or if you were really alert, a plate of chips for three pounds. Chips kept in a metal container heated by a gas ring. In 2014 Manchester will hold its own festival- in a new venue with 35,000 seats, handy for a new Metrolink (tram) station.

However back to 2013- we went on Friday after having eaten, and found our first 8 selected beers were all available, and really very tasty. This compares to our 2011 visit to a SIBA beer festival where we found all the beers boring. By 4.15 the beers we were looking for were beginning to sell out, and our final two choices both used a hop that we don't really like, so it was time to head off home. Recall that the beer was sold in third pints and we shared a third between us- that's how we got through so many beers.

Our favourites, in order, were Offbeat Venus Ella (truly tasty), Metalman Chameleon Garnet, Nook Winter Spice, and Brentwood BBC2- a remarkably tasty beer at just 2.5% ABV. We also enjoyed Bradwell Farmers Belgian Blue (named after a cow breed rather than a beer style), Grafton Lasanbro and Brightside Wanderlust. Just below those and in the better than OK category came Bridestones Indian Head, Prospect Venus Gold, and Cheshire Engine Vein. It would not be fair to name the two we could not drink as that was our personal taste.

At the start of February we had to pick up a postal packet, and as the Woolpack was nearby we went in for a meal. My perception of the landlord was that he was not welcoming, was dismissive, curt and arrogant. He was serving pies in foil containers with chips and it was made very plain to us that if we wanted anything else we should go elsewhere, so we did, and will never return to that extremely unwelcoming pub. We went back to the Blossoms and had a nice steak and some very pleasant beer. After just one visit there early in December the landlord still recognised us six weeks later. It is sad to record that the Woolpack was busy but the Blossoms with its friendly welcoming and helpful landlord was not busy. (On a subsequent visit we were driven away from the Blossoms- forever- by very loud jukebox music). Our aggressive society appears to prefer poor service and junk food. (Update: The landlord may not have been fully functional, as, although he appeared to be in the peak of health, he died within two months of our visit). The Woolpack closed its doors before the end of the year.

On the way home, in the middle of Stockport, we saw Class 02 diesel shunting engine D2868, stopped outside the college - the low loader driver was tightening the anchor chains, after the slog down to the river valley and then back up again. The engine was on its way from MOSI in Manchester to Rowsley - as was a second shunting engine we didn't see.

Around Christmas two Stockport pubs closed, both well known for problems. One was listed as having more police call outs than any other Stockport pub, and remains closed. The other, with an unfortunate reputation, reopened after being closed for a few weeks, in a very different guise. Out have gone the pool tables, the juke box, the sports tv. In has come some real beer, no less than ten hand pumps. And three of the beers are brewed on the premises, once a common thing for pubs but now fairly rare. The lower ABV beer (3.8) was very tasty, with a mix of American, New Zealand and Britsh hops giving a good flavour. We don't drink at night so tend to miss any problems, but the new pub landlords are hoping to attract a quieter more appreciative client base.

Nobody told me when they stopped making the "standard" four foot fluorescent tubes. And here I am with three rooms dependent on them. After some thirty years or more it is time to change lightbulbs. I knew the 60 watt incandescent light fittings would have to be replaced but I am now faced with five rooms that will need new fittings when the bulbs finally expire. It is now the case that when you buy a light bulb you have to buy the fitting for it at the same time, new technology is being pushed at such an illogical rate. Mountains of perfectly good tv sets, radio sets, light fittings- going to landfill in order to save a few milliwatts of electric in usage, but the newer items take energy to make - and some of them (plasma tv set! dab radio! ) use far more energy than what they replace. There are tubes that fit my four foot fittings (which have a starter and large inductive clamp), sort of, but we are now onto the third replacement technology (fourth on the horizon already), and whilst there are no warnings, I would have a seriously increased fire risk if I tried to use them. Apart from the new warnings- do not touch with bare hands, mount within 4 degrees of horizontal, get very hot (weren't fluorescents known to be cool?) - aaagh.

Bought some new light fittings and discovered there were numerous bulbs that looked the same but were quite different, and you have to buy exactly the same technology. With bulbs at ten pounds and the light fitting including bulb at fourteen pound, it is beginning to look like we need to fix plugs on the ceiling to plug light fittings into, far easier than rewiring a new fitting when a bulb fails.

OK, back to Derby for their last Derby Winter Beer Festival, next year it will be the National Winter Ale Festival at Derby. In the Roundhouse near the railway station. The rail fares are mad- if we had caught the train twenty minutes earlier our fare would have been 50 pounds (anytime) instead of 20 pounds (off-peak), but we could have saved ten pounds by buying one ticket Stockport-Sheffield and one ticket Sheffield-Derby instead of the obvious Stockport-Derby. Quite insane. The beers were quite drinkable, but nothing too breath taking. My favorite was the unusually named "Hand Drawn Monkey: What would Jephers think". By 2.30 it was becoming quite hard to find a beer we wanted, as many casks were by then empty.

Our Lancashire cheese maker Bob Kitching died in February after a very long fight with cancer, and significant levels of radiation and chemo therapy treatments. The link is to a youtube video of Bob making cheese. A lovely man who took his travails well, much missed. Here are some photos and an obituary - including a picture of Bob with the 2012 Christmas cheese.

Continuing organ recitals, on the Stockport Town Hall wurlitzer, the St Anns Manchester church organ - and one on the Binns organ at Rochdale Town Hall played by an organist named Binns (not related). The Stockport Plaza Compton remains in use at their normal shows but recitals and simple organ playing are now becoming extremely rare and almost secretive. Only one listed for this year so far and we have somewhere else to go. There was an excellent organ recital by the Scott Brothers Duo at Bolton-le-Moor, with an arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition for piano and organ. And I had to miss it as it was a return visit to the NEC for me that day.

Memorabilia Spring Show at the NEC - organisation worse than ever, and this year they doubled the price to pensioners (no other price increases) - they don't want old people thank you. They have made it known that they don't see themselves organising autograph events- they have different aims. There were however 48 signers in the Memorabilia hall. My attendance at future events is now doubtful (the November show is also now to be youth oriented), however the organisers made it very clear to me that they don't want old people, so I wont be missed.

MCM are seeking maximum returns and are moving to supply current actors who have been in one recent film, for the college and university market- far less demanding, with spare cash, and more accepting of apalling service. With so many actors on the premises, there were a few I have met before, and just two new ones to go for- on that alone I would have not gone to this event, but I had a date to keep with one actress with whom I sat and chatted for over a couple of hours (not interfering with other customers of course).

The new actors for me were Judy Cornwall, whom I first came across in 1961 in The Navy Lark. She kindly signed a cast photo from the show for me, together with a hardback copy of her autobiography (sadly no longer in print but still available in paperback), and some shots from a show she did in the Rumpole series where she played a difficult role with great subtlety.

