Oliver – Live in Concert

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We drove down to Roger, Jane and Oliver’s this afternoon. The weather was horrendous, but it was well worth it as we were going to see Oliver playing flute in the East Herts Concert Band at their Christmas Concert.

St Mary’s Church, Standon

The venue was the delightful St Mary’s Church in the village of Standon, a Grade 1 listed place of worship near Puckeridge.

But before the entertainment, we needed to eat, and Roger had helpfully booked us in at The Star Pub. Even more helpfully, it was exactly opposite! Parking though, was challenging to say the least. We could have used the Pub car-park but due to some excessive faffing around by another motorist, we had to drive past the pub and eventually left Robert, with two wheels on the pavement in the street just up the road. Standon is only a tiny village, and the Concert tonight was therefore going to test everyone’s parking skills!

The Pub’s food turned out to be excellent, and they coped really well with the increase in trade generated by those heading for the same destination as us!

At 7pm, we retrieved the cushions that Roger had helpfully packed in readiness for the pews, and we headed inside the Church.

Unusually, the ticket price was based on ‘what you thought of it’ AFTER the event. I’ve not experienced this arrangement before!

By 7.30, the Band was assembled, but wait a mo’, there was no sign of Oliver! ‘The Devil’s in the Detail’ as they say, and a closer inspection of the programme’s cover explained it all! There were actually TWO groups of musicians โ€” The Youth Orchestra and Concert Band โ€” the former were on first and Oliver was performing later.

All-in-all, it looked like a great selection of Christmassy tunes โ€” and at least the carols were ones that everyone knew!

Oliver was soon on stage! He played with confidence and the overall sound from the Band was impressive!

The final piece โ€” Sleighride โ€” was where both groups of musicians joined forces. It didn’t disappoint (given there were only about 40 players) and they produced an impressive full orchestra sound โ€” it was the perfect way to end the performance.

The Concert finished just after 9.15, and we were soon on our way back to our premium B & B for the night! ๐Ÿ˜. After breakfast tomorrow, we’re heading home to finish preparing the garden for the Winter!

Bulbs for Banstead

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An early start for us today as we spent Saturday and Sunday with Richard and Nicki at their place in Banstead.

Saturday

We left home just after 7.30 and drove over to Huntingdon station. Why not take the car? Well, it’s not the getting there, it’s the getting home part. Last time we tried it on a Sunday by car, it took twice as long to get back as it did to get there – Ahh! I’d quite forgotten how congested it can get ‘darn sarf‘ – and how busy the M25 was, even on a Sunday! ๐Ÿ˜ซ

As things turned out, it was a text-book journey there with all our connections on-time or slightly early! Rich & Nicky picked us up from Sutton station just after 10.30 and we were soon catching-up over coffee & cake at theirs!

Plenty of bulbs for Banstead!

But apart from the social aspect, we had a cunning plan in mind โ€” and that was to tidy up/prune their garden and plant as many bulbs as the space allowed.

We were reasonably optimistic about the weather having checked it daily for the past three days. Being November, it wasn’t going to be the warmest of days, but at least the forecast promised dry weather. I’m not the world’s most enthusiastic gardener, but with the appropriate clothing, I’d be OK… wouldn’t I? wouldn’t I??

…errr NO! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Soil – pre-turned

Everything started well: It was dry, 8 degrees and whilst Nicki and Ann turned the soil in the back garden, I concentrated on the pruning out the front.

In need of a haircut!

…and it certainly needed a haircut!

Post haircut!

After about an hour, with its new trimmed look, it was ‘job done!

…just as the rain started to come down in buckets (this wasn’t forecast!) together with a drop in temperature as the sun beat its retreat! Any one of those factors would have been enough to ‘down tools’, but not us four! ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ’ช

We soldiered-on, getting progressively wetter (and in my case, progressively grumpier) as the rain became more persistent. We pushed on, and eventually, the final bulbs were in by 3.45 but with no improvement in the weather, we called it a day and cleared-up…

Bulbs in!

