Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Where the Christmas Trees come from

The Boy has spent his summer working in Norway, as a chalet boy.  This involves cleaning and cooking for guests from every corner of the known world.  All this will stand him in good stead for the future.

We decided to visit as neither of us had been to Norway before and it seemed like a great idea to visit him in a world that he enjoys.  We thought we would take in a trip that would encompass as much of Norway as is feasible in the week we had available.

We flew to the lovely city of Bergen, and spent the afternoon in the UN World Heritage Area of Bryggen.  This is the very old and pretty part you see in all the holiday brochures.  By coincidence shortly before we left, the subject of the Hanseatic League had come up....a name that we both vaguely remembered form 'O' Level history days.  Fortunately, all was explained in the Hanseatic was a trading league run by the Germans and had its own set of rules and regulations that put it above Government control.  No wonder Elizabeth 1st expelled it from England.

At this point it should be noted that TCM was heavy with cold.

The next day we took a ferry to Flåm, which is where TB has been working.  It was a beautiful five hour journey along the coast and fjords.  Unfortunately, TCM was feeling pretty rough and slept for all but an hour of it.  The scenery was as beautiful as expected...really very magical.  What was also amazing was how quickly the boat docked and undocked at the various stops along the route...some of which appeared to have no more than a dozen inhabitants!  I can't imagine the UK supporting such a service.

Anyway, we arrived at Flåm which is famous for its railway (one of the most beautiful and steep in the world) and because it gets something in the order of 300 cruise liners every year.  That's a lot of ships and an enormous number of passengers.  Still, it remains largely unspoilt.  TB and Norwegian Girlfriend put us up where they are staying, and also took us round to see some of the sights...fabulous views from the heights looking down the fjord, the best goat cheese making village in Norway, the smallest stave church, and through Europe's longest (maybe second longest now) road tunnel to Borgund where there is the best preserved stave church in Norway.  TB cooked for us, a meal we shared with the Japanese guests, but not the Israelis who had gone elsewhere to eat.  The guests from Qatar cooked for themselves...see what I mean about guests from all over?!

We took the mountain train and then changed for the rest of our holiday in Oslo.  It too was a five hour journey through some achingly beautiful countryside.  Curiously, the teenager who sat opposite us thought it appropriate after five minutes to show us a picture of a knife that's band because it will kill you instantly.  Oh. 

By this stage, I had taken on TCM's cold so both us were feeling miserable as sin.  We had a few days seeing the sights and museums of Oslo - The Folk Museum (tick v.g. - essentially not a lot changed from the 1100s through to the 1800s), the Viking Ship Museum (wot! they didn't actually have horns in their helmets), The Fram Museum (Amundsen's exploits finding the North West Passage and getting to the South Pole - evidently he didn't realise he was in a race, he just got on with his scientific expedition), the Kon Tiki Museum (excellent...he was a nutter, but fantastic stuff) and the Art Museum (we saw The Scream whilst the Chinese tourists didn't really want to look at it, rather just have a selfie with it).

And then we went home.  Sadly, we weren't at our best so didn't get the full benefit of our Norwegian adventure, but I'm sure we will next time we visit.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ride baby ride

It was the Cat's graduation last week.  Very splendid indeed and delighted she got her first from Exeter.

Bizarrely I decided to cycle back from Exeter to Essex.  By myself.  It was absolutely lovely.  I dodged the showers. Got only marginally irritated by Google maps.  Saw some very splendid scenery indeed...including two white horses carved into the hillsides.  It confirmed that when cycling up hill and down dale is better than on the flat.  240 miles in 2 and a half days was perfect.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

New world

I'm not too sure I recognise the world we live in at the moment.  It seems a different place to the one I grew up in, and the certainties of the past have disappeared.  In the last month, change has come thick and fast, and there is plenty more in the weeks, months and years ahead.  We live in an age of uncertainty.  The Chinese curse of 'May you live in interesting times' has never been more apt.

Let me try and remember some of the fun things we've been doing.

I went white water rafting at the Lee Valley White Water centre (where else?).  I went with the same friend who took me bobsleighing last year...or was it the year before?!  So not content with trying to get me pummelled to death down the bobsleigh track, he wanted to drown me.  This wasn't just any white water rafting session, this one was led by Tim Baillee, one of our Olympic Gold Medal Winners.  I managed to stay in the raft, which was a relief to me, as the water is terrifying fast and powerful...and we won the race, with Tim's help.  Great fun, as the photos show.

I've been chosen as the next President of our Old Bancroftian Association, the 'job' starts next April 1st which may be totally appropriate given how mediocre my school career was.  Anyway, I'll get a very nice  medal to wear round my neck and attend many functions where I'll be expected to give a speech...this is not to be recommended as my public speaking abilities are minimal...and that's being generous.  But I am pleased with the honour!

The Cat has finished her degree and gained a First...a more than well-deserved achievement.  Now all she has to do is find a job in her chosen - whether that's back stage or on the stage will depend on the opportunities that present themselves.  We celebrated at The Woodford, a new restaurant near us that has been given the Evening Standard's restaurant of the year award...which is quite an achievement given that our neighbourhood is notorious for having nothing but KFC to dine in.

There have been a number of firsts other than The Cat's.  I took my first steps in 10 Downing Street...thanks to a possible business event I'm organising.  This was the Tuesday before the referendum, and even then the beds were being wheeled in ready for a busy night.

Funnily enough, when I went past Downing Street on my other first...being part of a protest was a little different

I cried when the results of the referendum were announced.  I have been brought up a European, and for me the EU is the embodiment of that.  I am more angry about the result than I have ever thought myself capable, so have continued to campaign for us not to break with Europe, and will continue to the day I die.

On the entertainment front, we combined an evening of horse racing with a concert by Will Young.  We managed to avoid the rain, won 50 quid and had a brilliant time.

We went to a dinner for supporters of the National Theatre, and I managed to completely demoralise the Director of one of the plays there when I didn't disagree with her when she said it was very flawed.  And there was I just trying to avoid an argument....  The National has featured a lot in our lives recently...we went to see the Threepenny Opera, which was fun, I loved it more than The Cat's Mother, even though we agreed it was quite flawed.  Connections is the National's youth group national competition.  More than 500 entries, with the best twelve performed at the National.  Delightfully, the Cat was Assistant Director of 'Spilling my heart out' which was one of those chosen.  Such a proud moment to see and realise just how much talent she has.

This week has been far too evening with Burt Baccarach at the Festival Hall, accompanied by Joss Stone.  Fabulous to see, amazing he can still perform at the age of 88, even though he looks desperately frail.  An evening at the ENO to the Cat's Mother's brother conduct the orchestra in a performance of Madame Butterfly, followed by a reception at Drapers Hall on Thursday...very grand surroundings indeed...and on Friday Needles and Opium, a play by Robert Lepage at the Barbican. The last one was utterly amazing...way beyond anything I've ever seen on the stage before.   Perhaps the overdose of culture will cheer me up.

And to end on a happier note, Mum has a new dog, Dandy