Well all good things come to an end, and today, I said my final ‘goodbye’ to The OCA after 13 years as their WebMaster. Having stepped-aside as Chair and Magazine Editor this time last year, this was the final (final!) ‘cheerio’ having allowed a year to find a replacement. Going forward, I’ll simply be a ‘Member’.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed developing the site and bringing (occasionally ‘dragging’) the Association into the 20th (and then, 21st) century! The biggest benefit was that the Website certainly helped with the recruiting of new Members. Many ‘found us’ via the various search engines, and after a look-round, decided to sign-up.
In spite of its successes, at 61 years of age, I shouldn’t really be designing websites, should I? – it’s a young persons’ game and I’m mindful that the site was starting to possibly look a bit ‘dated’. Hopefully, my replacement will bring a fresh pair of eyes to proceedings!
I think I fulfilled the Association’s motto though: ‘Ludum Ludite’ (‘Play the Game’)
We drove down to Roger, Jane and Oliver’s for Oliver’s end-of-term musical concert at his new school: Richard Hale. The past few days have been roasting – and today was no different with temperatures in the mid 30s.
We set off around 2pm – a rare outing for the XKR – and had a smooth journey to our destination. After some salad and a quick natter, it was off to the school to take our seats amongst the other hundred-or-so parents all there for the same treat! It might have been mid-30s outside, but in the relatively confined space of the School Hall, it was more like 130! Phew what a real scorcher!
At just after 7, the Concert began …and what a varied programme it was! I was expecting a sedate series of classical pieces, but what we got was something much more interesting! – the Theme from Goldfinger by the Concert Band as the opening piece, and that very much set the tone for the evening where the classics were nowhere to be seen (well, hardly) displaced by the more modern music of Jessie J, Coldplay and Lana del Ray. It was all great stuff and clearly demonstrated to me how things have changed since my school-days, where the end-of-term music was normally the ‘racy’ Hallelujah Chorus! The only instruments that were acceptable in those days was piano, violin, violin, violin, recorder or recorder! Tonight, we had synths, drums, electric, Spanish and bass guitars, bongos and saxophones!
I feel like I’m getting old!
Oliver’s solo piece was entitled: ‘Nobody Knows’, and he certainly made his flute sing! His ability has clearly grown since the last time we saw him play. Fantastic!
The nine pieces that made up the first half clearly showed that Britain’s got talent – well, at least Richard Hale school has! The other thing that became immediately obvious was how confident all the kids were. To get up (especially during solo pieces) without any sign of nerves and perform in front of mostly strangers was no mean feat – and I can’t imagine when I was their age having the balls to do what they did!
The interval arrived, and the congregation flooded out into the area in front of the Hall where the (very, VERY) welcome glass of free Pimm’s helped us all cope with the heat. If the School needed anything more right now, it wasn’t talent, it was an air-conditioned Hall! Phew! what a real scorcher. The Pimm’s seemed to be going down a treat, and happily we were informed that there was plenty more – clearly the musical talent of the kids wasn’t matched by the mathematical ability of those who provided the alcohol!
Part Two beckoned, as the now fully-refreshed (if slightly inebriated) audience flooded back into the sweat-box School Hall. Just like the first half, talent was in abundance, and although Khachaturian got a brief look-in with his Sabre Dance, (nicely played Oliver!) the session was dominated bymore modern pieces that included vocal solos and personal compositions.
The evening finished with the returning Concert Band (and more of Oliver!) who knocked-out Rock, Reggae and Disco pieces like their lives depended on it!
The Head rounded-off the evening with his thanks to everyone – and a reminder that next year is the school’s 400th Anniversary. I suspect that will be the perfect excuse for even more musical events! Wow! what an evening!!!!
We were soon back at R, J and O’s reflecting on it all. I think we all concluded that (based on Oliver’s education to date), the ‘system’ seems to allow kids to blossom at an earlier age – and that’s no bad thing.
By 10.30, we were done and with the music still ringing in our ears, we headed for bed. I think it had now ‘cooled’ to around 21 by the time our heads hit the pillow and we hoped for a good night’s sleep.
Morning came (as it often does) and we’d slept well. We had a quick breakfast before heading home. Another smooth journey meant that I was home in time for probably my last phone-call ever relating to my role as Chairman for the OCA. We’ve got our AGM and Reunion next Saturday (when I step down) and the phone conversation allowed me to clarify the last remaining bits and pieces.
After yesterday’s trip into London for possibly my final informal School event as Chairman, it was a quick turn-around, and then off to Stratford-upon-Avon and Second Thoughts’ 7.30pm production of Cyrano De Bergerac. Unusually, it played at The Bear Pit, rather than the Civic Hall – but that didn’t diminish the attendance, as it was almost a sell-out (and had been for the previous three performances).