…but not before admiring all our work!

With the ‘toiling of the soil’ over, it was time to turn out attention to… the evneing meal! Richard had planned ahead and prepared his signature dish: “Garlic Roast Lamb”, whilst the rest of us got cleaned up!

Cosy!

Whilst the food cooked. all that was then left to do was to chill-out warm-up in front of the log-burner!! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

The meal didn’t disappoint and after us all digging-in for seconds, we all agreed it had been a great reward for all our efforts today!

Next stop was a movie – and after a thorough review of Netflix and Amazon Prime we settled on Daddy’s Home from 2015 courtesy of the latter.

Starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, it was the kind of movie that (for us) was laugh-out-loud funny – we loved it! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

Our day ended perfectly and as a bonus we appear to be slightly ahead with our gardening plans. Tomorrow, it’s pruning and numerous visits to the local dump

Sunday

Sunday’s weather promised a dry day and when we peeked through the curtains around 8am, it looked like the promise had been kept (although it was a little foggy!) – but at least it was DRY! In fact, as the morning ticked-away, the temperature eventually ‘soared’ to 10ยฐC by lunchtime! Happy days!!! ๐Ÿ˜

Today was about continuing the mega-prune and generally tidying up the garden as much as we could.

I say ‘mega’ as it required two separate trips to nearby Epson’s Green disposal site (about a 20 minute drive away) to get rid of our enthusiastic clippings! After all our previous visits earlier in the year, I think they’re getting to know us there by sight now – we’re be on first-name terms soon! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After almost three hours, we downed tools around 11.45, satisfied with what we’d achieved. Whilst Richard and I headed back from our last disposal trip (for this visit anyway!), Nicki and Ann prepared a quick lunch that would allow us to get a slightly earlier train home.

It was all delicious, and we reflected on how much progress our hosts have made since they moved in! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Perfect timing! We finished lunch by around 1pm and having said our goodbyes to Richard, Nicki dropped us back to Sutton Station. Next stop Victoria, and then King’s Cross!

The 16.13 was on time (although we had a about a 45 minute wait) and we were soon on our way back to Huntingdon. A trouble-free journey along the A14 meant we were home just before 5pm. OK four hours is a long time on public transport and if the roads had been perfect, we could have driven it in two-and-a-half hours – but when was the last time the road conditions were perfect!

Ahh, that’s nice! โคโค

…and the above made it all worthwhile!

Tech Alert (No. 1211) ๐Ÿ˜

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Yes, it’s that time again! – technology marches on, and I’m looking to replace my ageing BT router – the ‘Homehub 4’. It might only be around 6 years old, but that’s a lifetime these days for this sort of tech!

Our ageing ‘Homehub 4’

Why change? Well, normally, it would be simply down to more whistles and bells, but this time, things were different! Oh yes! Not only was the replacement going to have to have more whistles and bells, but it needed to be a lot more reliable too! Not that its unreliability was the router’s fault, as I’ll explain later.

As things were to turn out, I got all my whistles and bells, plus a few more AND the total price of our broadband package actually went down! ๐Ÿ˜

If I was to prioritise, the promise of a more stable wireless capability was the main aim, as this was desperately in need of improvement, especially for some of the radios and mobile phones here.

Why? Well, not surprisingly, we tend to push the router hard in this house – and that’s what was causing the unreliability. Not content with just the ‘normal’ typical family connections; say, a couple of phones, tablets, laptops etc, we’ve got so much more ‘talking’ the current router – see the list below.

Phew!

The result being in many cases, devices were randomly losing their connection and the speed-per-device was sometimes horribly slow. And no-one was surprised, not even BT when I told them how many bits of kit were connected!!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

After a lot of research, we simply settled on the latest router from BT – their so-called ‘SmartHub 2.0‘. Additionally, they promised no increase in the price of our contract (apart from RPI) at the end of the contract, but also a free techy visit if needed, and perhaps more importantly, ‘guaranteed strong wifi around the home‘ (using ‘mesh‘ technology). There’s quite a useful comparison between the various BT ‘Hub’s HERE.

