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2015

Holidays return to Bakewell and Harlech. The rail union workers vote for strike action and only need to give seven days notice. Will we go on holiday.Will we come back...

Perfectly good questions as it transpired but not due to strike problems. It is of benefit to look back at our first holiday in Harlech in 2011 and our difficulties getting there. Double that this time! Going out, as soon as we changed trains at Shrewsbury the "delayed" messages started. We got on our train. And waited. Then we had to get off it and move to the train on the other platform. And waited. Then we had to get off that and move over to the opposite platform while they moved the train we had just got off to the new platform. But they didnt and we had to get back on. At Machynlleth the front of the train was due to go on to Aberystwyth while we in the back turned off for Pwllheli - but the front half was cancelled. So we had to get of and move to the front half while the back half was taken off. We finally arrived in Harlech some 80 minutes late.

Jumping forward to our return, checking the previous night I noticed that a number of trains had already been cancelled due to staff shortages. The train after the one we intended to catch was definitely cancelled. The 8.20 train North didn't run, but an out of place train went South at 09.10. So would our 1025 train run? We went to the station and it was on time. No it wasn't. Just as the train was due to arrive the due time was being put back 15 or 20 minutes. This continued for over an hour. Harlech is an unstaffed station but there is an information point. As we could get a local bus to Barmouth where the train company might have laid on replacement transport, we tried the information point.

Mistake. The point made an external phone call. The available evidence which may have been misleading is that the calls from this phone went to another continent where Welsh was not spoken, and Welsh place names unknown. English not too good. And- utter despair- by the time you had identified where you were, the automatic system cut the call just as you might have been receiving information. Three calls and we were no better off. The calls seemed to go to people whose only access to information was just slightly less up to date than public internet pages. To call these assistance points is utterly misleading, they are beyond description. Arriva confirmed later that these "help" points do in fact go to a National Rail call centre. The restricted time on the calls from these points and the restricted information held in India renders them useless. Arriva recommended calling their own customer services by phone.

There had been a signalling failure at Pwllheli, followed by a problem with the trackside axle counters. The times given on the station display were at best optimistic estimates, but more likely due to aggressive mismanagement. Our train finally departed 70 minutes late and we duly arrived home 70 minutes late. So much for German railway timekeeping- Arriva is owned by DB. The National Conditions of Carriage call for a compensation payment of 20% if your journey is delayed by over an hour, paid by vouchers, but the train operator, sometimes pays more than that. We applied for compensation and received rail vouchers to the full value of our return fares (and National Rail also added a little bit extra, for the fabled "over 100%" compensation!). We have 12 months to use them!

Update- no lessons learned, no changes, peoples lives in danger due to this outsourcing- in 2016 a young family at a REALLY remote station in East Anglia found no trains arriving while the foreign gentleman at the other end of the information point happily advised them that their train had just left on time and was of no use to them at all (trains were on diversion due to a track failure). In the end, isolated with a baby, no shelter, no information, no trains, no road access, and out of liquids they called the police. In turn, they called the lifeboat (no road access) who rescued the family. National Rail help points? Not any help at all and potentially life threatening by their lack. National Rail is an unincorporated association of all the UK Train operating companies, not to be confused with the track owner, Network Rail.

Having at last arrived in Harlech there really wasn't much new to see. The tourist information office was permanently closed. The post office closed while we were there (and moved to a spar store). The ugly buildings remained with plans to demolish them and rebuild IF someone would provide the funds. No more films at the cinema and almost nothing at the theatre which was decaying badly. Food supply still rather poor, fresh veg seemed to arrive on Friday and only the older veg was left by Monday! So we had to put up with low nutrition convenience "meals"- which is probably why we put weight on in 2011 despite our exercise! After our last visit this time we took along four packs of vegetable curry for George so that he didn't have to eat cheese every meal- locally bought pre-cooked rice and frozen veg bulked it out.

The local artisan ice cream maker may also have played a part in our weight gain. This year the flavours we tried were gooseberry, damson (both very nice), elderflower, rhubarb (both rather subtle) and dragon fruit (my favourite). I also bought some ancient crime books by Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace, and a comedic novel by H F Ellis from a local antique shop.

We have no digital tv receiver at home and our holidays are a way to check that tv output has not suddenly improved- this year we found two programs to watch. Dragons:Riders of Berk, which is available on budget dvd (now bought) and the new Clangers- a continuation rather than a reboot. Now aimed at a younger audience the stories are a little simpler and softer but almost as though the series had never stopped. Better budget and better quality now. And still hand animated woollen creatures, not CGI. Nice. DVD release before the end of the year. There really is no need to watch "broadcast tv".

We returned to the private garden we visited in 2011. This suffered some damage by way of fallen trees in the great storm of February 2013 but the sole gardener had made good progress in putting things back in place. We walked up and down Harlech beach (and I was bitten by sand flies/fleas) and walked the Welsh Coast Path from Pensarn to Tygwyn. We saw five different orchid species in the dunes. We found the outdoor (now disused) Scottish Baptist baptism tank alongside a road up from the town. We found five closed chapels and three disused chapel cemetaries.

Our walk to Tygwyn was enjoyable, although there was some indication of energetic interference with the Coast Path waymarks at Ynys (which translates as Island- which once upon a time it was) and due to the lowering clouds that is where we left the coast path. We did discover a beautiful lost valley with no roads or habitations in sight and apparently not a lot of visitors (we saw no litter). In view of the damage to the local path waymarks it was not too surprising to find that Ynys church was securely locked up. Despite its foundation before Harlech Castle, it seems to have been significantly rebuilt in Victorian times. If there is anything ancient left inside, it is private and secret.

In our coastal walk we visited two tiny railway stations,Llandanwg and Tygwyn, so small only one door of the train could be used, and we flagged down the train at two request stations- Pensarn and Tygwyn. We would like to have used a local bus service, but that is no better than the local trains, and I see no reason why a Barmouth to Harlech bus should arrive at Harlech station at the same time as the train.

The castle, which still cannot afford to open up its coastal entrance, has been spending an immense amount of money (I saw a figure of six million!!!) in removing the old wooden stair entrance and putting in place an enormous ultra modern steel structure, with colour changing LED illumination, and modifying an historic stone built hotel nearby into an ultra modern glass and steel castle shop. It is claimed that Harlech Castle is a World Heritage Site. Unbeleivable. Clearly that status has zero meaning. No attempt to be appropriate to the adjacent ancient castle. But not a penny of funds for the community cinema.

We were very impressed with the community spirit, with a community run swimming baths, climbing wall, cemetary, and negotiated free access to local residents to the castle. The high street shops were worried about possible closure of the only bank in town (open two hours a day) and had agreed to accept only cash, to encourage visitors to use the bank's ATM. Our expenditure was so low we didn't need to use it. There was local concern over the much deferred reopening of a road bridge to the North, closed now for some 20 months, where no major closure was originally intended- but rather poor (or lack of) engineering and surveying skills have resulted in a very substandard result at huge cost overrun and significant problems to local transport.

The weather was much as forecast, mostly gloomy, with one splendid sunny day. The rain only kept us indoors for one morning. We were much impressed by a large Welsh dragon sculpture ("Dewi") in a local caravan park, quite splendid.

We visited a 5th Century church, with sand dunes looming on either side. The roof and gallery had collapsed some years ago but the roof was replaced. The old church has now become fashionable for weddings. The ancient church had a number of gravestones going back to the 5th Century- the oldest stone from the 5th Century is thought to be from Ireland (Wicklow).

From the tiny railway halt at Llandanwg you could see two airplane hangars at Llanbedr- the day before we arrived two planes had flown through one hangar, to make a world first of two planes in formation flying through a building! About 15 metres headroom, ten metres each side, quite a long hangar, and flying at 185mph. Well photographed by multiple cameras.

One evening we visited the 1840 replacement of the ancient church, more usefully located actually in the village, for an organ recital by Charles Jones from Llandudno. The organ was a third hand Father (Henry) Willis two manual tracker organ. Before 1888 possibly from 1850. Very pleasant.


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Bakewell- in the wettest and coldest August! We actually managed to complete a 3.7 mile walk (former railway line, Monsal Trail, to Hassop, then return via the White to Dark path), which is terrible for a week away. Another day a planned walk to Matlock had to be curtailed in the rain at Darley. But we did see the Darley Yew, with a circumference of 32 feet possibly up to two thousand years old- certainly older than the first recorded church on the site. The current church was of course locked, but looked to have been much altered in Victorian and modern times.

At Darley we found "Whitworth Park"- we already knew Whitworth Park (and Whitworth Street and Whitworth Art Gallery and so on... ) in Manchester, and here in Darley we found the burial place of the man who gave us the BSW screw thread (British Standard Whitworth). America got the Whitworth Sharpshooter. Unfortunately by the side of the park we found the local council had applied to itself for planning permission to run a three metre wide tarmac track around the park lake, an absolutely rotten thing to do. Apparently to keep bike riders happy.

