Paris review; more do’s than don’ts

Just back from a short break in Paris. It’s been quite a while since I was there and it was a most enjoyable refresh of a city with high scores on art, history, architecture, weather and food for any city in the world. I took a new camera with me too – a Sony A7 which underwent a rigourous trial and came through with flying colours.

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Staying on the edge of town (17th) albeit in a nice little hotel (Hotel de Banville) was probably a mistake as regular taxi rides into the more interesting areas proved expensive. Still, we digested plenty of good stuff and if you’re planning a trip, here are some do’s and don’ts:

- Visit Le Marais district – can’t believe I never went there before. Gorgeous little streets, cafe’s (Bar du Marche), shops and spaces (Place des Vosges). I can understand why French nobility chose to live there since the 16th Century.

- Have lunch in L’atlas, Rue de Buci it’s pure Paris and a seafood delight, fresh as you like and good value too.

- Drink chilled Bandol rose with your moules, just do it. I didn’t think I liked Rose till I tried this. It’s divine.

- Visit Galleries Lafayette and admire the glass dome but don’t buy anything. It’s very expensive.

- Go to the Musee D’Orsay and see the impressionists gallery.  Bet you’ll recognise something in every room.  Unquestionably the best art Gallery I’ve ever been to – there’s even a Frank Brangwyn painting there (Swansea boy) and free to all on every first Sunday of the month.

- Skip the vascular monstrosity that is the Pompidou Centre unless you want to see what a town planning disaster looks like.  Parisians hate it.  And while the sunset from the Georges restaurant on the 6th floor is excellent the food there is average.

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Obituary to “Pom” the cat.

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you we lost our 21 year-old cat this week. Romany Gypsy (or Pom as we called her) was a long-haired Siberian, black as pitch with luminous yellow eyes. Tetchy and independent, stylish and confident she possessed the royalty of Cleopatra combined with the attitude of Naomi Campbell.


We got her from a rescue home and as cats go, she was a little cracker; feisty and loving in equal measure. She was completely fearless and when Leo, our enormous labrador joined us she was unphased; drinking from his water bowl as if to challenge his authority. Smaller dogs or visitors unfamiliar with her temperament got short shrift and withered before her hisses and snarls.

And judging by the chunks missing from her plumed bat’s ears she must have held her own in many a battle with local toms and foxes too. But still she came home.

She had an interesting vocabulary which ranged from the lightest and most delicate of “miouws” to a guttteral howl that was enough to wake the dead. After 20 years of listening I think I worked out what some of them meant:
“M’aow”  I’m hungry.
Ow…ow”  Fridge….Chicken.
M’aooouw”  I’m still hungry.
“Miaooow”  Have you no idea what time it is? Give me food!
“Mer-yiaow”  Feed me or I’ll pee on the bathmat again.
“Ow-ooow…”  I have nothing to do with the disembowelled starling in the utility room.
“Prrrr…”  That’s nice, but I’m still hungry.
And communication wasn’t limited to just noises either. She could get a message across with just a gesture too…
*glances upwards indignantly*  I’m not eating that.
*wraps tail around your leg*  I know the bowl is full but I don’t do Tesco value catfood.
*walks away twitching tail*  That’s as close to a “thank you” as you’re going to get.
*stretches, digs claws into carpet*  Humans can be sooo tiresome.

Cats are entertaining but they don’t make friends easily. That’s why when you do get to know one you miss them all the more when they’re gone.

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The secret to enjoying a game of Golf.

The Heydon Grange Golf club breathed a sigh of relief as the Griffith motorcade of sensible family cars rolled out of the car park late last Saturday afternoon in a cloud of fine orange dust drawing to a close the 2014 Griffith Golf Tourney.

Every year for about a decade or so my brothers and I have played a round of golf together.  In principle, it’s a family bonding exercise; we grew up together, schooled together, then raised families and explored diverse careers across three counties of southern England.  In practice however it’s a display of some of the worst golf by some of the most shameless cheats you’re ever likely to see followed by arguments and beer.

Now that our kids are old enough to play, we made up a team of seven. Well, six actually with one walker (me) as I was relieved of my clubs from my garage two years back by a thief and spent the insurance money on a flatscreen TV.  Last year I hired clubs for my annual game but this year none were available so I walked.  Determined not to let a small matter like not having any golf clubs spoil my day, I took my GoPro along to generally put people off and in doing so capture the missed putts, bunker fluffs and shocking drives for posterity.

While I set out frustrated at not being able to play, I returned to the clubhouse in high spirits after a good walk unencumbered by a golf bag, bronzed by the bright sun and invigorated by lots of fresh air.  The others meanwhile were hot, lank and belligerent after a ragged game of zigzags across the flinty fairways, alternating as they had for four hours between tall pampas and murky ponds.

This, it transpired, brought about an epiphany.  If you really want to have a good day out on a golf course just leave your clubs at home.

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Open letter to pigeons.

Hey Guys

Since so many of you have descended on my garden lately I thought it was about time to have a few words.