Crikey! even Which liked it!

We had high hopes for the BT Complete Wi-Fi, and it definitely lived up to its bold claims. The Smart Hub 2 on its own is the highest scoring router we’ve tested, and with the added disc it’s one of the best mesh systems we’ve seen. It can give you excellent coverage and fast transfer speeds, even with lots of devices connected”.

Check out their full review HERE.

I must admit, even though the reviews of this replacement were glowing, I tend to treat all the hype with some caution these days – even from Which.

BT’s ‘shiny new’ SmartHub 2.0

“That’ll be interesting” I thought, “we’ve got close on 40 devices all needing to talk to the router, and I’m sure that’s well in excess of what’s recommended”

Our shiny new toy arrived a few days later. There was now even an app to help you set it up! ๐Ÿ˜

Long-story-short: It was a breeze to get up-and-running – and more importantly, after some thorough stress-testing, every device in the house was rock-solid in terms of its connection. I guess this ‘mesh‘ technology-marlarkey does the trick!

BT’s ‘Disc’

And just to be sure, I located a complementary piece of kit known as a ‘disc’ on eBay (half the price than direct from BT) that works with the router to boost the signal even further (some 15% apparently). That now lives upstairs and altohugh not strictly necessary, it could only make things even better.

Time will tell over the coming weeks as to whether it lives up to the hype – we’ll see!!!

Tech Spec:
Supports ADSL, ADSL2, VDSL2, G.FAST
1 x Analogue phone port
2.4GHz 3 x 3 MIMO 11n, 5GHz 4×4 MIMO 11ac
4 x gigabit LAN ports
2 x USB 3.0 ports
Serves as a DECT base station
7 x Wi-Fi, 2 DECT antennas
1 x USB 2.0 port

#CynicalBugger ๐Ÿค”

Update: Well, three weeks later, I’m happy to report that the internet is vastly improved. Downloads are a tad faster (although I wasn’t expecting that!) and every device has enjoyed a 100% connection since the router’s installation. Thanks BT!!

Tea for Three

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We picked up Helen, and headed to the ever-reliable Beckworth’s for one of their Afternoon Teas! Yumminess predicted! ๐Ÿ˜

Yumminess exceeded!

The food and service didn’t disappoint, and judging by the fact that the rest of Northamptonshire were also there, others were equally impressed!

Helen and Ann

Afterwards, we took a look round their Garden Centre and chose one of their excellent Hanging Baskets…

We dropped Helen back to hers just after 4.15 and after a quick tour round her garden, we headed for home. Perfect timing then, as the heavens opened, and the rain returned! ๐Ÿ˜’

Can we have some sunshine please? It is June after all!

Coton Manor Gardens

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Continuing our theme of looking at old things on our doorstep, I put the mirror to one-side and instead, we headed for Coton Manor and Gardens. The Manor House isn’t open to the public, but the Gardens are open Tuesday to Saturday.

The Manor House
Click on the Map for live directions

Based on the number of cars in the car-park, it was clearly a popular destination! We took the short walk to the entrance and after parting with ยฃ7.50 each and receiving our free map, we headed for the main event – the Gardens!

Click above for a larger view

First impressions were great ones! So much colour and so much variety too!

This is clearly a loved Garden! Every blade of grass looked like it had been manicured within a millimetre of its life!

…and if that wasn’t enough of an assault on the senses (in a good way!), there were also… Flamingos! (Yes, really!)

The minimum number for a ‘Flamboyance’ of Flamingos! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Three of them in total, totally at ease surrounded by us humans, all trying to grab a photograph!

Our final stop was their outdoor Garden Shop. The area sported a large range of healthy-looking plants and where the size of some of the greenery was a clear indication of the TLC from the gardening team!