Also at Darley we found a railway station on Peak Rail, a very short stretch of line (four miles from end to end) from Matlock which once upon a time went all the way North to Manchester but now terminates South of Rowsley. The Northbound station buildings are listed but unmaintained (and locked- but we did get a quick tour inside) and unlikely to last many more years. There is NO shelter from the rain Northbound, should you wish to pay eight quid to go the few minutes ride from Darley to South Rowsley. Yes- like so many preserved lines, this little line has a standard fare which is the same if you ride on every train all day (on this line four or five short return trips) or just want to go from one station to the next. The Southbound buildings are in better condition and have some museum displays. The local council were planning a bike track -ungated, unfenced and unmanned- across the railway, and an unfenced track along the railway alignment- a stupid thing to do.

We saw a fine horse drawn carriage- apparently there is a fairly secret carriage museum in the vicinity we have still to find.

With a modern emphasis on nothing but one service a week, and that always a communion service, it follows that the ancient cruciform church with the communion table at the far East end, is not too well suited and Bakewell Parish church has followed the trend in erecting a nave platform with a nave communion table- unfortunately in a light wood. This change may be more suited to current worship methods and satisfy the theatrical priest who enjoys standing behind the table, but throws the older buildings out of balance. At least Bakewell still had its pews rather than the noisy separate chairs so many churches are now moving to.

We have always seen the river in Bakewell full of trout, rainbow and river, and this year for the first time saw illegal poaching right in the centre of town in daylight- two different people, both fully aware and ready for a very quick exit. This is the stretch of river where people stand by a sign asking them not to throw bread at the ducks - and throw bread to the ducks, geese, and seagulls.

Bakewell is a market town (Monday) with a lovely busy and thriving outdoors traditional market. At the market we bought some key covers, I bought a bandana (neckerchief) and we bought some lovely mirabelles (small orange plums used for eau-de-vie) and bambinellas (tiny pears from Malta, grown in Kent for Marks and Spencer). Cathy bought a handbag, and from a nearby kitchen shop we bought some knife covers.

Bakewell has a daily peak for visitors from 12 noon to 4pm. Not easy finding somewhere for lunch (crowded)! After 4pm the town dies, and finding an evening meal is difficult (town closed) - but we did find some nice places. It is only two years since our last visit but it seems only one place has not changed hands! Unfortunately the artisan ice cream shop has gone - and I was not at all impressed with the Swiss ice cream shop that has opened. Swiss ice cream? It looked very American style (lots of colour and toffee and caramel...).

The Byways Tea Room has changed hands and is no longer an art shop as well. The new owner is changing the menu, so the headline Bakewell Pudding was off, the traditional cakes are being replaced by super rich sugary cakes, but we did have a couple of nice lunches there. Of the two Indian restaurants we enjoyed in 2010, both have changed hands- one has become something of a legend for its hot curries, with even a korma reported to be inedible! so we avoided that. Borivli which was closed in 2013 has become Urban Spoon, with an enjoyable range of street food as starters. Unusually the main dishes included all the extras (rice and/or bread etc). The staff were attentive and helpful, the food tasty and the Vegetable Biryani exceptionally full of subtle flavours. One starter, one main and one desert were just right-and the deserts are true Indian dishes. The menu did had several Thalli dishes, and although there was no vegetable Thali listed the chef made three different ones for us- and they defeated us in terms of sheer quantity! One to return to (if it doesn't change hands again...).

The former chip shop under Borivli seems to have become a Mexican food outlet and by the time of our visit this had already closed- so a closed chip shop in 2013 and a closed Mexican in 2015. Not a great record for this location. Nearby the excellent whisky shop The Wee Dram was still trading with many excellent bottles on offer.

Made in Bakewell is a well hidden tea room in the back of a hidden antique shop beyond a hotel car park, many items on the menu have been deleted by marker pen! but we enjoyed a nice cup of tea there. Ricci's, an Italian food establishment we used in 2013 is still in the same hands, and has progressed to places no other Italian cafe has been- they list about ten vegetarian pizzas, and have developed their own vegetarian "bolognaise" pizza topping as a variant on the usual simple tomato. And- they will make pizza with NO cheese!!! As cooked cheese (except paneer and halloumi) does bad things to me, this meant that I was able to have pizza for the first time ever! Two days running.

As You Like It is another little cafe, not easily found, with a splendid art and craft gallery, with this year on a couple of evenings a week an early tapas offering, which we enjoyed, very tasty.

For the third or fourth time we went to the vegetarian eatery at Rowsley mill- and I regretted it this time. Not sure if they have changed hands or just chef, but the menu was really poor. There was a faded Vegan Society sticker in the window but this year no vegan food marked on the menu. It is almost a joke that the "vegetarian option" at "normal" restaurants will be cheesy. Nearly always. At a vegetarian restaurant you expect much greater imagination and choice. Not this year at Rowsley. If you didn't want cheese you had a choice of soup and a roll (with butter); peanut balls; or a salad with houmous (with a roll and butter). All else had cheese. Unimaginative and unreasonably restricted. A very poor advert for a vegetarian diet. Perhaps a beef farmer owns it now?

Meanwhile two supermarkets are looking to build next to each other on an out of Bakewell town site, and another supermarkter is planned for a closed pub in Rowsley. Not likely to do the local shops a lot of good. Anyone who knows the general English CoOp Food offering could be surprised at the range and quality of the Bakewell store, but it is independent from The Co-operative Group. The Bakewell store is operated by Central England CoOP, formed by what used to be Midlands and East Anglia CoOps. Unlike the generic co-op group, the Bakewell CoOp still shares its profits with members, by means of discounts to members only on CoOp branded goods. Now why does our local Manchester coop sell overpriced poor quality food at "three for the price of one" wasteful offers of limited life food, with no discounts or dividends!

Our holiday got off to a good start as the day drew to an end and it got dark outside- the lights went out. All over Bakewell! There was a thunderstorm on at the time, and the lights were back on - after a few false starts- in about half an hour. No problems travelling with this holiday as we went by bus.


Not holidays:
Not so many ordinary cinemas have a screen over 45 feet wide these days, so we did enjoy watching the old film 2001 at the Plaza in January. Unfortunately what isn't available are 70mm film projectors and six track surround sound (six discrete tracks). The film is now digital, permanently lacking the sharp detail Kubrick worked so hard for and in mere stereo. This is like replacing the Mona Lisa with a computer screen grab, a distinct lack of care and appreciation but that is the way our culture is these days. At least we saw the film on a reasonable sized screen which is what it requires, even if sharpness was compromised. We were told we could not sit in the circle (best place for films) due to problems with the sound. Possibly but see later problems!

The usual January appalling weather kept us more or less indoors, but we did venture out for a beer festival in Manchester, possibly one of the better ones we have been to, with a very wide range of beers covering every possible taste, and we were able to taste some really new ones. We started with Limestone Cowboy from Cwrw Lal, based in Mold (about four miles South of the town centre), possibly one of the best beers we had on the day, out of some excellent beers. From there to a low ABV beer, Hard Knott Juxta, then a strange sour beer from Wild Beer (Wild Goose Chase) a farmhouse beer made with wild yeast which once adjusted for was very pleasant.
Pilot Ultra Violet - violet flavoured- was also very pleasant once adjusted to. More regular was a dry hopped best bitter beer from Moor- Raw, which differed from the run of the mill in being unfined, and quite a bit tastier for that. Out There Star Child was a Saison beer (see how many types we tried!) with fennel, and Celt/Wiper and True, a sour mashed rhubarb beer Rhubeer which was very tart. We also bought a bottle of Italian Gose beer (Brewfist/De Molen Beautiful and Strange) again with a tartness to it. Gose is top fermented malted wheat beer with lactic acid bacteria and salt, in this case with bergamot and marmalade orange. Gose has nearly vanished several times and owes its continuation to the splitting of Germany after the war when it continued in Leipzig.
We also tasted a smooth/rich bretted Imperial Buckwheat Stout from Stockport based Quantum. Excellent range, not too busy, good service.

And home to enjoy a supper of Hotel Chocolat St Lucia chocolate, 78% cocoa and bursting with flavours and aroma. Delightful.

Just a handful of concerts at the start of the year for us- a lunchtime Wurlitzer concert, a couple of church organ concerts, and a delightful concert by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra, many we missed due to the weather being so awful. Many of our previously regular outings have now ceased- the pub we had lunch at has stopped serving food, the organist we went to see play has not been playing, we no longer exchange house visits with friends due to loss, quite an upheaval. A very pleasant if short concert of music at the RNCM, a very rarely played (or recorded) Spohr Opus 32 Octet, a lovely piece that should be played more often- violin, two violas, cello, double bass, two natural horns and a clarinet.