The other new actor was Dudley Sutton. I have seen Dudley in some earlier works but it was his role as Mr Carter in the Beiderbecke series that I went for, another finely acted piece. And his lovely face to face confrontation with Peter O'Toole in Dean Spanley, played with the finest of facial expressions. Dudley has also made several excellent short films more recently and I asked him to sign a shot from one of those- I went for "Losing the plot" as the images were the best, but his "Treasure" short is superb and "The Navigator" by Seamus McGarvey (award winning cinephotographer - Anna Karenina, Atonement, Sahara) is a gem.

I also bought a couple of original works of art- one acrylic, and one ink and watercolour, from the comic-artists tables at a very low cost.

Our local brewery, Robinsons, has invested heavily on new brewing equipment, and a conference venue (only a small one, for 5 to 70 people) with visitor centre attached (closed Mondays), and regular daytime brewery tours. The food available is uniquely special, not cheap, but a great treat. We went to the first day of the visitor centre- the first visitors. Very interesting exhibits from the brewery's 175 year old history, and a small shop selling related merchandise- we bought a bar towel (very useful) and a hessian bottle bag (neatly carries 6 bottles). Also a bottle of Veltins (a pilsner), usually sold from keg. The bottles were obviously originals from Germany, having the distinctive marks of an oft re-used glass bottle. We did sample a new keg process beer (Fredericks 175) which is brewed for the European market, but we remain firmly in favour of real cask ale.

Last year Robinsons brewery had great success with a beer based on the Green Bullet hop. They had hoped to make the 2013 Spring beer using the same hop, but in view of its scarcity mixing it with another hop. The imported hop was so scarce as to be unavailable and they have had to create a new recipe beer made with entirely British hops and malts, which remains hoppy with a dry finish.

We briefly met director John Robinson, a charming but slightly shy gentleman in charge of "Brands". Yes, after 175 years Robinsons is still in the same family and indeed still on the original site, drawing water from the same local well.

Despite very poor weather and alarming weather warnings, we headed off into the Lancashire hills for the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival. An odd idea. The main road was closed and some 40 stalls were in place selling mostly chocolate related items. Nobody was selling chocolate from the splendid chocolatiers in Spain, Italy or France. There was a great deal of Belgian chocolate, melted over and around things, or with things stuck into it, or "artistic" colouring. Not what I call chocolate. Kudos to the local shop that organises the event, but their large "chocolate shop" had nothing I recognise as chocolate, just shelves of bars covered in weird things. We did however hand over our money to three lovely stalls selling single country of origin chocolate bars, including one from Bollington in Cheshire called- Pure Origin. The Pure Origin 85% Colombian Chocolate was full of beautiful flavours and makes the Belgian chocolate look like sub-standard Cadburies (aka Kraft). Guppys Chocolate from York were also selling 85% Colombian Chocolate, very nice.

In earlier days we would have travelled by the East Lancashire Railway steam line from Bury to Ramsbottom, but alas a few years back they chose to move their pricing to the "normal" preserved line tourist rip-off style, with one fare to cover a days travel (or one full line journey sometimes), and not much off if you just want to go a short distance. In the past two years (2011 fare to 2013 fare) the fare between Bury and Ramsbottom has risen by well over 50%, many times more than my income. The ELR is now a luxury I can live without- whereas once they would benefit from ten visits a year, with extra spending in their shop and on the train, now they enjoy none of our funds.

Ramsbottom is also the home of Lancashire Sauce (mustard based), which we purchased a bottle of, and also some Lancashire Crisps (from an Ormskirk farm) flavoured with Lancashire Sauce. Fitzpatricks (who have a temperance bar in nearby Rawtenstall) had produced a limited edition of their ginger cordial, with added chocolate essence- very nice drunk warm.

Also at home in Ramsbottom is the Irwell Works Brewery which has a pleasant tap room to sample their several beers. They also sell beer in one third pint glasses, so you can taste them all without getting drunk. We went there before and after buying our chocolate.

The brewery tap room became quite crowded, and indeed all the pubs seemed to be doing well. One pub had added a very strange "vanilla chocolate eclair beer" to their otherwise fairly limited and quite standard range of beers. There was an entertainment / beer tent from Outstanding Brewery, but they were doing themselves no favours by selling only ONE special beer (Chocolate Stout) in plastic glasses, and due to the weather, much too cold for the beer type. Outstanding do brew some nice beers and it was very disappointing to not be able to buy any of them.

There were also some visiting rescued owls and some small farm animals- the lambs were in their little wooly jumpers, now so necessary with our colder Spring weather. I do mean knitted wooly jumpers, to keep the little darlings warm. Although it was snowing all day, there were still quite a number of people in town and I am sure the Festival brought a bit of cash into the local shops.

Between the impossible ELR rail pricing strategy and the appalling weather there was no consideration of going up the hill at Ramsbottom on Good Friday, and that tradition now seems no longer within our capacity.

Having seen a large tent outside the Duke of York in Romiley advertising a "beer festival - real ales" we went on Easter Saturday to see if there was anything nice. Lots of CAMRA magazines inside made it LOOK authentic, but this "beer festival" - which we doubt had anything to do with the pub whose land it was on (or CAMRA) - had just TWO cask ales - half the number in the pub, and rather more ordinary than the ones the pub sold. And quite a lot of bottles of mainstream filtered beer. Not a beer festival at all. No prices on display so we surmised rather high prices. Proper beer festivals have their prices clearly on show. So down the road to Platform One for some REAL cask beer (five pumps on when we arrived). Then a walk along the muddy collapsing canal to Woodley and a visit to Robinson's Navigation. Only two cask ales on, but well kept, and a real delight, served in half pint tankards, as seen on so many films and tv programs from the 50's and 60's, but now normally replaced by more ordinary glasses. Lovely. A real treat.

The High Peak Beer Festival was almost secret, as their web site is essentially dead (unlike Stockport CAMRA whose web site really is dead) but we went along on the Friday to New Mills and enjoyed some fine beer, starting with possibly the best we had, Buxton American Rye, a very flavoursome beer. Also enjoyed were Ilkley Whit Marie, a biscuity beer with added cloves;Saltaire SIP (also biscuity), and Rudgate Ready Malted. The bar staff recommended Nook Funky Banana but we really didn't like that one, I can only describe it as resembling a keg beer. A mention to another beer we tried, Howards Town Hope, which we would drink again.