All-in-all then, a very worthwhile visit! ๐Ÿ‘

Bank Holiday Weekend in Banstead

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We travelled down to Banstead today to meet up with good friends Richard and Nicki. What made today different was that we decided to do it all by train (given the poor journey we had back last time by car!).

Whether it’s a sign of getting a bit older, or simply the thought of the generally heavy road congestion and plethora of speed-cameras nearer our destination – just thinking about avoiding taking the car this particular journey, was relaxing in itself! It may be only 100-or-so miles by road, but it’s two-and-a-half hours at least, behind the wheel! ๐Ÿฅด So, not to be recommended!!!

A rather spruced-up Victoria Station (since we were last here)

Saturday…

OK, our journey may have required TWO changes of Train – Finsbury Park and Victoria Station, but it still felt good to NOT be staring over the top of the steering wheel for the journey! We arrived at 10.25 and Nicki met us at Sutton Station – and just 15 minutes later, we were sharing coffee at theirs and planning our weekend tasks.

Yes, it’s mainly a social get-together, but we’d also offered our services helping them around the house – but especially in the Garden

Whilst Richard concentrated on emulsioning the kitchen, we three headed for the front garden aka ‘the jungle’.

There was plenty of work needed here but by lunchtime, we’d made a small dent in it – with plans to completely remove the neglected foliage. The weather was not on our side. Not only was it freezing cold, every so often, it chucked it down with rain! Yuk! ๐Ÿ˜•

Cheese for Lunch! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ˜Š
Significant Progress! ๐Ÿ‘

2.45pm: Back to work – and another couple of hours graft and we’d made some significant progress.

4.00pm: We might have done more, but the rain showers that had come and gone all day now turned into a downpour…

5.45pm: We soldiered on in between the rain, but in the end, the rain beat us – and so we downed tools and called it a day!

Lamb! Minted! ๐Ÿ˜

7.25pm: All that hard work was rewarded with some yummy food! Specifically, Nicki’s mouth-watering Lamb and her Mint Marinade!

8.25pm: Movie time! Courtesy of Netflix, we settled down to State of Play (2009) starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. It turned out to be excellent! But towards the end, I could feel my eye-lids drooping!

11.00pm: zzzzzzzzzz!

Sunday…

Not surprisingly, we slept incredibly well, and after a quick breakfast, we were ready for today’s challenges!

First job was to finish off the front garden – and that required numerous trips to the local Dump!

Three Trips!

1.45pm: We ploughed on, and with Lunch on the horizon, by 1.45, it was ‘job done’!

2.05pm: Celebration Lunch!

Mexican Feast! ๐Ÿ˜

3.20pm: Suitably fed and watered, we said our farewells and Nicki then dropped us back to Sutton Station for the 15.38 slow train to Victoria. Richard joined us for part of the journey as he was heading for Crystal Palace.

6.24pm: Home! An excellent journey, with all train connections working as they should! We felt a real sense of achievement this weekend and of course, it was great to catchup with our great friends – and help them out too! The stress-free journey there and back, has convinced us that this will be our preferred method of travel for future visits. Three hours door-to-door with an opportunity to doze, is an opportunity too good to ignore! (I must be am getting old!) ๐Ÿ˜Š

Two Locals and Two Towneys

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We caught up with Nick and Celina today.

After a quick look round their local Garden Centre, we headed off to another local for Lunch – The Black Bull, in nearby Market Overton.

A Great Menu!
Pate for Starters
Chicken Balti in a Pie! Genius!
Banoffee Pie

Then it was back to theirs for a coffee and to admire how much they’ve done with their Home since we were last here back in 2017.

Then, back to ours to prepare some of the food for the neighbours’ gathering round at Tom and Julie’s to celebrate Lewis’ 30th. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fab Food!
Almost 30!

It’s all go! …and in a good way! We had a great time and stayed until about 11ish – and then dropped-off John and Trish at theirs. Catch-up again soon neighbours! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ˜‰