My job frequently demands travel, but 99% of the time the trips are contained within a week. This month however, I was required to attend meetings and budget reviews that spread across two weeks and as the location was the USA, it made economical sense to stay over the weekend.
Washington DC was between the locations being visited, so I spent Saturday and a cool, wet and thoroughly enjoyable Sunday walking between the many memorials and visiting several museums.
The pictures below are a selection of the many taken – and the museums visited were the The Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum which maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. The Museum has two display facilities – the National Mall building in Washington, D.C. which has the original Wright 1903 Flyer and the Apollo 11 command module to name but two, and the other location is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located out of the city near Dulles International Airport which has many more artifacts including the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay and Space Shuttle Discovery. I visited that museum first on the way in to the city the previous day.
The other visit of note was the superb Newseum. This visit had quite an impact on me, and some of the exhibits were emotionally disturbing. Spread over six floors with a fantastic open air gallery on the top floor affording breathtaking views over this beautiful city, I was not prepared for the many moments of deep introspection invoked by the exhibits – which included sections from the Berlin Wall, and East German watchtower from the chilling Cold War era, a piece of mangled radio tower that once sat atop the World Trade Center before it was destroyed during 09/11. The Pulitzer prize-winning photographs with personal commentary provided by the photographers and the many interactive news presentations that are especially instructive and entertaining. I would recommend this to everyone.
I have just returned from a wonderful week in the south of France. We were there to celebrate the wedding of my dear niece Claire to her wonderful fiancé Daniel.
As Claire is English and Dan is French, and both of them in recent years have had the opportunity to live within each other’s homelands the couple wanted a hybrid Anglo-French approach to the wedding format – selecting what was for them the best of both worlds.
As so many friends and family would be attending from UK and a wide area of France, they had selected the beautiful Abbaye Saint Hillaire winery as the wedding base for the week. The winery has approx. 130 hectares of vineyards and contains within the private estate 15 beautifully presented gîte type lodgings. The whole estate which also includes forested hills covers 1,500 hectares and sits at the foot of the Auréliens and Sainte-Victoire mountains between Olliers near Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume and Rians.
Abbaye Saint Hillaire proved to be the perfect location for us and the wonderful courtyard that fronted the entrances to the gîtes, was the evening meeting point and catalyst for social gatherings of family and friends on every night of our stay.
Dan grew up – and his parents still live in a beautiful little French village called Jouques.
Although Dan’s work has them spending much of their time in the area of Nimes – on the edge of the famous Camargue, western Europe’s largest river delta, Dan’s heart and most of the happy couple’s family, friends and social/leisure activities have them basing themselves in and around the area of Jouques and Aix en Provence. And so it was that the wedding took place in the local Jouques Marie (Town Hall).
The civil ceremony was carried out by the assistant mayor of the town and I had the very great honour of presenting the service with him by providing an English translation of the civil ceremony for the benefit of the English guests. The Marie ceremony was attended by a great many family and friends and the centre of the village came to a stand-still several times during the afternoon.
The following photograph album provides an overview of the wonderful week we spent together:-
I thought I’d lost this when I retired a PC last year. I believed I hadn’t backed up every nook-and-cranny!! Imagine my delight when I found it again!
This is my nephew Thomas at approx. 4 or 5 years old getting to grips with his fathers mini-excavator. It must have been shot approx. 25 years ago!
My job demands long hours sitting in meeting rooms and offices – often 10-12 hours per day. This situation has evolved over many years, and although I have long considered the possible ill effects on my health, the long hours demanded from the role made it difficult for me to see how I could balance this work regime with adequate healthy activity. I tried to cycle at week-ends when and where possible and the job demands a great deal of travel which does introduce some physical activity to my life, so I wasn’t exactly a couch potato. But I had not pushed myself physically for a few years and was starting to feel ‘sluggish’.
When I was young, I loved martial arts and practiced from my mid-teens until my late thirties, but as my working career progressed and the responsibilities and work hours extended, the commitment required to maintain the necessary standard in terms of hours in class was too much. I eventually stopped. I did learn tai-chi a few years ago as this was something I could practice alone once learnt. Tai-chi however although very good for body balance, coordination and gentle stretching does not push or stress the cardio vascular system. Indeed this is it’s strength! But I felt my sedentary life-style demanded more.