We had intended to return for more beers the following day, with friends, but I was struck down with the lovely Norovirus and spent the day asleep. Still rather weak on the Tuesday so missed out on a string quartet concert in the evening. Still not 100% on Friday so missed out on the Oldham Beer Festival, and instead went for a quick half at the Hope. Notice they now have hot pies added to the menu - previously they had just a pork pie offering. With the options of mushy peas, mash and gravy. The offering is basic but honest with no claims to "see our superb new menu" and the pies are huge. One helping would be quite enough between the two of us. Still lovely beer.

Our weekly organ recital at St Anns Manchester included three miniatures by Norman Cocker, best known for his "Tuba Tune", and little else. Possibly the first public performance as the scores were only published last year. When Norman died the scores were sent to Chethams, Manchester, where he used to teach. Unfortunately they didn't want them and they were destined for an untimely end until rescued, now published, and now played at last. I can find no recordings of Norman playing, nor of his second organ- he not only taught at Chethams and played the organ in church but additionally played a Compton cinema organ at a Bury cinema. Anyone have a recording or Norman or the Bury organ?

A rare recital on the organ of St Georges Church, Heaviley. Yet another organ that never recovered from an unsympathetic rebuilding - in 1935. The church is huge, but the organist sits in the choir facing the organ pipes which are all directed towards him. He plays quietly, enjoys the music, but the buildings accoustics ensure the sound travels no farther, certainly not into the nave. St Georges also suffers from being only feet away from a major road with constant heavy traffic. This I was aware of- but I wasn't ready for the organist putting together a program of mostly inaudible music (shades of Poynton church last year). Organists really should record their music from the nave when rehearsing and listen to the volume levels. Ignoring a buildings accoustics (or lack thereof) is not very professional. So I won't name the guest organist. I just won't go to any more concerts he may give anywhere or buy any of his recordings. St George is yet another church that has decided the communion table belongs in the nave. At least they don't (yet) have loose chairs in the nave...

I am not at all happy with the current national urges to either deify or demonise one departed political leader. No political leader stands in isolation, and policies and statutes are delivered by several individuals who may be prominent - or hidden. Many of whom seem to be leading the deification program. Overall I think the deification bothers me the most, as it seems designed to destroy any vestiges of common sense or democratic process. You can't after all question the thoughts of a god - nor question their followers, who continue the holy fight.

Off for a concert by ten members of the BBC Philharmonic, a string section with two flutes. A really beautiful concert with music from such assorted composers as Bach (BWV1067), Faure, Mozart through Erik Satie to Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones, and Brian Fahey, plus a piece by Peter Willmott, on just its second day out, "Slow Dancing at the Black Cat", a lovely piece that Peter says will disappear after a performance on Friday. Peter is obviously a very talented arranger and composer, but pieces arranged by him are not recorded alas. Delightful to have the opportunity to hear his music live.

Then a quick half at the New Oxford, Bexley Square, Salford. Have you heard of Love On The Dole? The author was present in Bexley Square in October 1931, and included The Battle of Bexley Square in the book. 1931 was when the first Labour prime minister (Ramsay MacDonald) decided he was the best Tory to lead the coalition government, and saw the demise of Labour until a brief but needed six year period commencing in 1945. By 1931 the Liberals had sunk without trace following their ConLib coalition.

It could be argued that Attlee was the only effective Labour leader. After the success of 1945, the 1951 election was too close to the 1949 election for the Liberals finances. The failure of the Liberals to field many candidates in 1951 (their usual voters tended to vote Conservative), plus boundary changes (which lost Labour 20 seats), plus our electoral system (Labour actually had more votes than the Conservatives) lost the country its most effective Labour government, and probably damaged the Labour party beyond repair.

Also present in Bexley Square in 1931 was the songwriter Ewan McColl ("The first time ever I saw your face", and other songs), who was taken to the police station where four police belted him with truncheons, breaking his nose. Also present was the founder of the Working Class Library (located in Salford). There were press photographs showing the police advancing on the peaceful demonstrators with truncheons at the ready but in court testimony under oath by the police and officials was that no truncheons were drawn or used and only one demonstrator was slightly hurt. The demonstration was caused by the unemployed turning up for the dole and being told they were no longer entitled to it- for example if they had two adults in the house and three chairs, being told to sell a chair. Shades of the bedroom tax. Of course there were no improvements for the poor for two decades, all the rioting did nothing.

A most interesting concert of Indian music on an instrument new to us- the Sarod, possibly the most hard toned Indian stringed instrument- perhaps as hard as a banjo, and played and strummed just as quickly. Then a concert by the Ameretti Chamber Orchestra, although they were up to symphony orchestra size for this event. Most pleasant.

And so the big day arrives, the one indoor brass contest we seem to have left now, the Buxton Brass Festival, this year with 36 entrants. One withdrew before the event leaving 35 bands playing from 9am to 9pm, twelve hours of music for a mere eight pounds admission. And apart from the bandsmen and their friends and families I doubt if there were more than 100 people to hear it. Great value and interesting music. Each band played for from 12 to 17 minutes, with a changeover between bands taking 5 to 7 minutes- just enough for a quick comfort break. There were four sections, with the prize giving between taking about 25 minutes, just enough time for something to eat and drink. Due to Sunday transport limitations we only managed to hear 28 bands, but it was still great. There were bands from Wales, Yorkshire, the Midlands... many we have not heard before. This contest allows each band to choose their own music, and there was little duplication. From the 28 we heard, five bands played "Hollywood", four bands played "Plantagenets" and three bands played "Dark Side of the Moon" (by Lovatt Cooper) - the remaining 16 bands all played something unique, so we never got bored.

We were a little later than we anticipated arriving at the Brass Festival, as our bus managed to get an air leak, and the steep Derbyshire hills are not recommended for a vehicle with no brakes, we had to wait for the bus company to change over buses.

A very dissapointing concert on the Stockport Town Hall Wurlitzer. The opening piece had a heavy beat and restricted melody line, which I thought might be a badly played Dambusters March, but no it was a badly played Knightsbridge March. The second number was a piece from a singer I won't name (boo hiss aaaagh), the third piece was an Irving Berlin medley... shades of the Hammond organ repertoire. At this point despite having paid for the concert, we left. I did notice that the organist usually plays a "Roland Atelier" electronic organ, which seems to have taken the place of the old Hammond (yes, welcome to Hell, here is Fred Smith and The Best of Hammond Hits Volume 237....). The Hammond was capable of playing good music and I am sure the Atelier is too but the majority of its players seem to have low skill and taste. In future I won't be going to any concerts by organists known to play the Atelier.