Look, I like having wildlife around the place; I actively encourage butterflies on my Ceonothus and on my Buddleia. I am happy to have bees living in my front porch and bats in my loft.  I even spend time ushering daddy long-legs through open windows recognising that with a 2-day life-cycle you need all the freedom you can get.

But these species are respectful of the environment in which they live. The butterfly population in my garden is thriving and a joy to behold.  Pollination is hard and essential work; bees are nature’s key workers.  And bats, the twilight cruisers, are a pleasure to watch and catch lots of midges with no more than the odd “click”.

I am genuinely flattered that the pigeon community feels at home here but I’m going to have to lay down a few ground rules:

  1. Birdfood is for all birds not just pigeons believe it or not. The bird table is a community resource and scaring the bejesus out of robins is unkind.
  2. Chimneys don’t get a lot of use in the summer but that doesn’t mean they should become congregational venues and an open toilet when not in use.
  3. Observe weekends.  I’m not happy about choral practice from 6am on Saturdays.
  4. Learn a new song.  “Coo” will not win you an Ivor Novello award. Coo is a noise not a song anyway and don’t think that “Coo-Coo” is any better.
  5. Have sex by all means but try to be discrete. Use a stable surface not the gutter outside my bedroom window. Take a rest from time to time; you’ll enjoy it more.

birdscarerYou’ve not had great press in the past; I get that.  “Skyrats” seems like a harsh and inaccurate nickname since you have only two legs and no tail. But your hygiene is poor, your contribution to the community is non-existent and you’re an anti-social bunch at the best of times. You may be smart enough to have learned that the bang of the bird-scarer in the fields nearby is not a gun but just the release of compressed air but don’t relax too soon. There will come a time when something a little more military will go bang in my garden unless we see some changes in your behaviour.

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Endure24 2014; It rained, we ran alot, ate meatballs.

Firstly a short apology to my regulars for such a long radio silence. I blog when I feel like it not against a specific timetable which would make it a chore more than a pleasure. Anyway, Endure24 on 28/29th June was a blog-worthy event and I filmed it too so I thought I’d post the video and add a note…

This is my 5th year of attending a summer 24-hour trail-running relay event – The Thunder Run (2010/’11) and Endure24 (2012/’13 and now ’14). I find them irresistible and I’ve filmed the last two.  It’s a 24hr, non-stop, 5-mile, wooded trail relay around the Wasing Estate near Aldermaston and we attended with a team of 7 including this year my unfeasibly fit son Charlie, two of his mates and former Thunder team-mates JohnFol and the eager whippet, Nollie (32 minutes for 5 miles??!!!).

There’s something unique about running with a pack of runners of assorted paces at odd times of the day and night.  Some walk through the night others smash out single loops but all have a great time and there’s a Glasto spirit what with tents, kids, dogs and kitchen sinks.  All that exercise needs fuel and the 24hr food tent took same abuse. I’d like to have known how many meatballs and flapjacks were consumed. Most of them by Charlie and his mates.

Despite some massive thunderstorms which merely added to the fun, our team put in a total of 155 miles in 24 hours (as the senior team member I only put in 3 loops, Charlie managed 5) putting us 29th out of 132 teams in our category. Not half bad.

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2014 Endure 24 Course Preview

Originally posted on Paul Ali Ultramarathon Runner:

The Endure 24 event is only 3 weeks away and the team have been busy behind the scenes preparing Wasing Park for the arrival of over 2,000 runners plus supporters on the weekend.

The infrastructure and layout will be slightly changed this year with additional fields being used to accommodate the extra volumes of people. In addition a dedicated short term car park area will be marked for those people (or supporters) who may be required to leave and re-enter the Park during the weekend. The aim is for the majority of people who camp out for the weekend to park next to their camping spot and not move for the weekend to minimise the volume of traffic driving in and out of the estate.

The course itself has been modified from previous years with the major change being the elimination of part of the route through the field which…

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Everybody’s changing but I feel just the same.

Sometimes, as I get older I can discern a modest slackening of will.  But it is modest and I pretend not to notice the extra minute that crept onto my 10k time and I’m happy to allow myself a week off running; again…

Nobody I know.

In fact I don’t mind getting older.  It’s my birthday soon and at 56 I reckon 6 years of running has afforded me a better figure and stronger legs than would have been the case had I remained the couch potato I was becoming at 49.  Running won’t make me immortal but I enjoy the feeling of immortality that comes with matching my 22-year-old son mile for mile across the Chilterns.

But if you think you’re still as young and fit as you were ten years ago try meeting up with some folks you haven’t seen for ten years and check them out.  Some are richer, some are poorer, some have remarried and some are now single.  But, by golly, they’ve all grown older.  They’ve mysteriously adopted a decade of wear and tear that of course you won’t have noticed in yourself.

People I don’t know in bad clothes dancing badly.

And so it was that this weekend 200 souls gathered in a village hall in Devon to celebrate another soul’s 50th birthday. There, life-long friends dad-danced to a reggae band and drank to excess.  And as the smell of hog-roast hung in the air like yesterday’s pants, we laughed about the old days and lied to each other about how little we had aged.

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