Hello, I'm officially a pensioner, my works pension is reduced (complex pension rules apply) and I get a state pension - now we just need the tax folks to catch up, I have five times tried to tell them (two phone calls and three letters) but apparently their bureaucracy is incapable of handling such complexities as an untaxed but taxable state pension. Cathy had similar problems five years ago but now austerity has made it far worse. If nothing still happens I'll write to them again in a few months. This could go on for many years. Fortunately my pension provider also made an error so for 2014-15 I actually owe tax otherwise I would have had to ask for a refund.

A pleasant wind quartet concert at St Anns. Enjoyed a street musician playing the mbira (thumb piano)- one in a calabash resonator with bottle top extras. This was Bjorn (Wembada) whose music I so liked I bought his one single CD - I ownder how many people have a CD of mbira music? How many know what an mbira is? Bjorn is associated with another player of African music, Jali, who plays the Kora, sometimes as a duet with another kora player, and sometimes as a duet with a Western instrument such as a saxophone or violin - we have very interesting street musicians around here, dotted amongst the fairly awful and often very heavily amplified ones.

Our local parish church has a presentation of its history to celebrate being 250 years old. Posters on the walls with words that look very familiar (I wrote them in 1979) and the talk is based upon my book of church history. The local archives have been talked into lending the church their original historic documents, some 250 years old. Old documents are handled multiple times without cotton gloves. I don't get a mention, wasn't told (officially!) of the event..., the congregation at least is friendly. I meet Robert Nicholls, author of a very fine history (in two books) of the Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens (zoo, amusement park, circus, speedway, brass band contests, discotek and lots lots more).

Two more films, older ones, at the Plaza- the remarkable THE GHOUL from 1934, only discovered in 1984 (formerly "lost") and in pristine condition with as new sound and image. And the 1956 "Invasion of the bodysnatchers" in its original 1956 format, which the studio had amended by cutting off the picture top and bottom and adding bookends at the start and finish - and with the BBFC 1956 cuts intact. Some of the film was shot in Bronson Canyon / Cave, and also Griffith Park - well known film locations which were used in original Star Trek - appropriate on the day that Leonard Nimoy departed this world. The evening ended with the 1950's filmed National Anthem, which nobody seemed to recognise. At last we got to see the new seating the Plaza has in the circle, very smart. This was after we were told the circle was open and went upstairs to stand by the sign that said "wait for staff". Then told circle was closed so downstairs. Then just before the films started we could go back to the circle. Hmmm. See later!

A quite remarkable violin recital by Charlotte Rowan at Manchester Cathedral, excellent. She has some good official videos on youtube. Although this was a Cathedral "coffee and cake" event, after seeing the cakes we left immediately after the music and went for a curry. I am a conservative traditionalist for cakes and some modern things, heaving with sugar and fats (and very likely salt), and often poisonous colouring, should not carry that name.

Off to Ashton in the rain for an organ recital on the splendid Lewis organ - although they are looking for 250,000 for renewal work on the organ, it sounded in fine form. The church was a shock, full of scaffolding and damp after losing a lot of roof lead at Christmas 2014, with lots of damage to the slates too. Fortunately although the electrics were at major risk (and rewiring is in progress now) the organ was not damaged- a deluge of rain can severely injure an organ. The organist was Stephen Carleston, who played amongst other works a nice little Allegretto (Op 1, 1894) by Vierne.

Another pair of films at the Plaza by Jessie Matthews. The box office is in another building and have no idea if the circle is open or not. At the Plaza - after buying our tickets next door- we were clearly told circle was closed and had to sit downstairs- not a good place to crane up to see the screen, quite painful. And we did see that people were sitting in the circle. Not many in and as they can't be bothered opening the best seats for watching films we probably won't go again either. The films - on real film, not digital- were delightful. Gangway and Evergreen. But spoiled by really poor venue management.

Next day back in to the Plaza for an Organ Coffee Morning, in theory to listen to the historic and beautiful Compton theatre organ, but alas, the morning was entirely spoiled by the presentation of a volunteer tuneless shouter much overamplified. These once regular fund raisers have really tailed off in the last couple of years and I really doubt if we shall be going to these again either. The volume on films and the organ is fine. The work on the building to restore it to 1932 glory is excellent but the sound system for live music and shows is far too loud, and management seems of unbeleivably low quality. A remarkable number of shows are (or should be) adult rated so not to my taste. The management and staff have no interest in my custom.

Some minor cracks visible in inside walls at home, but not structural walls, so some minor repair work and patching the decorating to put that right. The plaster is now over a hundred years old and drying out a bit with the modern central heating, but not a real problem.

Speaking of heating- ongoing problems. The air/gas fan stopped very early on in the year, and was replaced, but the boiler continued to lock out, even after the ionisation sensors were replaced, and later then after the ignition board was replaced- after a week of freezing weather and little heating we had another engineer call who spotted the boiler seal had failed, spouting moist fumes into the middle chamber - which had caused the fan to fail. And a hairline crack in the condensate trap was leaking more moisture. The trap was fairly easily replaced but the seal- supposed to be easy- was much harder as the leak had concreted in the holding bolt. We had heating now the trap was replaced, so left it a month for warmer weather in case the boiler had to be taken away for the bolt to be drilled out. As it happens the bolt came off on second try so the seal could be replaced- but revealed serious corrosion of the combustion chamber. This was sealed with a high temperature silicon with little hope of it lasting too long, and we have a working boiler again. Fun.

A very enjoyable concert by the Scott Brothers Duo at Stockport Town Hall with a duet on Wurlitzer organ and Steinway grand piano. And a rare but most enjoyable bansuri recital in Manchester. I think I prefer the wooden flute to the metal form, it seems to have a richer tone- I bought three CD's by the musician. Several other concerts including a sitar recital, organ recitals,

A trip to the annual beer festival at New Mills got off to a rocky start as the rooms were virtually black with almost no lighting- we took our glass outside before having beer put into it and found it was entirely unwashed. Glass replaced. None of the beers really took our fancy.

We play our part in the economy- our six year old plastic kettle is falling apart with the plastic reforming into plastic granules, so a new one is required. This uses a higher wattage but takes far less water so we are probably saving electric. Then our analogue tv set (at least 17 years old) has a picture getting darker and darker, suggesting the tube is failing. Finding a new analogue tv in a digital age (we only want to watch DVDs not watch broadcast tv) is quite hard but we found one for just ten pounds.

I must be getting old- I quite liked the 2015 UK entry for Eurovision and some of the other countries weren't too bad. We have the DVD "Il etait une fois - la vie" whose theme is sung by the only Belgian Eurovision winner! Which leads me to discover that Eurovision has a second song festival that the UK does not compete it. The Belgian winner so long ago was 13- then they introduced a minimum age. So now we have a Junior Eurovision. With all the same production values. Just a tiny bit suspect.

BBC tv channel BBC4 has a series of "slow tv" programs, and one in particular took my fancy- "All Aboard! for a canal trip" was a two hour journey at 4mph down the Kennet-Avon canal, no commentary, no music. If that sort of programming spreads I might buy a digital tuner and a tv licence. Very unlikely.

My sons bed- also about 17 years old- finally collapses and we bought a new one, made only a couple of miles away. The old Silentnight bed had a top rail just 2 inches by 3/4 of an inch and only four lathes to take the mattress weight. The new one has a three inch top rail, and five lathes. Our oldest PC power supply fails explosively, we order a new one from Amazon and it quickly arrives but is totally dead (returned and refund given) so we have to salvage an old power supply from an older PC. And even more local spending as we have a watercolour by Cathy's maternal grandfather reframed, followed by a watercolour by Cathy's paternal great great grandmother reframed- professionally framed at over a hundred pounds a go.

Back to the Buxton Brass Contest, this year it falls in the same weekend as a bank holiday, which has caused problems in the past and again this year, with just 20 bands taking part. We are able to hear them all, and had no difficulty in placing the first and last bands in fourth section. By the luck of the draw the first piece played after the National Anthem was the first ever National test piece, Labour and Love by Fletcher. The band that played it have only quite recently returned to competitive banding, and were placed 2nd. As usual we much more enjoyed the lower section bands and did not miss the second section which was omitted due to only one entrant. We drank three litres of Buxton water for free...

