Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, November 27, 2015

Montenegro: Perast, Kotor and Budva...

Gosh, Montenegro is lovely. Comparable if not slightly surpassing Croatia in beauty. We particularly loved Perast's island church Our Lady of the Rock and walled city Kotor which was delightful. Budva was a little touristy but still was fun to see.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Croatia: Dubrovnik...

Finally back in Croatia again to lovely, amazing Dubrovnik. Such a beautiful city, with such friendly lads and lasses. If you've not been, go. 

Bosnia: Border Guard...

Hello everyone! How was your day? Well, ours was less than ideal. We got arrested in Bosnia!

It was at the Croatian Bosnian border. We didn't see the Police Stop sign so he shouted at us to stop. Then it got a bit hairy. They had guns!

The border guard got me out of the hire car. Walked me along the road and back. Emptied out our suitcases... Wanted to know if we had drugs... Searched the car... Accused us of stealing shampoo(!), of bringing goods into the country to sell without paying tax...  It got a bit stupid. He caught me smirking (at how ridiculous it all was). Big mistake! He did not find it funny.  I'd seen Midnight Express. I knew how this plays out. 

He said we had broken the law. But then he implied we would have to pay a fine. Ah, a FINE. So that was it. 

After a while his two mates came in and they all had an animated chat looking at me trying to look contrite. Then suddenly our passports and car documents were returned and we were told to go. We sped off top speed. Ah, a lovely welcome to Bosnia.

Bosnia: Mostar...

From Croatia we drove into Bosnia to visit the ancient town of Mostar and it's beautiful bridge. We had a bit of local difficulty at the border (more of that later) but our lasting impression is one of bullet holes in the walls of the houses and way too many dirt track roads posing as major thoroughfares. We drove for miles and miles down what seemed like slip roads to a quarry - up and down mountainsides in thick fog. We encounter more Bosnian police on the way but by that point we knew what to say. Five hours later we escaped back into Croatia again. Not much fun!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Croatia: Split...

Once we finally made it to Split we checked in to our hotel and took a smooch around the Old Town. It was beautiful. We found a few bars and somewhere to eat before hitting the hay early.

The next day we explored the Old Town a bit more thoroughly and walked out too the end of the promenade. The rain was a bit of a pain so we stayed near our hotel for lunch and coffee. 

In the evening we found a good place to eat and headed home to pack for an early start.

Croatia: Zadar...

Zadar has a Sea Organ. The waves force the bellows embedded in the sea wall to blow air through the pipes making music.  Nature playing music! (Apologies for the crappy sound - it was chucking it down!)

Croatia: Zagreb to Split...

The car journey from Zagreb to Split was pretty hair-raising. As we drove through the mountains the snow started to pile up along the motorway and before long the visibility was so bad we were in real danger off skidding of the road. We made it through in good spirits though. 

Croatia: Zagreb Sightseeing...

Stuart and I had great fun sightseeing in Zagreb. We'd barely arrived at the Esplanade Hotel (where Drew and I had stayed 10 years earlier) and we were on Segways bombing around the town.  Four and a half hours later we were still on them! That night we ate at the hotel bistro shattered.

Next morning we discovered that our eyes hadn't deceived us the night before, we were indeed sharing the hotel with Whitesnake and they were having breakfast at the next table. 

Later that day we drove to a shopping centre to buy ourselves some weather proof boots as the forecast was rain for the week. That evening we visited the Museum of Broken Relationships (that made us laugh) before finding an Italian opposite the cathedral for dinner. 

Croatia: Zagreb...

"Did you gentlemen want a double bed or two singles?" 
"A double" 
"I thought so!" 
"How very dare you!" 
(Croatian receptionist humour)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Great Voices of Soul...

Last Sunday night Darren, Rachael, Stuart, Paul, Stuart and I all tootled along to see the Great Voices of Soul show at SSE Arena in unglitzy Wembley Park.

The show had originally meant to have been staged back in the spring and to have included James Ingram but it was cancelled at the last minute.

This relaunched show finally rolled into town and certainly was packed with stars. Perhaps a little too packed at times though as some of the acts sang just a couple of songs before they were then whipped off stage by the promoter as if by some giant shepherd's crook.

First on stage was Loose Ends (of Hanging on a String fame) and they sounded good. Then Rose Royce's Gwen Dickie was wheeled out - quite literally in this case as she was in a wheelchair from having done her back in. She asked us Is It Love You're After? and then gave us a good Car Wash. She was in great voice.

Up next was M'Lissa Morgan who I was less familiar with but she sparkled and spangled her way on to the stage in a disco ball of a dress and certainly had the lungs and chops to belt out some powerful songs that got the crowd dancing.