Wow! what a production!! The cast all played their parts really well, especially the lead, Tim Guest, as the doomed lover of Roxanne. My only criticism was the seats, that were so close together, it’s a good job I sat next to Ann, and I was on the end of a row!
After the torrential rain on the south coast last week, it was good to learn that we wouldn’t end up rusting this weekend as the weather forecast predicted a heatwave!
So, we left home just before 9am, in the direction of Eastbourne, with a plan to stop of along the way, somewhere, and enjoy a picnic. When we left home, the weather was very mediocre, but the further south we got, the hotter it got! So that was just perfect!
First stop was the rather quaint town of Lewes. I don’t think I’ve been here since the late 70s, and it was good to see the town again. We trundled into Lewes Castle before taking a look round the varied shops, before stopping off at a local watering hole – and their roof garden – for a swift one!
Then, it was back in the car to nail the picnic spot – and we found the perfect location – the village of Alfriston – just a short drive away… with free parking… and a view to die for. And that’s where we stayed for the next hour, under the shade of an oak tree with a perfect view of dozens of park benches and a very green lawn area in front of the Church.
Suitably refreshed, we headed back to the car – and to our final destination – The Da Vinci Hotel, just opposite the sea-front in Eastbourne. Parking was initially a nightmare, but I did manage to find the last space almost opposite the front door – and with a parking permit part of the deal, we were sorted for the next two days.
After a lightning quick check-in we headed for room 306. On entering, we felt the immediate need for sunglasses – not because of the local weather, but because of the colour scheme!! The room looked like it had been designed by the same people that make my socks! Bright orange doesn’t even begin to describe it!!! Perhaps they use the hotel rooms instead of a lighthouse to ward-off ships from crashing into the pier!!
After a quick change of clothes, we wandered along the seafront and onto the Pier. Lovely!
..and then we did a quick tour of the shops, stopping off at Zizzi’s for a light nibble in the shape and taste of their ‘Pulled Pork Napoli’ pizza.
..and then we waddled back to the Hotel by way of another wander along the seafront.
Saturday dawned with the sound of the seaside – more specifically, the sound of seagulls! And they were noisy… real noisy… even at 5am!! Bang went the lie-in then! Then, It was a sharpish breakfast for me, as I was off to the nearby Hydro Hotel, for another of the OCA’s informal reunions/get-togethers, with yours truly ‘chairing’ the event. Not a great day then for the Polo to break down on the way to the Station to pick up the Team, due to a knackered ignition coil on cylinder 2. Thank goodness then for the RAC, who turned up in under an hour and, happened to have a spare coil on board! Phew!!!!
The event went well, and after clearing-up, I was back to the Da Vinci ready for a meal out at the nearby The Channel Restaurant. Ann had booked it based on some very good recommendations, and luckily for us it was a stone’s throw from our hotel. The food was great and the service, very prompt – just how we like it!
Then it was a short walk back to the Da Vinci for our final night here.
Sunday – and we were up with the lark (and those b****** seagulls!), and after a swift brekky, we were on the road and heading for my brother’s in Bromley. It was a great time to visit: our Nephew, Frankie had done well in his exams: 6 A*s, 5 As and a C and we also picked up my new PC that Neil had built from a basic configuration with a few extra bits bolted on. We’d also managed to install most of my current software during the preceding couple of weeks, by taking advantage of DropBox and a fast internet connection – brilliant!
After a buffet lunch, we headed home – and the journey was a pig! One hour queuing to get through the Dartford Tunnel plus various other hold ups on the M11 meant the journey of just 90-or-so miles took nearly three hours!! We were knackered, by the time we got home – I didn’t even have the energy to post this blog on time!
Still, looking back on the events of the past few days, it had been a great weekend for us – always good to catch-up with family, and a(nother) successful event for the OCA meant that when I step down next year, at least I’ll have some positive experiences to look back on.
Reading time: 8minutes...As the title suggests, this year’s birthday celebrations have been especially memorable. Loyal reader, read on…
Even before the celebrations began today, I had a rather unexpected birthday-call the previous evening. The phone rang, and I didn’t recognise the number that came up, nor the voice at the other end. The mystery voice immediately sprang into singing ‘happy birthday’. After the serenading had finished, the voice asked: ‘do you know who this is?’ and i thought I did, but the phone number didn’t fit. After a bit of head-scratching (an increasingly regular occurrence these days!), I guessed correctly, as It turned out to be the evergreen Reg Whellock, a member of the OCA , whose 100th Birthday party we’d been to a few weeks’ ago! These days, I’m a cynical bugger, but I’ve got to say, I was very touched that he took the time (and remembered) to ring me.