We have the DVD of "Spirit of 45" by Ken Loach but still went along to our local 1932 cinema to watch it on the big screen with maybe a couple of hundred others. The cinema and film had been privately booked and was therefore at half its usual fairly high entry prices. Great film. The DVD has several hours of extras for us to enjoy as well as the 1984 film of the Coal Miners Strike. At the time the 1984 film was made it was not known that the coal mining industry was doomed from 1979 due to a specifically recorded personal vengeance by the new Prime Minister, who rapidly took advantage of the 1984 landslide election (which was partly due to the Falklands victory).

The measles outbreak was avoidable and predictable, but our medical leaders have utterly failed to lead or communicate. The bullying over the combined MMR some years ago was an error - the science was good but the public communications were dire. Even now when policy dictates immediate action in the event of an outbreak, action is still at snales pace several months after the start and official communications again lacking. It is unfortunate that the NHS has been so broken by government this year that Public Health no longer has any lines of communications with the newly semi-privatised primary health care. As I have no memory of measles or vaccination and we were headed to the heart of the plague country for our holidays (Pembroke), I had an MMR vaccination to be safe.

In England the May Day Bank Holiday is on the first Monday in May, so the first available day to celebrate International Workers Day became this year Saturday 4th May. For a change we went along to the rally in Bexley Square (see above re Battle of...) and joined the short walk to Manchester. Unfortunately the Manchester side of the rally commenced with appalling music which caused us to leave for lunch so we did not hear the speakers. Why is the Left served by such poor music?

Bexley Square was attended by maybe 100 to 150 people from all shades of socialism, from the Revolutionary Communists, the Marxist Leninist Communist Party of GB, the Trans Panthers - to Unison, trades councils from Oldham, Salford and Manchester, the Socialist Party, Left Unity, Socialist Worker, Unite, Salford Pensioners Association, and a few others. Several police, absolutely no problems.

Granada Reports covered the rally on television but their reporter went there to report on something that really didn't happen, and managed to report on that something whilst ignoring what did happen. The report was broadly positive, just something of a fiction. The suggestion was made that this was a rally against NHS cuts. I didn't really see or hear anything about that myself and I had a good lengthy walk around. The TV report never mentioned austerity, and of course the words "socialist" or "left wing" seem to be banned from news reports unless there is something negative to say. Pity.

After lunch we went along to the inaugral meeting of Manchester Left Unity, with over 30 attending (numbers varied). My feeling is that by following the bottom-up approach which was taken by the Green Party the result is going to be the same lack of a following with this new embryonic movement and the bankers have nothing to fear. Pity. A brave Labour councilor attended, but did not influence anyone by saying he was personally against cuts BUT voted the way the Labour party told him to (eg in favour of cuts) - even if everyone who voted for him wanted something, and he wanted the same something, by taking the Labour party nomination, he would always do what he was told by the party (the same forced voting applied to Conservative nominated councilors). Something of a negative mark there for the concept of representative democracy or indeed democracy at all. Not that democracy is anything other than an impossible ideal, as with all the other political movements.

Still we did get a family portrait up on the front page of the Left Unity web site for a little while.

I'm not sure why commentators are puzzled by a drop in crime at a time of bottom-loaded austerity. It seems to mark a severe disconnect between the upper and lower financial echelons. At the bottom all hope is being lost, energy sapped, the will to live barely holding on (and indeed some suicides specifically linked to austerity cuts). We move to the dark days of the middle ages, where the rich show their hatred of the poor by punishing them for being poor. Disability benefits stopped for people with weeks to live, bedroom tax forcing people to seek smaller properties that don't exist, the closure of all hostels for the homeless (who have absolutely nowhere to go, far worse than Victorian times), cuts in legal aid moving legal protections beyond reach of the poor added to reductions in policing and state enforcement. Tooth and eye care well beyond reach, virtually no health care for the poorest. Just don't expect gdp or the economy to improve.

Bank Holiday Monday was sunny and warm so we decided to catch the bus to Buxton for a two hour brass band concert. We caught the 12.05 bus which was due in Buxton about 13.16, plenty of time to walk to the bandstand. However, 90 minutes later, at 13.30 we were just coming up to Torkington Park, Hazel Grove, a grand distance of 3.15 miles (4.93 km) at an average of 2mph. A bus passing the other way suggested the traffic continued like this for another two miles- another hour, and at best after that the bus would take an extra 48 minutes to Buxton, with a likely arrival of 3.20pm instead of 1.11pm! This would barely give us time to walk to the bandstand to get there in time to walk back for the bus back home. So we gave up and instead had a short walk around Torkington Park before going to the Rising Sun pub for some beer, and to watch the snooker on the tv. We also treated ourselves to much needed ice cream. Memo to selves- don't even attempt travelling by bus to Buxton if time is important, instead catch the train. The station is a little walk from Buxton centre, but it doesn't take as long as the bus seems to be regularly late. On this route the bus and train are timetabled to take the same time so the bus stopping in the town centre has been a plus point in the past.

A little while ago we discovered the merits of the ever flowering but only annual Sanvitalia, alas it dies with frost. To this we have now added Euryops Pectinatus, also very long flowering, and claimed to be capable of cuttings, and also of being brought indoors (for a sunny porch or conservatory as it needs good sunlight) for a longer flowering period. Ours died and the cuttings failed. Both of these have bright yellow flowers. The Sanvitalia continued flowering long after the Euryops gave up!

Had a nice invitation from National Heritage to join the first party of 30 for a tour of their Swindon offices, with meals included, free entry to the Great Western museum, and even a small contribution to travel costs. Unfortunately travelling to Swindon for the day by public transport from up North wasn't possible, with the poor links causing the cost to be several times the amount offered, and a departure time from home of about 5am! (This was by way of a thank you for contributions to one of their web sites).

After our brass band day a couple of weeks previously we had an organ week, starting with our usual lunchtime organ recital at St Anns Manchester. Then on Friday to hear the Marcussen organ at the Bridgewater Hall Manchester, played by Jonathan Scott. The Bridgewater Hall were taken by surprise as the stalls filled up and they had to open the central circle, unheard of for a lunchtime recital. The Bridgewater Hall organ has suffered from poor design (large organ in tiny case, poor layout and low pressure) with many organists coming along to play it, leaving shaking their heads wondering where the music went to, never to return. Jonathan Scott has spent many hours learning this organ's shortcomings and how to play it to best advantage- and is undoubtedly the best person to listen to playing this organ.

Then on to the hundred year old Binns organ at Rochdale Town Hall, in a recital organised by Oldham Rochdale and Tameside Organists Association, played by Paul Hale. This organ is very forward, very loud. Afterwards we took advantage of the after-concert luncheon, a very pleasant traditional meal - choice of hotpot, meat and potato pie, or cheese and onion pie-with mushy peas and pickled beetroot, followed by apple pudding and as many hot drinks as you wanted (and under a fiver).