A visit to Manchester Central Library after its long closure and refurbishment- and the destruction of a quarter of a million books. Lots of questionable activity by the City council and the local police. The new media centre where you can use a PS4 or an X-Box, in what used to be the town hall nursery in the Town Hall extension, had all its external doors marked "Closed for maintenance"- one had a sign to use the central library door. A council spokeman speaking to the local paper was more forthcoming and confirmed this was not true, all doors except the main central ibrary door were closed to keep out people they didn't want in. The only door in use, to the main building, was closely guarded by two police officers, who were, to be as fair as possible, intimidating - as they were intended to be. These officers were refusing access to anyone they didn't like the look of (with absolutely no legal reason) - or anyone who spoke to people they didn't like the look of. And using the main door to access the new media centre instead of the media centre doors, involved stairs down and up- no wheelchair access. Did I mention that Manchester Council is "Labour" run?? And has permanantly closed a public passage way between the library and the town hall extension - sort of legally, it was blocked long before closure was permitted despite protests (they say it will be open at daylight hours).

In the same vein a McDonalds nearby very recently reportedly refused to serve a burger to a customer who had the cash- the food server refused and called the manager who refused- they thought the customer looked homeless (he wasn't). The SAME store reportedly repeated this behaviour a week later (after the newspaper story) and I read of a similar treatment by one of the company's stores in France. Hardly a local misunderstanding and much more company policy. The store chain is American owned. The new most serious crime in modern Conservative Britain, where the police record "no crime" for many rapes and assaults.

A father previously ordered by the Court not to contact his wife or children is fined for allowing the wife to take the children on holiday in school term time- and he lost his appeal. Ho hum.

And a hungry homeless penniless person with no income (due to having their benefits cancelled completely) is taken to court for stealing 75p of chocolate, and fined 370 pounds (it would have been more if she had pled not guilty!), most of which is obligatory court costs (the magistrate could not avoid them), introduced by our Conservative government this year. Britain is surreal.

One formerly low income person had become homeless after facing the increased costs of the bedroom tax, become unwell, missed a benefits meeting due to ill health, been automatically sanctioned so that he had no income, been evicted for not keeping up to date with rent... caring Britain, we are all in it together...

Back to the library- not at all impressed. The library is no longer what I would call a library. The old City library now exists in the basement where the old theatre used to be (now thrown out) and includes a group study room, and a childrens library. Fully a quarter of the round building library floor space is occupied by very large brand new lifts and stairs - the old stairs and lift remain for staff use only. The domed central section is now only a reading room, no books at all, just a collection of old magazines (Womans Own, Amateur Photographer, National Geographic...). What was the surrounding reference section is now on the 4th floor hidden away in sliding bookcases which allow only a handful of people to browse at once- with the books in somewhat random order with massive gaps in coverage. The music library has moved from the somewhat inadequate prior upper room to the former reference section surrounding the domed room and more music and books are available - as are musical instruments to play and a DJ scratch desk. Floors two and three are largely none-public with meeting rooms, venues, etc etc. And the main ground floor is full of cafe, performance space, film pods (to go and watch films!) and genealogy and archive sections.

As Stockport library has also previously been reorganised and lost most of its reference section, with the closure of a large reference room, it looks as though any reference book not on the internet is now lost to researchers. This includes a number of rare or unique works, not all of them historical. Recall that books are not freely available for the internet until the author has been dead 70 years!.

We have a national election and with the demise (again) of the Liberals who went into coalition (will they never learn!) and the "Labour" party, demolished from within by shadow cabinet ministers who were actively against their leaders beliefs (and who consequently never explained to the electorate why they should bother voting for them)- we have effectively a one party state (well, two, as Scotland went its own way).

The "new kids" Left Unity put up ten candidates and obtained a massive total of 775 votes, many less than the Monster Raving Loony Party - but Left Unity election material was full of left wing jargon which folk took as the devils talk. Left Unity never applied the left wing philosophy to ordinary peoples lives and never explained clearly and simply and relevantly why they thought it good for everyone, including entrepeneurs.

Good politics requires a philosophy, enthusiastically held, and an ability to communicate. We instead have ministers with bees in their bonnets who make up policy on a passing whim, nothing thought out, no long term philosophy, just a need to put forward any words that will get them elected and noses in the gravy bowl. Truth is an unknown concept. Not a thought for long term national interests or the ordinary people. And a parliament which will always vote in favour of ministers policies with no real oversight. With public sector workers having no pay rises at all for several years the immediate ten per cent pay rise for MPs was not too subtle. Commercial Executives continue to give themselves totally immoral pay rises while paying their workers minimum wage. Fun.

I really (don't) like the latest government idea that they be able to nominate people who no government department or agency will communicate with- very Orwellian. Of course they also intend to revoke their adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK only signed up to in 1998. We don't seem to actually recognise ANY of the "rights" so being signed up was only a start anyway. (Is this why HMRC are refusing to answer my letters about income tax??). With a new government policy of assassinating British nationals overseas they consider to be "a risk", without judicial process, it is interesting that our Prime Minister describes the leader of the Opposition as a "threat to National Security". So that is one British politician who needs to watch his back then (risk of assassination by government).

Wow. That's far too much politics. I don't seem to be in tune with our current times do I. On to other matters.

Our three years old HP Ink Jet printer stopped printing black. We did the recommended cleaning cycle, it still failed to print black. As recommended, we changed the ink cartridge (what a waste...) and still blank. HP advice at this stage is to buy a new printer. We took Internet advice and rinsed the print head under warm water, dried it, and our printer now works perfectly as always. Then our 15 year old Epson ink jet stopped working- we have had problems getting ink for it for a while. It was not a mechanical fault but rather a failure of the logic. Switching from parallel cable to usb cable and it works again. Our 32 year old Epson dot matrix printer still works (very slowly!).

Two hours wasted- we went to Cheadle Hulme for a concert by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra. We have in the past enjoyed their music. For this one a poster on the entry door told us something that their web site had neglected to mention- there were several sopranos taking part, something we utterly dislike, so home we came. And as they now join the ranks of unreliable soprano lovers who fail to mention soprano appearances, we shall not be going to any more of their concerts. There are far too many music makers adding soprano (or-shudder mezzo-s) vocalists for our taste, and the failure to mention it on advertising is not acceptable.

Lovely classical guitar concert- and bought a CD from the musician- I keep buying CDs and not one of them from the major distributors who make such noise about copyright. I find so many creators who have little to benefit from copyright protection agencies and so much to lose from the big publishers that they stick to self-publishing.

A lovely organ recital at Rochdale Town Hall by an organist who had asked to come and play- all the way from Bach's old church in Leipzig. Our journey there was disrupted by signal problems, taking 43 minutes instead of 12 minutes for that portion of the journey (Manchester-Rochdale) but STILL faster by train than catching the tram- my approach to travel is always to allow ample leeway (hard experience) so we were in time for the concert.

A huge disappointment after the concert however. Rochdale town like almost every other place only has food to eat if you like grease, chips, cheese, or possibly chicken and mayo. If your choice is towards meat pie or salad sandwiches, and you want vegetables please, you go hungry or take your own. Originally we took our butties but found that lunch was served in the town hall after the concert, and was quite a tasty meat pie and veg and steamed sponge pudding with custard- good stuff. This year I find that NOTHING on offer in the Town Hall Bistro is edible by me - and Cathy had paid four pounds 50p for me to have a couple of cups of tea. A choice of liquid cheese (quiche) or liquid cheese and milk (lasagne) is not much choice. The "sweet" was a tiny scone with several inches of catering cream and catering jam. No more Rochdale Town Hall meals for me, for future concerts we will take butties or not attend.

One evening, indoors with the windows all shut, I was disturbed by loud throbbing pop music. At first I thought it was from a local fairground, but it wasn't the right sort of music. I discovered that it was an open air concert, being held five and a half miles away. The local council for the venue insisted the sound levels were within specifications. Modern amplification is not merely far too loud, but positively dangerous and damaging. If it disturbed me indoors and more than five miles away, what about the audience?

Really bad weather here kept us indoors for many days but we braved the elements for Whit Friday, despite forecasts of rain (which didn't happen). On the day before our local championship band could be heard rehearsing from our garden- we usually don't hear them but they needed to practise their marching. This year they had a BBC TV team with them capturing the rehearsals and the contest, due to be aired in September? We don't get to see them as they only play in the Saddleworth area- we have seen them a couple of times in the Ashton area, once they beat the usual winners!

On the day we had a lovely Indian vegetarian meal in Ashton, then on to Dukinfield where the first band as is often the case was Fodens, who repeatedly win the Tameside area contest and did so this year again. We heard 36 bands out of 37 who played (last bus to catch home), matching the number we heard in 2013, although this year there were several long intervals with no bands- plenty of room for more bands. The pub had a new landlord who had introduced some rather pleasant meals and added a second hand pump, but for outside drinking the beer was in plastic glasses so again we stuck to soda, this time with a drop of lime. The weather was COLD possibly down to 5 or 6 C, and we were quite perished.

The eleven Tameside venues had between 34 and 46 bands each from a total of 76 bands- Dukinfield has dropped from the busiest Tameside venue (53 bands in 2010) to 2nd from the bottom. One Tameside venue who had the most bands on the day, cheated a bit and advertised massive prize money but on the day the top prize had been reduced from the prior GBP 1000 to GBP 500, only just above the Dukinfield top prize of GBP 400.