The final act of the first half were Soul II Soul complete with original lead vocalist Caron Wheeler. They had dancers... singing dancers... violinists dancers... you name it. And Jazzie B and Caron W really sang up a storm. Naturally Keep on Movin' went down very well as did Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) but with the bass turned up to 11 it did rattle our teeth somewhat.

After a short break we were back with The SOS Band. And they were brilliant. It was a high octane performance with so much energy on stage you could have powered half of the National Grid with it. They danced, they sang, they danced some more. Minor hit The Finest went down well but it was Just Be Good To Me that got the crowd on their feet dancing and crying out for more. And surprise special guest was Alexander O'Neal!

The penultimate band of the night was The Whispers who frankly were a bit of a disappointment. Dressed in what looked like thin blue pyjamas they tried their best but sadly didn't really have the songs to back it up. And The Beat Goes On and It's A Love Thing being the only songs of note.

Then the finale came. The woman we were all there to see. Ms Patti LaBelle shimmied her way on to the stage dressed in a gold tasselled dress and sparkly stillies.  She screeched, she wailed, she warbled, she sang. Wow, what a voice! In fact she was doing so many voice gymnastics that at times it was hard to even hear the actual words. Still, the crowd loved her. Perhaps a little bit too much at times as the guy next to me just kept shouting out her name over and over and over again "Patti LaBelle! (pause) Patti LaBelle! (pause) Patti LaBelle! (pause) Patti LaBelle!"

The girl put on a great show though using up the entire stage, chatting to fans in the front row, waving to people right at the back and throwing her shoes about. She danced in a way that belied her 71 years too belting out hits such as On My Own and of course the iconic disco song Lady Marmalade to send us all home happy.

A great - albeit long - night.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Doctor Who Festival 2015...

Last Saturday Dean, Jim, Phillip, me and thousands of other Whovians went to this year's Doctor Who Festival at the ExCel in London's unglitzy Docklands.

We got to see and listen to the writers, the production crew, and the cast. We browsed the merch on offer, walked through some of the iconic sets and had some photo ops with our favourites.

Good sports Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez and Ingrid Oliver all posed with jazz hands for us. Fab.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Chambers of Flavour...

Last Tuesday night Roger, Sam, Rob and I went to see / eat / ride Gingerline's latest immersive culinary experience The Chambers of Flavour.

At 4pm we got some instructions via SMS message leading us to a secret location somewhere along the old East London Overground Line (between Highbury & Islington and Whitechapel). All their events are held near that train line hence the name Gingerline.

When we arrived the door creaked open and we entered the dining machine itself.

For the next two hours we were pushed, crawled, climbed, ate, drank, dived, swam, and flew through five wonderful scenes. In each scene we had one course of the dinner as performers entertained, interacted and delighted us. The food was delicious. The entertainment equally sumptuous.

I'll not give anything away as if you like your dinner cabaret to be immersive, inclusive and funny this is the show for you. It's a sort of You Me Bum Bum Train meets Heston Blumenthal. Yes, that good.

Friday, November 13, 2015

John Grant...

Last night Stuart, Mark, Denz, Simon and a couple of thousand other men with checked shirts and beards went to see John Grant at the Eventim Apollo in London's less than glitzy Hammersmith.

Beardy Mr Grant specialises in a line gravel-voiced miserablism that hits a chord with today's ennui generation and which taps into the celebrity-ladened media's obsession with 'self' perfectly. Only John Grant doesn't need to make up his angst like so many pop stars do each day for the entertainment pages. He is the real deal. He has genuine angst - in buckets.

His exploration of his own psyche - the defensiveness, the occasional self-hatred but utter self-awareness - shows an amazing depth of feeling and passion that simply spews out into his lyrics. And he certainly has the history to draw on - alcohol and drug addiction, coming to terms with being gay and HIV-positive, problems in his youth and trouble with a former boyfriend are topics all keenly and wittily observed. It was at times painful to hear such naked emotion expressed vocally but his songs tell a truth that clearly taps into the collective consciousness of the surprisingly diverse audience at the venue last night. More often than not he had us in the palm of his hand.

Musically John Grant is truly gifted too. There is no other expression for it. Perfectly crafted songs that simmer and then soar into the air like the Icelandic volcanoes he once lived so near. His sound sits somewhere between Sigur Ros and a late 70s prog rock band – beautiful atmospheric songs with the occasional six minute synth-fuelled epic which demonstrate his obvious fandom of bands like the Cocteau Twins.

The place was packed with adoring fans. And there was much to adore. The man is a master of his craft.