And finally to a more local church, St Pauls in Heaton Moor for an annual presentation by the Manchester Organists Association, with two organists playing. A much smaller organ than the previous two but still with plenty of fire. Three very different organs from differing periods, with four differing organists. Very musical.

One chocolate that we like is from Grenada- the bar is made in Grenada in a solar powered factory, the wrapper is printed with vegetable inks, the best before date is hand written- and the bars arrive in England on board a brigantine (Tres Hombres) which this year carried 50,000 bars, offloading 25,000 in Portsmouth! Fair trade, and very low carbon emission. Unlike Lord Nelson, the ship has NO engine and travels the old fashioned way only. The 32 meter brigantine left Portsmouth on May 15th 2013 for Ostend and Amsterdam and will have a short European season before heading back West via the old trade route (Brazil then North). In 2014 they are due in London- they are due to leave London June 2nd 2014. There is a video of the ship at Tres Hombres.

Robinsons Brewery have come up with some nice beers recently, their latest seasonal uses green hops- obviously imported as they are only available UK grown at the end of September, and as they have to be used quite quickly, there isn't a lot of green hop beer made. Their seasonal beer "Uncle Sams" had nothing to do with America but used green hops from New Zealand, very nice.

Robinsons extremely pleased with another of their new beers, which before the first tasting had generated enquiries from 184 countries, and pre-orders of 300,000 pints. For the first time in their 175 year history they have had to brew three times a day six days a week. Their "Trooper" beer is available in cask and bottle (with slightly different recipes). I can't say we like it- it seems to have been made for the strong lager market. We preferred the "Uncle Sams". They already have Trooper- one of their show Shire Horses, now aged 12 and standing 18 hands high.

With so many people now using mobile phone numbers, it is remarkable that BT are encouraging people to stop using landlines. Calling any other mobile number on our mobile phones is cheaper up to 7 minutes than using a landline, due to BT's stupid flat rate "connection charge". Royal Mail have also shot themselves in the foot with the new premium price on packets over an inch thick. In March merchants could send two DVDs in a small packet that went through the letterbox. From April 2013 it is much cheaper for merchants to use a thinner but much larger packet, which the postman has to ring the bell for. The postmen will not get longer time for their rounds of course.

Austerity has taken from us three brass band contests in Dukinfield, all we have now is the annual Whit contest, with its unique anarchy. 23 venues (11 in Tameside, 12 in Saddleworth), higher prizes if you do well at six venues in either locality, no pre-booking, turn up and play. For the busy venues around Saddleworth where you have to wait to play, when you join the queue you don't know how many are in front nor can you leave once joined. The venues have no idea how many bands will turn up or when. An odd tradition.

In 2013, there was a big drop in the bands participating in the Whit contest in the Tameside area, although over at Saddleworth some venues saw record numbers of bands. At Dukinfield we were down from 51 bands in 2012 to just 40 in 2013 with some very big gaps with no bands. The other venues saw broadly similar numbers of bands and it looked as though bands this year were playing either Saddleworth OR Tameside, where in the past they would play their six or seven Saddleworth venues and then several bands came to try for six venues in Tameside (and vice versa). This was the lowest turnout at Dukinfield for many years, although it did drop to 41 bands in 2007. This year the Fairey band chose to avoid Tameside altogether and concentrate on the long queues around Saddleworth (major competitor Black Dyke did not appear anywhere this year giving Fairey a better chance in Saddleworth).

Saddleworth venues had from 42 bands to 81 bands- quite a spread (total of 126 bands)- while Tameside venues had from 35 bands to 42 bands, fairly consistent if low (total 77 bands in Tameside).

In 2012 we heard 40 bands and missed 11, in 2013 we stayed later and heard 36 bands, missing four. Some new bands to us, and even some new marches. The cold damp weather kept the crowds away and for the first two bands we were the audience.

Very cold weather too (end of May and the outside temperature is just 8C, which means we need the house heating on still). This year we stayed in Dukinfield later than usual, but the venue landlord had allowed half his exterior lighting to fail, leaving the bands no way of seeing their music after it got dark at about 10pm. They then had to play in the busy and noisy area between the bar and the barbeque, next to a noisy extractor fan and almost out of earshot of the adjudicator. And we still had to leave before Northop played, they came in just as we had to leave at 10.50pm.

A second organ recital at the Bridgewater Hall by Jonathon Scott, this time an all Bach program, but played on the Marcussen organ, very different to what we are more used to. Jonathon played the organ with great skill and although by no means a Baroque style (nothing like a Baroque organ) still very pleasant.

We recall we had a pleasant beer at Stockport Beer Festival in 2007 - so we gave it a miss again this year. On the Sunday we went to another Wurlitzer concert this time by a Wurlitzer organist, so well played and enjoyable. Our last beer at The Nursery on Green Lane. We were too late to say farewell to Simon but did say our goodbyes to Louise. The new landlady seemed to go out of her way to ignore the clientele, and the fairly young barman seemed to be in sole charge of keeping the beer- not really his job but he was trying his very best under difficult circumstances. He pourred six glasses for us. Two were not worthy of looking at, and we took a third back to the bar mostly undrunk (no refunds or replacements). With some negative comments regarding other pubs owned by the brewery, Hydes Brewery do appear to be backing away from keeping good real ale pubs. Indications seem to be a move to a very different younger cash rich clientele. Such moves often lead to massive pub closures. It won't be due to beer duty. Watch this space.

News that the tenant at the Nursery changed again in November, a very short period which saw regulars (not just us then) dropping off. I gather some are now returning so if we have a nice day we may wander down to meet the next tenant.

Had my final vaccination ready for our holidays in a foreign country- Wales, where there is a measles epidemic. Recorded a choral rendition of Faures Requiem and a few other choir pieces, at St Anns in Manchester - not an easy church to record in as the woodwork is noisy with lots of creaks, and Manchester audiences are renowned for their phlegm and coughing. Got a reasonable recording.

On to Bolton for an organ recital- this wasn't that impressive as the pieces seemed to be lacking in something. Rather quiet music and a very energetic organist really bashing the pedals. Funny how sometimes a keen amateur can impress more than the most professional and "talented" full time musician. Made up for it the next day with the first Summer brass band recital in Marple by the Poynton Band, lovely music. Also saw a very old Sentinel single decker ex-Stockport bus, in private hands and advertising the upcoming Marple carnival.

In 2012 we only managed one brass band at Marple due to the awful weather. This year we had two dry Sundays running and enjoyed music by the Tintwistle Band (who had a number one hit with Matchstick Men, a homage to the painter Lowry). Then another lovely Summer concert, this time in aid of Stockport St George's organ fund- a concert by Stockport Schools Brass Band, Priestnall Orchestra and Bramhall High Orchestra. Perhaps a little too much drum work for me (everything has to have a beat, even for violins...) but very pleasant indeed.