While the Saddleworth area receives good sponsorship and support from Oldham Council, in Tameside matters are much more precarious. The first contest seems to have started in Tameside, but after WW1 Saddleworth was left to carry the torch until just under 20 years ago when the contests resumed in Ashton. A decade ago there were three other brass band contests in Tameside, now there is just the Whit Friday and very little Council support leaving the Whit Friday finances at risk. There is no admittance charge to the public and each band pays only a very tiny registration fee at each venue so solid dependable sponsorship is needed to provide the prize money.

The Whit Friday contests remain as they started, quite ad hoc, and a group of musicians can get together in the pub at lunchtime and decide to enter the contest at a venue or two, just for fun. There is no pre-registration, and the lowliest band plays in between championship bands. The Saddleworth area had one band dressed and made-up as that strange modern craze, zombies.

This year we had three hours of free music spread over six hours, from 36 bands (8 of them new to us) playing 19 tunes (four of them new to us). The new bands included a first for Tameside- an Army band, from the Kings Division, very smart and snappy playing. One other notable band that was new to us was the City of Chester, not far away but we have not come across them before.

Fodens, winners at Tameside, won over GBP 6000 on the day in total. This compares to the prizes in the other area, Saddleworth, where the top three bands won approx GBP 7500, 5000, and 5000 - some evenly matched bands and a variety of results. The top two bands COULD have won GBP 6500 and 6000 but for a disqualification of what would have been the top band at their last venue of the evening. (Unfortunate, the same band was also disqualified just two months earlier from their Regional competition. Despite their world ranking of No 2, they seem to be gathering a reputation - justly or not- for disregarding contest rules! In one case an oversight of not knowing if a player was registered (bands responsibility), in the other, a belief the booking in desk was authorised to disapply the contest rules).

The band disqualified at their final Saddleworth venue does not rank very highly with us however- some years ago we paid to go to a commercial concert they had, and we had to walk out very early on. The band were enjoying themselves being photographed by two commercial photographers walking around the band as it played (not at all well) using extremely bright multi-strobe flash pointed at the audience. Another family left with us for the same reason. We got no refund and no apology. We will never pay to go to see that band ever again. The attitude then seemed to be one of total arrogance. We have also stopped paying to go to the venue where this happened.

With a very dramatic finish to the evening, our local champions, Fairey, won the Saddleworth Area contest which should make for a good tv program. The Saddleworth area had a total of 126 bands rushing around their 10.5 venues (one venue is only for lower section bands). In Saddleworth the venues varied from 38 to 76 bands. But the venue with 76 bands took its last registration at 10.30pm and the bands only finished at 1am. That's a long wait! And as one band discovered, if you weren't there when your turn came, you could not win.

The Fairey band are due to play in Stockport in the following week but the organisers (not the Fairey band) are doing a very poor job of it and tickets seem not to be on accessible offer. They have also announced two days before that they have not sold many tickets. Two emails to their given email address remain unanswered. Ho hum. It was to be a charity brass band recital- and the last one (by a different band) at the venue we tried to go to we got to the door and found nobody at home, it had been cancelled. So we won't be risking it this time. If they give an email address for tickets and then don't respond, they are not sufficiently reliable.

An unusual visit to a Saturday Choral Evensong service in Manchester, to celebrate the retiring organist Canon Frost, with a short concert following. Sometimes when people retire their manager goes back over their records and refreshes their memory of funny moments- here the Choir sang a collection of bon mots very effectively.

In WW2 Manchester Cathedral took some damage, and it was in need of a new organ but did not have a lot of money, so a large temporary organ was installed with the pipework on the sides of the choir - and an early application of woofer technology, the deepest sounding pipes were placed behind the alter in a side chapel (bass notes are less directional). The distance from the organ to the pipes was quite varied and the delays were not enjoyed by the organists. At last in 2015 funds become available, and the old post war organ is to be dismantled, so there is a short series of farewell concerts some of which we attend. The new organ is to be placed in a rood-loft position, with direct mechanical action (tracker organ), but may take a little while to install.

A religious day with three church visits- starting at Manchester Cathedral for a classical guitar recital. The first half of traditional music was fine but the second half of 20th C music was not so easy- there IS lots of lovely 20th and 21st Century music, but many musicians seem happiest when playing the most difficult music to listen to and calling it contemporary as if there was nothing better.

Whilst there we finally found the "Cathedral Visitor Centre" facing away from the Cathedral in a side street - a small room with a sofa and a soft chair. Hmm. However we did go downstairs to take a look at Hanging Bridge. Some years back this part of Manchester was called Hanging Ditch (a stream somewhat higher than the nearby river, which it ran into). This was quite a deep ditch between the Cathedral and the Town, spanned by a pedestrian bridge. Over the years the ditch became filled and even the bridge was buried and lost. Rediscovered then lost again. Then found again and now preserved but you have to go to the basement of a modern building to see the two arches of the bridge, dated to 1421.

Then an afternoon visit to St Mary and St Mina, our local Egyptian Coptic church, for a talk, some Egyptian (vegetarian) snacks and a performance by the church choir in English, Arabic and Coptic. Interesting to be in a church with relics of St George. The tri-language service book had prayers mentioning George ("my lord, George") and Stephen (first martyr). Priests and church members all very friendly and some travelling quite some distance to the church. There are a handful of their services on youtube. After 16 years in the building, the church may be unique in still having original Congregational church notices up. Well cared for and treated with respect. The old organ has gone and there is a full-immersion baptistry, the choir area at the front is an enclosed sanctuary. At the front are two hanging ostrich eggs.

The story for children is that the ostrich watches its eggs as God watches us. The alternate is that they are a reminder to the worshippers to concentrate their thoughts. I see a connection to the Eye of Horus (or if you prefer Ra) which symbolised death, healing, resurrection- and protection. Horus was the son of Osiris whose crown carried two ostrich feathers. Several connections between Egyptian myths and Hebrew scriptures. The ostrich egg seems to have now gone from Jewish synagogue decor but may appear on the top of Islamic minarets especially in Egypt, just below the crescent.

Researching the link between the ostrich and Egypt led me (as such researches do) to some British cartoons by David Hand, the senior director of Disney's Snow White and Bambi. After Bambi he made a short pro-bombing documentary for Disney and then left for England to produce 19 short cartoons for Rank. The animal based ones turned up in America in the 90's and have been released on tape and now DVD. This I then bought- "Animaland". The ostrich short has the cartoon hero ostrich interacting with an ostrich illustration from the tombs. And then back again to Manchester Cathedral for another farewell to the organ recital. Then on to a meal at the New Emperor restaurant, good food but the table service was a farce. I don't think the staff were experienced or paid (they shouldn't have been!). Our first soup for three was brought in a single small bowl. Then a large bowl of a different soup, sloshed over the table. Then another large bowl of soup, still not what we asked for but by now our starter had partly arrived and our main courses were also on the table. No tea was poured for us as is normal, and our soup dishes were not replaced with new dishes for the main meal. But a very popular place as people were waiting for tables as we left. But probably one we shall avoid in future. We did not leave a tip.

And as Summer approaches our possibilities for outings radically diminish as the copyright agencies and austerity have almost finished proper music making, and the weather is really not very good at all, very dull and dark and cold. We were beginning to think we wouldn't catch a single brass band concert but at last a dark cloudy day when it was not raining, we managed to get to the Ring O Bells in Marple for a concery by Hazel Grove brass. This is the sixth year of concerts there and we received the disconcerting news that the landlord, Mark, was retiring in October- so this could be the last year. To celebrate Mark's contribution, the two local brass bands are putting on a special extra joint concert on his last weekend.

Our annual central heating service, and as usual we have to make the phone call afterwards- apart from a small leak on a loose joint, this time we had the radiators heating up when only the water was on- apparently a failed back flow valve. This was replaced- but the replacement only lasted a week. It seems our system has been invaded by algae. We have an open expansion tank but over several decades this is our first infestation. Nasty sticky jelly like stuff. We wait to hear what (if anything) can be done about it.

The weather remains apalling and unreliable which keeps us in a lot. We managed a quick visit to the New Oxford in Salford for some fine beer, and the first organ concert of the season at Rochdale Town Hall. We were a trifle worried at the erection of a sound stage just outside the hall for one of those strange very very loud events that austerity hit councils enjoy, with an uncountable number of external keg beers around the outside (why drown in beer the inhabitants of a town not known for its sobriety?). Fortunately the event did not spoil the concert in any way. We liked the way the formerly overgrown subway under Rochdale Station (closed over 30 years) had been cleaned and restored allowing free public access under Rochdale station for the first time. Afterwards we looked at where Rochdale is spending its none existant money removing the road over the River Roche (dare one say copying Stockport which has just removed part of the road built over the River Mersey some 70 years ago).

