1 January 2022

I averaged 26,128 steps a day in 2021

While 26,128 steps a day sounds a lot, and for a lot of people it is, it is almost 2,000 steps a day fewer than I managed in 2020.

The main reason for that is the cruel way that averages work in that when I have had a low day, say 15k, it is very hard to find the extra time on other days to pull the average back up.

And I had a few more low days this year thanks to the gradual reopening of cafes, pubs and theatres etc. that gave me other things to do in the evenings.

With the resurgence of the pandemic in the later part of the year I have been avoiding pubs etc again, despite the government letting them stay open for unfathomably reasons, and that has again let me walk more; a quick pint is half an hour or just over 3,000 steps.

11 November 2021

The Seven Pomegranate Seeds at Rose Theatre was remarkable

Rose Theatre is my nearest and I try to get to all of the mainstream theatre there. I seem to be doing quite well at that as my phone informed me that this was my sixtieth check-in at the venue.

It is a gentle walk of about an hour along the river to get there and I was early enough to grab a coffee before the show, and resilient enough not to have any cake wit it.

As usual, I had forgotten why I had made the booking but a quick look at one of the posters informed me that it was directed by Melly Still which was reason enough.

The set was enough to confirm that I had made a good decision. The stage was sparse with little more than a wooden door and a small table as standard props and these were complemented by oddities like rocks hanging from cords.

The play, it transpired, was a series of short stories derived from Greek legendary women like Persephone, Phaedra and Medusa. The degree of connection was lost to me due to my poor knowledge of the original material but it did not matter, the stories stood in their own right.

Several factors made this one of the best things I have ever seen at Rose. Full use of the stage was made in a way that I had never seen before, including two structures thrusting over the stage. The script rhymed subtly, enough for you to notice but not to much for it to be a distraction. All the parts were played by Shannon Hayes and Niamh Cusack who were both excellent.

The Seven Pomegranate Seeds was exactly the sort of modern and intelligent play we were promised when Rose Theatre first opened and is exactly what I go to the theatre to see.

5 September 2021

30km to Uxbridge

I had walked to Uxbridge before and had also done the local sections of London Loop but I had not walked with the Ramblers before, despite being a member for a few years, and I took the opportunity of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Loop to do all three.

The Ramblers part of the walk was all of section 10 and most of section 11 which went from Hatton Cross to West Drayton. I supplemented that by walking from home to Hatton Cross, which is sort of section 9 of the Loop, and then continued on to Uxbridge completing section 11.

I made no attempt to follow the Loop to Hatton Cross and my route was determined more by having to get there by 11am and the location of some target Pokemon Go gyms. That meant more main roads that the Loop but it also took me through Hanworth Park and let me get a coffee and another excellent cake from the deservedly packed Lisboa Loja cafe in Feltham.

I arrived at Hatton Cross at 10:58 feeling suitably smug at my timing and pleased to have taken a key target gym in Hampton and two more in Hanworth Park. The day had started well.

The walk to West Drayton went much as expected and was mostly a route I had taken several times before.

There are always options on routes like these and after crossing Bath Road in Cranford I headed confidently to Avenue Park only for everyone else to go to Cranford Park. I conceded defeat and joined them.

We joined the canal soon after and I was expecting us to follow it all the way to West Drayton so the detour via Stockley Park was unexpected though understandable.

It is both a strength and a weakness of London Loop that it often takes a longer route to include parks when the direct route is already pretty. That was the case here in leaving, and then rejoining, the canal and also in section 9 where it goes through Hampstead Heath when the path along River Crane is both shorter and, in my opinion, prettier (though, to be fair, it can be closed due to flooding). The conflicting requirements of walking for pleasure (prettiest route) and for travel (shortest route), and attempts to mix the two, make designing walking routes difficult with no right answers. I think that is the main reason that I prefer to walk alone or with a friend, we get to choose the route at each point rather than somebody else.

The Ramblers abandoned me in West Drayton where the effects of the sun drove me into a pub for a beer. As advised, the pub by the station was pretty dire - the London Pride was off and the substitute bottle of Tribute was (just) out of date. The crisps were ok but basic.

Short beer break over I continued uneventfully along the canal to Uxbridge. I probably should have checked the status of public transport before making these plans as my expected route was unavailable due to no District Line trains running to Richmond but two Piccadilly Line trains to Acton Town then South Ealing and a 65 bus did the trick, eventually.

With a couple of short breaks the 30km walk took something under seven hours. That is what I call a good walk.

10 August 2021

A less scenic route to Feltham

This was another simple plan for a walk and, to be honest, it did not really work.

Recent and planned long walks headed from Richmond north, north-east, east and south-east so it seemed fair to give south-west another try. We had been that way a few (three?) times either following the Thames or the Mole. This time I thought that we could head for the two large reservoirs near West Molesey. Feltham was chosen as the end-point simply because it is in Zone 6 so we could get home for free.

The walk started well enough as we went through the centre of Bushy Park. There was more traffic there than we would have liked despite the through route being closed as cars were still allowed to access the two car parks in the centre. Still, it was quiet enough for us to walk along the road.

We followed The Thames west for a while before heading for the reservoirs. The roads there were too busy for the walk to be relaxing and the pavements left a great deal to be desired. That proved to be the case for most of the rest of the walk and ultimately led to the failure of the plan.

There were some good points along the way, such as when we rejoined the river just before Walton-on-Thames. BP's International Centre for Business & Technology in Sunbury had some impressive modern buildings. An unnamed area of heath in Lower Feltham was a flowery delight and we took a slight detour to enjoy it. We took another short detour for Grosvenor Park in Feltham but as that is just a recreation ground this was scant reward for the extra steps.

The final ignominy was having to have my end of walk beer in a Wetherspoons in Feltham.