Another busy musical weekend saw us off to Bolton for an organ recital by Graham Barber, and bought a couple of his CDs. Then in the evening off to Stockport Plaza for a one-off concert celebrating 35 years of Stockport Schools Brass Band, with one section played just by former members, including one now with Brighouse and Rastrick. We also joined in their celebration with a piece of birthday cake! And bought their very latest CD. The following day back to the Ring of Bells in Marple for an outdoor concert by Silk Brass from Macclesfield. They started with the older traditional brass works and then progressed to the modern "entertainment" music with much merriment and rather poor music. Their latest CD was an eye watering GBP 13, so I just bought their ten year old CD for a fiver. I don't pay GBP 13 for any CD by anyone! It was pleasant to sit alongside the canal and watch the barges pass as the band played. The only negative was the beer which was too old to drink (we tried two different types) and instead of two halves we followed up with fruit juice. Robinsons seem to have lost the ability to keep their beers traditionally, and some of their pubs are using electric beer chillers (shudder).

The good weather held for the next weekend also, for a concert by Hazel Grove band. Unfortunately the conductor of another local band (NOT one of the Marple bands) had brought his children along, and they spent the first half writing on the fairly new pub woodwork with their felt tip pens, and then in the second half enthusiastically used their pens as drumsticks. This was spoiling action by the leader of a competing band for a seasonal prize and it will be one local band I'm not going to give monetary support to in future. Then the next week it rained.

July and the Plaza has its LAST organ coffee morning of the year - no more now til 2014. In the last half hour when the announcement was made, the organ showed its disgust by playing no more, the morning ending with piano and vocals, as we left for a beer.

This year the Plaza are restoring the sight lines to the stage from the circle - back in 1937 the original 1932 circle was made less steep by raising the front 54 inches, which required a higher front wall to stop people falling off. The less steep rake however meant that the 2nd to 4th Circle rows saw more of the people in front than of the stage. In removing the 1937 rake all sorts of goodies have been found including old fag packets, the Peel Moat Stockport school cap of Neil Dyson- who came forward to reclaim it! They even found a 1933 Circle ticket hidden away. Also in 1937 a higher stage was built on top of the 1932 stage, to try to improve the lost sight lines (it didn't work too well) - funny how the new work was always built on top of the old, nothing seems to have been destroyed from the original building. Just the original silk stage curtain in a fire caused by the footlights- a safer version of the footlights is due to be reinstalled.

I learned almost by accident this year that in October 2000, I was awarded an "Eddy Mauk Award" in Ghent, "for remarkeble achievements in the TI-hobby made by European TI-users." in the category "Userservice" "for the support of the British TI-community.". The awards only started in 2000, five awards then given, and in 2000 I was the only Brit. And it took me 13 years to find out about it. Quite possibly somebody sent me an email at the time but as I was then getting 3000 plus spam emails a week, it stood no chance of being seen. Certainly I got nothing by snail mail. It was just a little before this time that I lost touch with the UK TI community- my last printed submission to the UK User Group magazine was in 1999 (first was 1982). Then I think there was a change of editor (and submission address) and perhaps my submissions simply didn't make it or the new editor didn't like my writing.

My name is mentioned on a July 2013 blog run by a programmer I helped way back in 1982 - it is nice to be remembered.

Lyme Park and its famous historic house has an iconic view- across the lake. So the guardians of heritage (???) the Notional Trust have inserted into the lake a 12 foot tall glass fibre monstrosity, utterly destroying all external views of the house which may be well on its way to Disneyfication. In Stockport also, Etherow Country Park has been host to a three day music festival, with hundreds of people tracking the full length of the park with their tents. Those without tents had to leave at 11pm again passing the full length of the utterly unlit park, with many steep falls possible. Meanwhile in Manchester, Heaton Park has been so abused by many large money spinning pop concerts, churned into a stinking morass, that the "Green Flag Award" has been removed from the park. Historic Heaton Hall has long been locked up and allowed to fall into ruin. For the second year Stockport has no Green Flag parks, and no aspirations to have them. Park maintenance is reduced and facilities removed.

August and steam trains run through Heaton Chapel again- just the three listed again this year, on their way to Holyhead once more. Unfortunately they need to go to Manchester to pick up passengers but the widespread engineering works this year are unhelpful- there is no path through Warrington Bank Qay and the trains have to travel along the old Chester line from Stockport to Altrincham and Delamere. The years first train (45231) requires that the steam engine first travel on the rear of the carriages into Manchester and then lead the carriages South. So an unusual opportunity to photograph a steam train running backwards through Heaton Chapel! Not a great photo but not a total waste. The hang around for the train to come back at the front - a more difficult shot but again just about OK. My older Canon A710 camera is better than the SX150 for trains, the SX150 is simply too slow in operation. The next two trains later in the month had more problems as they could not travel from Crewe to Stockport and the journey was planned to commence in Manchester. Later changes meant train number two was totally cancelled, and train three had to start from Liverpool, so as with 2012, out of three Saturday steam runs from Stockport, just the one succeeds. Travelling by any train at weekends in the Summer has become a real lottery.

We returned from holiday to find the downstairs main lighting fuse had blown. I had replaced an old outside lamp with a new one, made to suit the highest standard for outdoor lights (IP65). While the old fitting had no problems if water got in and flowed out (and no water did penetrate it) the new highly waterproof fitting was not suitable for underwater use- and a heavy driving rain on the wall resulting in sheets of water flowing over it caused a tiny drop of water to penetrate (probably by capillary action)- and the internal construction was very much less able to cope with that than the older fitting. Bang. I have now added silicone grease to the rubber seal (which I noticed had some uneveness) and additionally a polyurathane coping over the top seam. Now wait for the rain and see what happens.

After the hols a rather poor week to reinforce the holiday blues- we went to the first Autumn organ recital at St Anns in Manchester to find a busker outside with full amplification and the speakers pointed at the church windows - who of course could not sing. Meanwhile up on the roof builders were trying their best to get into the church the hard way. We left after the first two numbers. We could not appreciate the organ playing at all.

Then three days later to while away a gloomy wet day we went off to the Station Buffet at Stalybridge for some of their famous black peas. Oh dear. Yet again no black peas. What they are (were) famous for has become mythical. The last time we managed to have black peas there they were not cooked nor served properly. They had six beers on -including Timothy Taylor, Holts and two Mallinsons. We had a steak and ale pie. Misdescribed. For me pie = pastry. I do not call a bowl of meat with something faintly resembling pastry perched on top a pie. In this case the bowl had dry and rather stringy meat and the thing perched on top was closer to coal and distinctly not edible. What was really scary was the bright smile the server gave as she plonked the burnt offering on the table. In the absence of black peas we accepted peas and obtained a promise that they were mushy peas. They were just marrowfat peas, not at all mushy. The so-called pie (and the peas) were left untouched and the beer was nothing to struggle with so some of that was left. Never never to return to Stalybridge Station Buffet again. Ever. Very strongly advise avoiding the place.