Stockport meanwhile is demolishing almost the entire town centre roads and open spaces and rebuilding, causing an untidy mess- so they cover the front of the shopping centre in plastic grass, put in a number of 20 foot trees in large tubs, build a giant deckchair and erect a sign saying "Please bear with us...". That is the spelling they used. (Hint: It is not the spelling they should have used).

The pedestrian passageway between Stockport town centre and Edgeley - underneath Stockport railway station- has this year been closed to none-ticket holding passengers by Virgin. As you cannot buy tickets at the Edgeley end you need to take a very long (an additional 660 yards / 600 metres) diversion via Greek Street to get a ticket. Extraordinary. Although this useful shortcut has been used without let or hindrance for many years it appears the Council can do nothing as it is private property and not a public footpath. Unlike the old days when ticket checks were carried out, we now have lifts to one side and stairs to the other side of the passage and it is no longer possible to run a fence down the middle as they used to. And they no longer have automatic machines selling platform tickets (there is no longer such a thing).

Our local CoOp Food, with low quality expensive food, suddenly closes "for a few days"- more like two weeks or so- apparently to reopen with longer hours and more ready meals (nope). Cathy went in on reopening and the special members reopening offer was not available, and apart from a little reorganisation (chillers now have glass doors, larger alcohol area) it looked like same-old. Very expensive and charging a premium for single people- eg chilled food with short shelf life and not freezable, 2.60 for one or 4.00 for two. Beer at 1.99 is only 1.25 at nearby Aldi and Coke is 3.29 for 6 at the CoOp whereas it is only 3.59 for 12 at Aldi. And no members benefits at all.

Our local cinema is due to reopen after eleven months following a significant refit and installation of a digital projector. Still waiting to see what will be shown but the new operators other two cinemas (eg Belper) seem to have three films a week, a monthly classic, and various live theatre showings. However I don't think we shall be going as I really do not like all the 15 cert films that are being released.

Amazon make some very odd changes to their web site in September, so that any product details page (except Kindle books!) serves over nine thousand lines of source code, with very incorrect coding, to reveal an almost blank page. This is because they are using CSS to: display:none - hiding everything. And then immediately using javascript to reveal the content. Totally insane coding. I can no longer give my money to Amazon. Their loss. The page coding isn't just bad, it is really bad. There are bad errors in html, javascript, and css. A monkey at a typewriter could produce more competant coding. I am used to their javascript not working, but this time they have blown it. It is possible to view the content by turning off CSS (which prevents it hiding the page) and then formatting the content with your own CSS. Further changes by Amazon as they decide we need to be served special mobile pages which are really hard to navigate. Shopping at Amazon is now a little more of a chore than going to a real shop!

As Heritage Open Days comes up again we look and find that in Stockport we have a church opened THIS YEAR listed!! There seems to be no heritage to celebrate in Greater Manchester, so this year we have used up some of our Arriva rail vouchers to visit Chester for two days. There are some discrepancies between the Heritage Open Days website and the Civic Trust published booklet on what buildings in Chester are open- we go with the Civic Trust booklet which has a lot more. The booklet listed 35 central Chester venues from which we visited 25. 13 of the venues were open as usual with nothing special laid on (but still some worth visiting- however a few had no heritage to be seen). One venue was specially open but had no heritage, and two venues were simply closed. This still left some interesting things to see including two Roman hypocausts. Coats Viyella has a splendid 14thC vaulted undercroft which they have utterly spoiled by installing enormous ceiling mounted lighting.

Three pubs and a tea room were listed but had a modernised (destroyed) interior with no heritage at all, clearly listed to attract customers (they needed some). We did visit Queens School but only one modern room was open! Places we enjoyed included Bishop Lloyds Palace; Stanley Palace (splendid building with a long gallery); Leche House (normally open free and well worth a visit, (huge fireplace); St Michaels Rectory with a lovely galleried "great hall";; Dutch Houses with a lovely secret garden with an old fruiting fig tree.

More modern was Watergate House (1820) where we were allowed in the entry vestibule and hall (with lovely lantern) and the 1869 town hall which still retains the old Magistrates Court intact.

Listed but not open were Booth Mansion (door locked, apparently being fitted as a new shop) and the King Charles Tower (lack of volunteers). We did not enjoy our visit to the Cathedral or St Johns- both being very unwelcoming, and apparently having turned their backs on their history and heritage. The Cathedral, even on a Heritage Open Day was more than half unavailable- the modern nave altar now means even some of the Nave is roped off and unavailable. The Cathedral was celebrating hawking and lego, weird. St Johns was the original Chester Cathedral, but their guide book barely mentions this, also it was the site of a prior Saxon church and probably an earlier Celtic church (which ties in with our visit to Llandanwg this year, from where the missionaries travelled to Chester).

St Peters Church delighted us utterly and completely. Really nice people, a warm welcome. The "team ministry" which has so widely cursed the Church of England was introduced in Chester BUT then split into two and is still splitting. St Peters is on course to be its own Parish with its own minster once again. No nave altar here, no locking off over half the church from the common people here. But there is still a wall frescoe for this remains an old building, right in the very heart of Chester, by the Cross. Couldn't find a guide book or history though.

The Wesleyan Methodist church was listed and might have had some heritage but there were no posters or guide books and no staff, open but abandoned.

One venue had no signage BUT did have two enormous intimidating men in black outside, keeping people well away. As they were occupying the whole pavement I just walked up close and waited for them to move. They moved.

Two towers on the old Walls WERE open to visitors, the Water Tower and Bonewaldestornes Tower- once they had ships tethered close to, the water is now some distance away as the land rises from the water and silt assists. The restored rooms in the towers are quite modern but one tower had maps showing how the river had moved away and the post-Roman extension to the town walls to the West.

We had gone on Chester Race Day with lots of well dressed people (not used to such clothing) struggling in the rain down the rough streets, as the police had closed most of the roads and taxis could not get even close to the racecourse. The streets were quite crowded for a while but the racegoers mostly walked down the streets while we walked along the Chester Rows (first floor shops and first floor pavements). We had a walk along the River Dee and visited Grosvenor Park which now has a miniature railway, an enormous enclosed playground blocking access to one side of the lake, and extremely bold squirrels.

Delighted also to find a shop for Rococo Chocolate- their only shop outside London. Partnering with the Grenada chocolate growers, their chocolate is quite splendid and covers a wide range of tastes. The Grenada chocolate is brought to Europe just once a year in a sailing ship (which has NO stand by motor!) and the young man who served us is very much hoping to travel on the ship next year, visiting the farmers whose chocolate he sells.

We travelled to Chester by train- one day using the "slow" service via Altrincham, just 9.20 return each, but only hourly. The next day as we wanted to be able to return on the more regular (three trains an hour) "any route" service we bought the 17.60 return each- by travelling from Chester to Crewe none-stop then Crewe-Stockport calling at only one station en-route, this longer journey took less time and was much more comfortable. There are remarkable differences in fares on our railways!

One day we found a deserted but lovely mock-Tudor pub just outside the East side of the city walls. We read this as the Marlborough, but looking at our photographs later we discovered the real name was the Marlbororough. Four real ales on tap, all from Stonehouse in Oswestry, and very refreshing. The next day we discovered the brewery tap of Spitting Feathers brewery, whose beer we have regularly enjoyed, so having it straight from the tap was quite a delight.

The old Chester Odeon cinema (seating 1600), closed sometime ago, is to become the library, with a tiny 100 seat cinema perched inside it. To one side there is to be a large extension with a 800 seat theatre and a roof top studio theatre space, opening planned for 2016.

The nearby Chester bus exchange is already suffering from the building work going on (buses started being diverted in February 2012) and there have been proposals for the car park at Gorse Stacks to become a new Chester Bus Station- with just nine stands. A developer (bless them) has said that development of the area is not viable unless they get the bus station to develop- no question of where the Council is going on that one. So Chester will become (as so many cities have) even less accessible and encourage more car journies and more out of town shopping malls. Aaaagh. But Chester has superior shops to Stockport or Manchester.

A pleasant mid day concert by Jonathan Scott on the Bridgewater Hall organ- a huge organ but badly designed, he is the most successful organist on the instrument. He played a piece apparently written by a Norwegian composer some seven years ago who was inspired by Jonathan's playing (not a classical composer, Fjellestad usually plays synths) - and Jonathan was able to tell us to listen to his playing on Radio 3 when we got home. I bought his latest CD (which his brother records, and uses photos by his brother- no rip-off music distributors involved).