A few months ago I was sitting in a meeting room in Europe with several colleagues – one of which struck me as looking particularly healthy. This may seem like a strange observation, but he looked positively alive and glowing with health. I asked him what he did to keep fit and he replied that he played regular squash. He explained that in his busy life this provided the perfect balance. A game usually lasted approx. 40 minutes and he could fit this in sometimes several times per week.
I had never considered squash before for myself – although I knew it was supposed to be extremely physically challenging, and many of my working colleagues played.
I was now 52 years old and really felt that if I didn’t take some kind of action, my good health and therefore life would start to decline. I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time I had exerted myself to the point of breaking sweat! It must have been several years!
Immediately on my return from that business trip, I googled squash coaches in the Cambridge area and discovered Bob Maison of the Cambridge Squash Club. After a short e-mail exchange with Bob, I started what has become for me a life-changing experience.
When I started, I believed that my general condition was not too bad. As already explained, my body was still relatively supple. And having never held any kind of racquet before, my plan was to develop my fitness – especially my stamina level in parallel with the development of my new squash techniques. I was under no illusion regarding squash being a fierce cardio vascular sport and was fully prepared for the journey to be a long one. Because of my job and the high degree of travel required, I was only able to attend lessons every few weeks, so I was prepared for a very slow process. However, being home at week-ends and as a new club member I am able to reserve court space most week-ends to practice the drills that Bob has taught entirely at my own pace.
It is five months since I started and I am progressing at exactly the pace I intended – slowly, as not to cause problems! My hand eye coordination has improved considerable – when I started I couldn’t hit the ball with the racquet! Now I am practicing solo volleys. Cambridge Squash Club has a gym upstairs above the courts and the first time I got on the tread-mill machine after a practice session in the courts, the computerised programme took my age, weight, measured my heart-rate and after a few minutes stopped – prompting me to wake it up again when my heart rate had come down! Now I am able to use it for a cardio-vascular work-out and use it on a ‘cool-down’ programme after an hour and a half on court.
I feel more alert and awake during the day – in fact ‘alive’ is a good description! I have undoubtably far more energy than I used to have. If I hadn’t discovered squash and the excellent training drills provided by Bob for solo practice I don’t want to consider how my situation would have played out – although the truth I believe is that Bob Maison and the Cambridge Squash Club have actually contributed to saving my life.
After enjoying the Wilko Johnson concert in September and writing the blog post about it, in which I had been lamenting the fact that I had never seen ‘The Blockheads’ live, it got me reading up on them. Imagine then my joy to learn that they had not disbanded following Ian’s death in 2000 but continued by public demand, and were scheduled to play a 35th anniversary residency at Ronnie Scotts in Soho from 21st to 24th November. I couldn’t believe my luck! We had already planned a long weekend in London from the 25th to 27th. So I booked the additional night at the hotel and booked us tickets for Ronnie Scotts on the 24th.
The Blockheads most recent album ‘Staring Down The Barrel’ is a masterpiece! I can honestly say there isn’t a weak track on the album – and of course the musicianship is superb. This band are so tight you couldn’t slip a cigarette paper between them.
The music writing credits go to Chas Jankel and the the lead vocals and lyric writing credits now go to Derek ‘The Draw’ Hussey – formerly Ian Dury’s minder/stage chaperone. In my humble opinion this is as fine a collaborating duo as Dury/Jankel ever were. I would recommend this to everyone and anyone with an appreciation of good music – and witty often humorous lyrics. Although the language is very colloquial London/Essex based and may not be clearly understood outside UK.
The Ronnie Scotts gig was everything I expected, superb! It really doesn’t get any better than this – to be able to listen to your favourite band in an intimate atmosphere such as Ronnie’s. I was particularly struck by the broad fan base. Of course The Blockheads have a back-catalogue that stretches back to the seventies and original fans of the band and their music are now in to their 50s. I witnessed several family groups where the teenage offspring had also been converted and were enjoying this gig with their elders. A truly family affair. By the end of their set the whole place was jumping – both audience and staff bouncing around to ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ and ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’.
The Ronnie Scotts band lineup:-
- Gilad Atzmon – Saxophones
- Mick Gallagher – Organ, Piano and Synths
- Derek Hussey – Vocals and Ambience Co-ordination
- Chaz Jankel – Guitars and Keyboards
- John Roberts – Drums
- John Turnbull – Guitars
- Norman Watt-Roy – Bass