Far from the greatest walk ever but not the worst either, at least the weather was good, and covering 21 km was a decent result for four hour's effort.

6 August 2021

Once more to Feltham

There are several reasons why I keep walking to Feltham.

It strings together several parks and while urban areas and main roads cannot be avoided the wild beauty and peace of places like The Lower Crane Valley, Hanworth Park and Feltham Park more than compensate. These parks follow the River Crane or The Duke of Northumberland's River which brings adds to the natural beauty.

It is also a nice distance for a walk with options to jump in an out of the route, by bus and train, if the time or the weather demands it.

The final excuse, I have to admit, is that I am chasing gold badges in some Pokemon Go gyms along the route and so I have to revisit them regularly.

I had walked every section of this route several times before but this is the first time that I had strung them together like this. My choice or route kept changing on the day depending on my mood as each decision had to be made.

One important decision was on where to stop for coffee and with not many decent options beyond Hampton I thought that I would give Lisboa Loja in Feltham another go. I had been there only once before and that was when I had got lost following the wrong river (there are three in the area). Lisboa Loja came up trumps with possibly the best cake that I have ever eaten! It was something like a Mango Coconut Bundt Cake but with more fruit. I will have to go back and have it again.

The final decisions were to keep walking and not to take a bus part of the way home. I could do this as I had started early, around 8:30am, and so despite walking for just over five hours I was still home in time for lunch. In those five hours I walked over 25km, a great start to the day!

20 July 2021

L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park

I know why I go to Glyndebourne (the whole experience) and why I do not go to Royal Opera House (too expensive for what it is) but I am not sure why I have been avoiding Opera Holland Park. 

Some of it is, I think, the lack of original programming. There is a limit to how often I want to see any opera even one as good as, say, Carmen or Madama Butterfly, and my only previous visit to Opera Holland Park was in 2015 to see the exceptional modern opera Flight that I had seen previously at Glyndebourne (twice).

Some of it is also the relatively poor visitor experience and I had bad memories of slow unmanaged queues for drinks. I know it is not trying to be Glyndebourne but I had been disappointed on my first, and only, visit.

All that said, when our eldest son offered to take us to see the unknown to us L’amico Fritz by Pietro Mascagni we quickly agreed.

Pre-opera meant a short walk up from Hammersmith, to keep the daily step count up, and a rather excellent supper at Megan's on the High Street by the entrance to Holland Park. The brief shower of rain did nothing to dampen our spirits.

We got to Opera Holland Park about half an hour before the performance, as planned, and went straight for the bubbly. Our son arrived soon after and the glasses of bubbly were followed by a bottle.

We were still under covid-19 restrictions which helped by reducing the numbers and simplifying some of the procedures, such as queuing for drinks! It was all very pleasant.

The restrictions also meant a big change in the seating, gone were the standard stadium seats and in were dining chairs arranged in small groups with gaps between them. These gaps helped to compensate for the lack of raking and I had a good view of the stage. We learned later that all the chairs has been used as props at theatres and were being given a second life here. 

L’amico Fritz is a light comedy with one of the simplest plots ever staged, a rich young man and a confirmed bachelor falls in love with the local farmer's daughter, and she with him, but it takes them about an hour to realise this, which is long after everyone else has.

The music was simple, to my untrained ear, and jolly. It skipped along evenly without any great highs or lows. Like the plot, it was pleasant and easily appreciated.

The singing was sumptuous, especially by the two leads and what could have been a light meal became a rich feast. I loved it.

That may have done enough to tempt me back to Opera Holland Park sooner rather than later, we will see.

17 July 2021

Learning about The Buildings of Ham Common

My favourite community events, by a country mile, are the local architecture walks and talks given by local architect Richard Woolf and organised by local community group Ham United Group so I was delighted to join his tour of The Buildings of Ham Common.

Ham Common, unsurprisingly, is the heart of Ham and it is ringed by an interesting collection of buildings from old cottages to substantial modern lodges. Richard squeezed eighteen of them into a fact-filled, informative and entertaining walk.

Here we see Richard explaining the rise of Neo-Georgian (Neo-Geo) houses and how the few examples on Ham Common sit uneasily with their grander Georgian neighbours.

I know the buildings on Ham Common pretty well and have photographed them all, often many times, for my community blog HamPhotos, but I was still absorbing new insights on their design and construction at a prodigious rate of knots.

This was a fascinating talk and it ended on the best possible note, Richard promised to do another walk and talk next year.

16 July 2021

The Game of Love and Chance at Arcola Outside was very jolly

My return to theatregoing is still tentative but Arcola Theatre is one of my favourites and I was keen to get back there. The Game of Love and Chance gave me the chance to do that with the promise of some easy laughs.

But first I had to get there.

The familiar routine of going to the Arcola was partially forgotten and things had changed too. Arcola had opened up a new performance space, Arcola Outside (where Arcola Tent once was) to give performances in a highly ventilated space with distanced seating.

The new bar did not do food but one of the staff recommended the pub across the road, The Speakeasy, and that did the job brilliantly, albeit at the price you would expect of a bar full of young Dalstonians.

The seating looked little more than wooden boxes, providing useful space underneath for bags, but it proved to be surprisingly comfortable.

The other surprising thing was the lack of mask wearing. I had mine on all the time but only a small number of other people did.

The play itself was a simply constructed farce where only two of the players and we, the audience, knew what was really going on. The trick was people swapping roles to great comic effect.

The acting was beautifully exaggerated and special praise must go to Ellie Nunn as the minor royal falling in love with a chauffeur for her expressions and looks to the audience, and to Michael Lyle for his enthusiastic son-of-a-billionaire chasing a maid.

It was all extremely jolly and I laughed a lot. It was just the sort of exuberant pick-me-up I needed after a long period without theatre or anything else very much.