There is a real falling off in concerts any where near Stockport this season, lots of singing and drums, but not much else. Sad :-(

Whilst we were on holiday a recycling plant in Stockport had its fourth fire in two years- initially ten fire crew were on site, two weeks later this had reduced to two fire crews with a cost to local people so far of half a million. Lots of bad smoke and smells - this one was reportedly smelt as far away as Leeds. And local people can do nothing to stop such plants, authorised by a national government body which does nothing to enforce simple safety procedures. Meanwhile over in London the authorities, no longer concerned for citizenry, have permitted the erection of a very hazardous building, built the shape of a solar collector and in a complete surprise to the very expensive designers, causing fires and other heat related damage as people fry eggs in its reflected focussed light (and heat) with a recorded temperature at street level of 93 Centigrade. The same architect had produced a same shaped building in South America which did the same thing, so it was at best a case of heads in sand, and probably a case of money talks. Meanwhile our police force put 60% (eg the majority) of reported crime into the database uninvestigated. Our government is more concerned with keeping rich and powerful just so and micro managing (eg bullying) simple folk. Aaagh. Who will rid us of this pustulence...
Remind me- what was the PURPOSE of government?

This is a good year for seeing new insects- we find a Silver Y Moth (autographica gamma) in the greenhouse, what a real beauty (ahem) with remarkable markings.

Oh my- for the first time we utterly lose our broadband connection, down at 11.15am and not back until 4.11am the next day. The "back haul" fibre into our exchange was down. Still we had the advantage of old equipment in our local BT exchange and therefore continued to have normal telephone services. Local virginmedia customers who apparently used the same "back haul" fibre, lost everything- broadband, telephone and television.

Stockport has small but very busy charities trying to assist with the homeless and foodless. The foodbank issues three days food to people referred by police, social workers etc (the job centre no longer gives emergency loans and refuses to refer desperate people to the food banks) - you can't just turn up. A new venture in a Stockport council housing estate is a community food shop where tenants can buy food with a shop price of up to 15 pounds for just two pounds- not necessarily the freshest, the food is supplied by a food redistribution charity which gets its food from the big supermarkets.

As Autumn comes along and the evenings get darker, our outings diminish somewhat. Instead of organ recitals, we have been going for lunch to a vegetarian deli in Salford (Deli-Lama) which has something interesting every day, and friendly staff. Also handy for the New Oxford pub with its real ales.

The Stockport Plaza advertised an offering that was unique- the advert was for a Vitaphone talkie and a program on the differing film formats. The Plaza had one Vitaphone projector and there is only known to be one other cinema in the world with one. The second bit of the program didn't happen. The first bit was always going to be difficult as they only have ONE Vitaphone projector (a 1929 KaLee), so the intention was to show the nine reel film with odd reels on Vitaphone and even reels on optical soundtrack on a Westar projector. The old KaLee projector struggled (the sound was fine but I think there were difficulties with the old carbon-arc rods) and after reel three the film was on the two Westar projectors only. Still- we can say we have actually seen two reels of film projected with sound from 16 inch gramophone records using carbon-arc illumination.

The programme was extended with the original "coming soon" reel for The Jazz Singer (on 16mm), a documentary on Odeon cinemas (on 16mm), a series of Cinemescope musical trailers- possibly on film but showing video drop outs, the resolution and colour were rather poor. And a couple of minutes of the Sound of Music on commercial blue ray disk.

Following this a musical day with an afternoon concert by Tarang, the Indian orchestra, which included an interesting piece which was rather like Beethoven and Vivaldi meet the Pink Panther. On Indian instruments. Then in the evening music of a different nature in Cheadle Hulme with a concert by the Amaretti, pieces for string orchestra.

Our central heating had its usual service in July, then we noticed liquid under the boiler and in August called them back - the two condensate connections had not been made. Apparently fixed. Then in September we noticed liquid under the boiler. Called them back. Different engineer and this time a thorough service which led to the boiler being turned off- the burner had cracked and was unsafe. The liquid loss was due to the condensate plug having been cracked. Fortunate indeed that the second service took place. The burner was rapidly replaced (within 30 hours) and we seem to be OK now, although the next day the boiler did blow itself out when igniting (turn off, then on again).

The Fairground Organ Preservation Society North West ralley was cancelled in 2012 due to the extremely wet weather. In 2013 it is a "Vintage Rally" by Halton Council, which says everything. As the weather was good we went along- two very large organs (one with synthesiser augmentation) both from a holiday venue; six medium organs playing and three not playing -of the nine, two were brought by music arrangers (noteurs), and one had synthesiser augmentation. One tiny organ was playing audibly. And less than a dozen very small hand crank organs which could not be heard at all as they were by the THUMP THUMP THUMP (bass drum) dodgems. Two brass bands played by the VERY NOISY fun fair. Real ale was on sale for the first time BUT it was 3.60 per pint and served in plastic glasses. Given the choice between beer in plastic glasses or no beer, my choice is always no beer.

It looks as though the Council's offer of a free park to put the rally in has been overtaken by keen council competition with other VERY LOUD attractions plus of course a significant lack of funds to move the privately owned organs. The FOPS stall was unmanned and looking very barren. It must be said that the multi-entertainment event was very popular and attracted thousands of people. I did feel very sorry for Halton Ukulele Band who (played?) for an hour, as it was quite impossible to hear them over the multiple highly amplified funfair and event stage speakers. So what we once went to in Heaton Park Manchester (1992) then Urmston and finally Widnes looks like it has reached the end of the line. We were told that the small number of attending organs was typical of events around the country this year.

I learn that in May 2013 I was inducted into the 99ers Hall of Fame- founded in 2004 - the first British person to be so honoured. The published biography about me was not approved and mostly in error, but the honour is real and appreciated. The bio was corrected in 2014.

A lovely organ recital at Rochdale Town Hall on their hundred year old Binns organ by Colin Walsh. A good program of music, and although he is very fond of modern French organ music (having learned from Langlais) he played a mostly English programme. Bought some CDs by him and also Jonathan Scotts recording on the organ. Usual tasty and good value lunch at the Town Hall bistro afterwards- vegetarian shepherdesses pie followed by sponge and custard.