A lovely brass weekend, opening with a trumpet concert in Manchester Cathedral by Rebecca Robertson, with her mum on piano. It is a great pity the Cathedral was so discourteous to its performer, with a very loud womans voice throughout- possibly a tour or lecture. But a lovely performance by Rebecca despite the constant harassment by the cathedral. The old Cathedral organ had now gone, with just the larger pipes in the side chapel retained for reuse. In the meantime the cathedral is using a very, very cheap digital organ from Italy.
Then to St Thomas Church. Heaton Chapel, for a very rare concert at this venue- by our local brass band - they rehearse less than a mile away. A championship brass band- Fairey. Last weekend you could go and hear them play in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall for an hour for twelve pounds, but this time they played for 80 mins for a tenner. Good program and usual excellent playing, including four items from their latest CD, and one item played for only the second time in public in the UK (I suspect the first time was in Manchester).

And the last brass band concert at the Ring O Bells in Marple, for this year, and possibly forever, as the landlord Mark is retiring. The music was supplied by The Marple Bands (Marple Band plus Hawk Green Band) with help from friends from Fairey, Old Glossop, Poynton, and Uppermill. Mark played trombone. The last three pieces were Crimmond, For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, and finally John Mile's "Music" ("Music was my first love..."). A good finish to the six year series which has over the years raised some 50,000 pounds towards the upkeep of brass bands in the region.

Two lovely concerts at Chethams with an emphasis on cello solos, and inbetween, a beer festival at Salford- a little pub with 42 well kept cask beers available. Our first choices were the two beers in genuine wooden casks (now fairly rare) and Cathy's favorite was a cherry oak porter. My favourite was a red beer. Then a difficult choice between an annual organ recital or a one off brass performance- we chose the brass and had a pleasant evening in the Hope pub with members of the Championship brass band Fairey playing suitable brass tunes. In other pubs this could have been rowdy but the Hope (despite one or two clientele drinking a little more than wise) is a good well kept pub with excellent beer.

At last a reunion with the TI99/4a computing community as a European meeting is held in nearby Crewe. Lots of TI99/4a consoles, one with a single cartridge holding every cartridge released, and a small expansion pcb on the side (about 5 inches cquare by an inch) with a printer port, expansion memory, and a solid state harddisk full of disk programs. Spoke with TI owners from several countries, including Fred Kaal the author of the incredibly useful utility TI-Dir. The meeting was in the Crewe Arms Hotel, a very strange hotel apparently only catering for large parties. The main entrance was extremely well hidden and unmarked. Meals had to be prebooked days in advance by room holders (costly, restricted choice, but all you can eat portions at one price). The actual service (after you had passed the unmanned reception) was beyond excellent and could not be faulted. But probably a poor choice for a sole traveller arriving on spec, whilst a good choice for celebrations or business meetings.

The big national demonstration against austerity, at the Conservative party conference, was quiet and peaceful, lots of grannies and young children - ordinary folk who were not happy. We saw two instances of what could at worst have been political manipulation, or at best japes and cack handedness:
Conservative delegates were told not to wear their passes when leaving the prison - sorry, ring of steel. The news reported on a young man dressed in a blue suit with a union jack breast pocket hankie, blue tie, concervative badge and clearly holding a conservative brochure. It was claimed that a demonstrator threw an egg at him. Important: the images are timed at over 30 minutes after the end of the march had passed!! The long video which few will see shows a group of young oxbridge conservatives deliberately being provocative, waving a picture of a prior conservative pm, over half an hour AFTER the march has finished passing! surrounded by police and cameramen. After a long time an egg arrives. Most people including the police are in good spirits, but there are a handful of anarchists visible in the area. In this sort of situation the police usually move people (eg the conservatives) on as a public order hazard. Here the police seemed to be enjoying the confrontation- expecting and waiting for something to happen. The half dozen anarchists did not represent (or really belong to) the 80,000 ordinary peaceful group. But the newspapers kind of missed that idea. There was nothing the organisers or marchers could legally do to stop an idiot throwing an egg at a very provocative young man (especially after the end of the march).

Also worth mentioning that another older more mature delegate went out and spoke peacefully and calmly to the anarchists, without being deliberately provocative, and greatly impressed them. That wasn't reported very widely.

Not long after the leading people would have reached the venue for the post demo rally, the road signs and announcements were proclaiming the venue full and marchers were to disperse before reaching it. This message was apparently from the police. And- Not true. Timed photographs clearly show the police were at best being misleading. Even half an hour later there was some room at the venue and reports that small numbers were being allowed to trickle in. The signs and announcements of a full venue were either a deliberate lie to reduce rally numbers or very badly done crowd control measure to avoid a crush at the venue. We therefore missed the rally as did many who would have liked to be there. Some who were behind us easily got in (they used their smartphones to view the live feeds from the venue showing lots of still open areas).
There were certainly policemen in plain clothes scattered around and we were photographed and videorecorded many times by official persons (in addition to the amateur and television cameras). In 2003 the police cameramen wore hi-vis jackets. In 2015 they are less visible in all-black with modest police markings. There were police with powerful sniper rifles on rooftops which the media made much of for some reason. They quoted the police as saying the marksmen were there due to the power of the lenses, not to shoot people! As Manchester workers we knew that the snipers were not there to cover the marchers. The snipers were still there three days later. In Manchester when you see people on rooftops with high powered guns, you triangulate their positions and find in the centre the PM. Why he feels safe with such guns more or less pointed at him...

We were left bewildered at the large number of police - from a force that says it has one officer on duty at 3am, and which takes an hour to respond to a 999 call about a machete being held to a childs throat (and does not interview the victim or witnesses at least five days later)- who are these people? All the police vans seemed to be marked Manchester. Were some of the uniforms a bit suspect? Possibly some members of Equity? We see such bizarre actions and hear such obvious lies that cynicism grows stronger. Hardly any paper reports seem to be balanced these days.

The long route allowed marchers to join and leave or take a break so estimating numbers was difficult, but the updated police estimate of 70,000 was probably only slightly a low estimate, while the upper estimate of 100,000 was confused by the very early dispersal at the end and marchers having nowhere to go. The middle figure of 80,000 seems more likely. Not anarchists (well, ok, maybe a dozen or so) but mostly very ordinary people with all sorts of things they were unhappy with, getting together to say "we're not happy". There was no anger as such. The march passed one of the tent cities for the homeless, a site where violent official action a few weeks earlier had yet again unlawfully removed private property. The tents are now a few feet away from where they were. Council legal action against some homeless has been thrown out of court as being irrepairably flawed. Manchester has an entirely "labour" run council but they do nothing to show sympathy for the underdog and their actions are profoundly right wing.

Marches and Rallys are good, especially with large turnouts. Throwing things and shouting at people is not good and gets nobody anywhere. The march was quite remarkably quiet for so many people. And utterly peaceful. Probably fewer arrests than a normal day in Manchester! Cameron's very personal attack on Corbyn (utterly misquoting a speech readily available on youtube...) reminded me of this quotation: "In my work, you get used to criticisms. Of course you do, because there are a lot of people trying to get you down, but I always cheer up immensely if one is particularly wounding because I think well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. That is why my father always taught me: never worry about anyone who attacks you personally; it means their arguments carry no weight and they know it." March 10th 1986. (Guess who said that.... yep, Mrs Thatcher!) Also see The Daily Mirror report.

The Guardian newspaper queries protestors: why so many people voted for our government and gave it a majority. How could a small handful of people who did not vote tory be so stupid as to protest? In fact, in the General Election, a mere 37% of those who voted chose to vote tory, whilst only 24% of the total electorate voted for them. Almost three quarters of the population did not vote tory. These are well below the percentages the government is placing on the statute book for a strike to be lawful. Almost three quarters of the population did not vote tory. More fun on Monday when we have tickets for an event at Manchester Cathedral. Not too sure why we had tickets as they did us no good at all (but they were free). Didn't get into the Cathedral, which had 1200 people inside. We joined the 7,000 outside. The several speakers spoke first outside and then went into the Cathedral to speak to those inside. As the headline speaker had to finish the evening in both locations, we had to miss a speaker so that Jeremy could finish outside then go inside to finish there. First time I have been addressed by two Party leaders. Most interesting- 8000 people and less than a half dozen police on the Cathedral doors. No problems. Preaching to the converted perhaps...

Our local extreme right wing labour MP ignores a three line whip and fails to vote against a meaningless and unenforceable tory statute and then writes an article in an american paper attacking the party she is supposed to stand for. Our labour MPs freely chose to vote for a new system of electing their labour leader, giving this the same careful scrutiny they always employ. This new democratic process gives a big majority to someone the self important ones don't like. And they choose to fight to maintain their well paid jobs by ignoring the process they chose and its result - and will probably willfully destroy their party. These are indeed interesting times.

October and an unusually warm sunny day means a pleasant walk around Etherow Country Park in Compstall- perhaps a week too early for the autumnal colours, but in the far end in the depths of the woods it was so quiet, just the two of us and some birds. Lovely.