And then life settles down to a quiet retirement with walks to a pub for a drink and just the very rare concert. I have now placed on the internet a listing of the over 200 TI99/4a programs once offered by Stainless Software- after all I am the only one with the records. I have added screen displays where I can find the programs in emulator format (many missing alas) and am now adding the original magazine reviews. Arthritis rears itself in my left knee, sometimes making stairs difficult, and an early sign that my footballing and mountain climbing days are over (so I never did either, but Peak District and Welsh hill climbing seem to be negatived).

We have been to a lovely Indian concert on sitar and tabla, with live tambura; and an unusual Military Band concert by Adamsons - only spoiled by a "last night of the proms" second half. How I hate that music! But before that we had what I suspect was a world premier of an interesting new piece (Newton Suite by Dan Price, present in the audience).

First British Telecom withdrew our web pages, then they withdrew our emails. Three times our telephone line has been faulty- when it was on the ground there was no argument, but the other two times they fought hard not to repair it. Then they send us a totally misleading notice about price increases. If you delved deep into the murkier depths of their web site, we find that their proposed price increase would take our bills up more than 26%. (Austerity what austerity? They have to pay double the going rate to drive football from Sky to BT...). And as pensioners in a low interest rate society, our real income is declining. So our natural inertia is overcome and we are driven away to another telecoms supplier- at half the cost.

Music seems to travel in a crowd- another very busy weekend, starting with an astonishing performance by Snehasish Mozumder on his own build mandolin - it has 4 extra "free" strings which add to the tone (bought his CDs of course). Then an organ concert by Nigel Ogden, another organ concert by Trevor Bolshaw (beautiful old Theatre Organ pieces and no hint of a melody from stage musicals or films) and finally a classical organ recital by Elin Rees. Beautiful.

The Hope pub, which is now a regular for us, now has a pinball machine available, on loan with proceeds shared, it is the very rare but highly rated Williams White Water table. Looking just a little bit its age, with springs just a tiny trifle weak, it still plays beautifully and only 30p per game. They also have a video machine which seems to be running concurrent Mame sessions as we have most of the games it has on our PC under Mame. It is odd to play video pinball using a joystick. You cannot use both flippers at once for starters.

Memorabilia at the NEC in November comes again and I don't go this time- I need more than a few hours notice to know who the guests are, they double the cost to pensioners (and ONLY pensioners), their service is deteriorating (hard to believe), and out of many many guests, the ones I know of, I have met - and the others are bulked out with people with one uncredited role and the like. Just one guest I fancied meeting and that does not begin to justify the cost of getting to the NEC and paying their admission charge plus autograph charge. I don't think I'll be giving them my money again, which is a great pity. But they made it personally VERY clear in Spring that they did not want my money.

As Christmas draws closer, a bit of low scale beer drinking- visiting a new pub for us the former Packhorse in Stockport, very nicely refurbished, renamed and with some tasty beers in good condition at very low prices- GBP 2.10 per pint is not expensive for a top notch beer. The music I could have lived without but the killer for us is that the pub has a multitude of large screen football matches at all times, and as it is virtually one room, you can't escape it. Oh well - but we did have two very tasty beers there. Then a revisit to The Crown in Stockport, now selling beer in thirds and we had another couple of very tasty beers. Onwards to the New Oxford in Salford (after a salad sandwich at the Deli Lamah and a donation to their Suspended Soup fund) for two more very nice beers- and confirmation of their beer festival between Christmas and New Year, with 40 beers.

After a few years absence, a welcome return to Stockport Town Hall by our local brass band, The Fairey Band. Bought three CDs, and hugely enjoyed the first half classic piece Penlee, composed by Simon Dobson commemorating a sad event in Cornwall in 1981 when Simon was newborn nearby and in an incubator. Usual two carols for the audience to sing (is this a town hall requirement?). The advertised and traditional band awards did not take place and no announcements were made. Nice brass rendition of Sleighride. A much younger band now than twenty years ago, and a bit more swing to the music, but great brass band playing. I do miss the brass bands who hardly seem to play in this area these days. All those bandstands restored with Millenium funding, unused.

Then the traditional Christmas concert by the Stockport Symphony Orchestra, usual two carols for the audience to sing. Some interesting pieces arranged by the conductor (I found him rather condescending). Symphony orchestra version of Sleighride. And an incredible extra five carols for the audience to sing. More like a church service. Aaaaaaagh. One to avoid next year then.

On then to a lovely afternoon organ recital by Jonathan Scott on the Bridgewater Hall organ. Nice organ version of Sleighride. Several pleasant pieces arranged by Jonathan. Most enjoyable. Then on to a tailor for the first fitting of a new Harris Tweed jacket- a bit loose in the top of the back, easily adjusted. The sleeves might be a quarter inch too long at most but decided to leave it - hard to say how the fabric will ride up in use.

Our telephone service is no longer from former monopoly supplier BT - their greedy 26% price increase in January has driven us away at last. The physical connection has to be from BT Openreach - but WE don't pay BTO, our new supplier does. We can now make a phone call without a set up fee and charged by the second- we have one phone call that cost us one third of one penny. On BT that would have been 19p. We had a small credit balance with BT, for prepaid line rental, which has now been refunded. The final bill included an overcredit of GBP 3, but we are not about to spend several hours talking to BT's Indian call centre about it. I can't understand what they say and they can't understand me! They also have pre-prepared scripts which they cannot deviate from, and which never meet the need you really have... We no longer have the "free" weekend calls that BT offered but still look to be saving a fair amount.

The organist at St Anns in Manchester asked me to record the Festival of Nine Lessons, so that evening was used up. Got a pretty good recording (apart from the readings which I didn't try for), the music on its own is just short of 70 mins. It is always challenging on how to record a complex and noisy situation like that- I ended up with a microphone under the altar and another one behind it. Several carols and some work by the choir too. The Christmas market was packing up just outside the church windows at the time. One German stall holder brought all their stock of German pastries (mostly stollen) to the church on a trolly as a gift.

For Christmas Day we had a turkey/duck/pheasant roast, with a tasty estate bottled Sancerre wine, with an Austrian Beerenauslese from Burgenland for the pudding course.

In Christmas week, our central heating decided to play up. The ignition failed once on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday- then twice Saturday morning and twice Saturday evening- meaning I got up Sunday morning to a very cold house. At least I am able to start the boiler manually- it is a safety feature that is causing it to shut down- the ignition flame sensor (which determines that the gas has actually lit) is not always reporting correctly and the gas is being turned off. We had an engineer in at 9.45pm on the Sunday evening to fix it - very good service. It is a temporary fix- cleaning the sensor and slightly correcting the droop that years in hot flame have produced, but it should last some time. Lower gas pressure in Christmas week meant the initial flame was not big enough to reach the sensor.

The year ends with remarkably stormy weather but Stockport has missed the worst of it.



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