A different recital as we went to hear and meet with percussionist Simone Rebello, a highly talented musician who played mostly marimba for us with one piece on vibes and one vocal piece (if you know Indian music, we are here talking about the tabla beat vocalisations used by drummers to learn tabla music). I already have two CDs by Simone and could not pass up this rare chance to hear her play live. Not many others did, it was quite an intimate recital for about two dozen of us and I had a nice chat with her afterwards.

A pleasant concert by four quintets playing the Mozart clarinet quintet, one movement each, different and this time the same small hall as the Simone Rebello recital was full with standing (even after more chairs were brought out). Another day, a recital by 8 cellos (players anonymous) with music from Byrd to Queen. We discover an old Manchester pub- at last somewhere we can drink beer in Manchester (but not in the evening!)- a Robinsons pub with ten beers on, including five guests. The Robinsons beers were quite rare (an oaked White Label and the Double Hop) and in excellent form, well kept (The Castle, Oldham Street).

Another excellent organ recital at Rochdale Town Hall, this time by Keith Hearnshaw. As so often these days, no new CDs to buy - I am sure that MCPS/PRS are responsible for so few musicians bothering to record these days, rather than any "piracy". The "royalties" they charge for a small run private CD are at a high level and ensure none are made (the publishers/composers royalties are paid up front regardless of sales! and are the same level for a Beatles number as one by Fred from down the road...).

The sad news that the retired organist of St Anns Church Manchester, Canon Ronald Frost, has died. I have recorded much of his music, some at my request and some at his request, and enjoyed his music for some decades. His official retirement earlier this year was followed by a final recital at the end of July 2015. We did not know then how final (I have it safely recorded). He was a lovely man, and a great musician, sadly missed.

In the week of his funeral, the lunchtime recital at St Anns was given by one of his former pupils, Elin Rees, who followed Ron's frequent practice of having a Bach-only recital. Nicely done.

We returned home from his funeral to a reissued CD I have just purchased of Ron playing organ for a harpist- and there was a harp played at his funeral where the organist who played had come up from Lincoln Cathedral. The harp was used for pieces from Faure's requiem. Ron used the composers prerogative and we had a world premier performance of a piece he had written for his funeral.

A wasted trip to RNCM who had listed for the day a pleasant recital on harp and flute. No harp in the room when we entered. No notices giving due warning. What then entered was a pianist and a vocalist- I would say soprano but we left immediately and have no intention of ever returning to RNCM. Why do venues do this?

An organ recital at Holy Name, and then two days of brass bands at Rochdale Town Hall. On the first day seven youth bands, each playing for about twenty minutes. A very high level of playing but there was no doubt of the winner- one of those rare performances where you just all agree- that's the winner. Elland Silver Youth, who had been placed second at another contest seven days earlier, were clearly on top form - and subsequently were invited to play in a European contest, they just need to raise ten thousand pounds to get there!

Then on the next day a full day of contesting in five sections- 36 bands. Public transport limitations on a Sunday meant we missed the first and last band of the day but otherwise we had nearly twelve hours of entertainment. Across the full range the playing was not inspired and it was difficult to pick out any winners in the five sections. Some unusual reticence from the players across all the bands. But nevertheless a good day of brass band music. The former landlord at the Ring O Bells was there, having now transferred from Marple Band to Championship band Poynton, playing as 2nd Trombone. His new retirement occupation is moving narrow boats around the canal network (as cars are sometimes delivered with trade plates)

A splendid concert at Chethams School of Music, with two musicians to watch for in the future- Aleksandra Bukala (piano) played Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No 6 with great style and feeling whilst Linda Heiberga (cello) played Elgar's Cello Concerto- a piece I know, but she played the opening adagio with such feeling and power it made your hair stand on end and brought a tear to the eye- powerful music making. The allegro was a pleasant relief (as it was meant to be).

The weather gets even worse, keeping us indoors ever more, but we did manage a nice organ recital at Holy Name in Manchester. And December comes, a time of eating and putting weight on. We managed to repeat our treat of last year with a visit to the Hope Inn for the Alderley Mummers play by the Adlington troupe, together with over two hours of brass band music by ten players from our local Championship brass band, Fairey. A very full pub and everyone enjoying themselves. Our hosts have just purchased a second pub and we look forward to visiting it next year when it has been spruced up - it hasn't been a pub for a couple of years. The Spring Gardens in Marple Bridge.

We had a family lunch at Lily's Vegetarian Indian restaurant in Ashton, with some very tasty and delicious food, lentil kachoris, sev puri, paneer hakka noodles, kadai paneer, and a VEGAN omeletter with spring onions! The following week we enjoyed then a vegetarian Christmas lunch at the Deli Lama in Salford, with a dish described as "Curried vegetable and nut roast" which does not do justice to what was an exquisite and thoroughly enjoyable dish with all the trimmings. Cathy and I had been there a few weeks earlier to enjoy one of their lovely soups, and saw the Christmas menu! They are something of a secret, rather away from anywhere, but splendid cooking.

I have discovered an independent classic Star Trek series, "Star Trek Continues" which takes a classic episode and then continues the story line. The engineer is played by Jimmy Doohan's son, the replacement Kirk has all the right body language, and most of the cast have a long line of productions to their name. One episode even had a classic guest actor reprising their original role. Very well done- even the theme music has been rerecorded with a full symphony orchestra.

The deaths in 2015 of two leading European fairground organ makers seems to have releaed a welcome quantity of historical fairground organ recordings, some dating back to the 60's and all recorded in the best of circumstances, great quality and a good choice of music. My collection of historical radio programs grows immensely with almost all of Lux Radio Theatre (recreations of films on the radio usually with the original stars); Alistair Cookes Letters from America, most of Life with the Lyons, and a huge number of Navy Lark and Music While You Work. The lack of any good tv was long replaced by a collection of DVDs, now rather poor choice on hundreds of radio channels (and even internet radio channels) can be replaced with my own audio collection. Also lots of BBC Saturday Night Theatre and so many other programs, many long forgotten. Who recalls Tony's with Victor Spinetti?

After only 43 years Cathy's Jones/Brother sewing machine became unusable- their UK home was in nearby Ashton. For its replacement we have gone even closer to home with Janome/New Home - they are based in Bredbry. But where to buy one? Their web site suggested we go to Oldham or Macclesfield. Surely not? There are so few sewing shops these days... we finally got a special build model from John Lewis in Cheadle.

Time to book next years holidays- and with so few suitable places now discoverable (we need self catering, three bedrooms, public transport accessible, good food source nearby) it will be a return to Llandudno and Buxton, places we are very fond of.

WE have been eating and drinking quite adventurously. George and I both like an Indian dish called Patra, the principal ingredient is quite toxic and can kill or maim if not prepared properly. Deaths caused by poisoning are easily identified (and rare). How do we learn to eat such toxic fare!

Slightly less risky Cathy and I have been enjoying a little raw milk (Cheshire probably has about the safest raw milk in the UK), and then tried some a2 branded A2 milk. Around since approx 2012 it is something of an own goal by the discoverers, intent on monetising their discovery with trademarks, patents, copyright, anything. This makes independent assessment of their product nearly impossible and thus prevents them advertising it. The product story is that 70% of British milk contains an A1 type of beta-casein protein, and as milk is blended, all British milk contains this. Across Europe, France seems to be an anomally. An older protein, now called A2 can be found in the rest and is said to be genetically older, and better suited to the human gut (eg easier to digest). Goat and sheep milk is nearly all A2. Few African and Asian cattle give the A1 protein. There is a difference of just one amino acid. But to make the claims that differentiate a2 milk, you need serious peer reviewed research- and who is going to pay for it? A conundrum keeping the profile very low but I do think that their marketing approach could be seriously improved without making any dubious claims. Incidentally the genetic mutation seems to have been limited to bovines, all other milk is A2 which may be why goats milk has for a very long time been considered to be more digestible (I heard this fifty years ago) - now we have a mechanism identified. a2 (lower case a) branded milk is ultra filtered, homogenised and pasteurised. Individual farmers may just pay to have their cows tested for the gene, but you then rely upon the farmers honesty rather than the honesty of an international company.

Christmas and celebrations would not be complete without some delightful Palestinian dates! I have also developed a taste for kumquats. We have also tried a tissane made from Moringa leaves.

The year ends with a real deluge, causing the River Irwell to overspill in many places and destroying two pubs. Rochdale was flooded to several feet, causing much damage but fortunately the Town Hall just avoided the flood waters (not by much!). The East Lancashire Railway running from Bury to Rawtenstall runs along the River Irwell and has several bridges over the river. They checked their bridges VERY carefully after Boxing Day and were relieved to find they could still "run-in" the recently restored locomotive "Flying Scotsman" which had to get some miles under its new boiler before taking on longer distance work and the mainline.

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