The Day of the DoDO The postman was early, so I was enjoying reading through my cards much earlier than I’d planned. Thanks everyone – an enjoyable collection, some traditional, some rude and some weird in roughly equal proportions! And some great presents too. I also had a even more good wishes this year (compared to last) via Facebook and Twitter – details later in this Blog.
The Theatre In the evening, we headed off to The Derngate, to see the 7.30 performance of One Man, Two Guvnors. The Play itself had already been in the West-End, and everyone we had spoken to said it was very good. We weren’t sure what to expect, and the opening scenes appeared to suggest a rather straightforward production with more than its fair share of laughs. That was good enough for me, but my expectations were about to be exceeded in every way!!! I won’t spoil for those who’ve still to see it, but rest assured, it is REALLY worth the trip. I have never laughed so much in my life, and I’m pretty sure there were one, or maybe two occasions, where Ann nearly wet herself!
It was packed a little later – Honest! Most definitely the funniest Play I have ever seen! Just one word of warning – maybe don’t choose to sit in the first three rows!
Birthday Weekend – Saturday Ann has planned a surprise trip somewhere in the UK, complete with a hotel stop-over! I wonder where it’ll be?
Well, 120-or-so miles later, I found out, as we arrived in Monmouth. It was a bit of a grey day, but the quaint shops and quite a few men dressed up in English Civil War costumes made all of it a lot more interesting – and weird!
First stop though was The Punch House and a date with a Full English (even though we’re in Wales)
First Stop – Breakfast!
Full English, or Full Welsh???
Scenes around Monmouth High Street
The Royal Monmouthshire Regiment HQ
Nice View from the Monnow Bridge
Men Guarding the Monnow Bridge
Then it was off to National Trust’s The Kymin a few miles away, but along some of the twistiest roads I’ve ever been on with lots of blind bends – not the the best roads for a car with such a long bonnet! The NT property was certainly the highest NT property we’ve ever visited! and it was well worth it – if only for the view from the top, across Monmouth and the Wye Valley. The location has two buildings – one is a sort of monument to British Navy, opened by Nelson in 1802 – in effect a Temple. The other, a small folly, called The Round House, and built in the late 1700s consisted of two floors, with a small windy staircase connecting the levels. The buildings themselves are surrounded by open woodland, making it the perfect spot for a picnic and/or a country walk. All-in-all, a rather quirky but beautiful area – and well worth the slightly hazardous car journey ascending to the summit!!
The Naval Temple at The Kymin
The Round House Folly at The Kymin
Views to Die For! On the way back to car, it was then I noticed we’d acquired a nasty dink in the front grille area!
Damn, that won’t be cheap to fix! There’s a lot of paint area to have to blend in! Ahh, the joys of motoring!!!
With our breath well-and-truly taken away by The Kymin, it was time to head for the next part of my weekend surprise, and our base for the next couple of days – The St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club in Chepstow.
Wow! This a massive sprawling mass of hotelness! So large in fact, we couldn’t find the entrance (but did have fun not killing any golfers in their buggies who were dominating the roadway, during the attempt).
Inside was a very grand affair, all oak panels and oversized table lamps,! Although by the time we’d got to our room (what felt like miles from Reception!), a sense of ‘ordinary-ness’ was setting-in based on the look and feel of the corridors and our room. ‘326’ had a goodish view across the Golf Course and sported an ultra comfy bed and a large wide-screen TV, but the bathroom was badly in need of a refresh, and the mini-bar was the modern sort that we’ve seen in a lot of hotels recently – empty!, but at least that encouraged us to get to the Bar a little earlier than planned!
A nice touch though was that the Staff had left me a small box of chocs, with a hand-written note wishing me a happy birthday.
We attempted to book a table in the main restaurant for tonight, but it was full – clearly, guests who are staying at the hotel, aren’t given any preferential treatment. That’s slightly unusual in my experience. No matter, because of the hotel’s size, it had another large restaurant on-site, and we managed to squeeze in there for 7.15.
Well, the restaurant experience was pretty good. The menu punched well-above its weight and the Waiter, very professional and attentive – by 8pm, the place was packed (and that’s always a good sign) and the staff were kept busy. Ann chose the Chicken, and I went for the Lamb as our mains, but we did each manage to squeeze in a starter too, and in my case, a dessert (Blueberry Cheesecake) – Oh, and a bottle of wine too!
By 9pm we were both slightly pissed and collapsed in one of the many comfy settees in the lounge! And there we stayed until
Weather permitting, tomorrow we’re heading for Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey and Symonds Yat, crashing out at 7pm for my official Birthday meal The Crown at Whitebrook (that’s just been awarded its first Michelin Star!)
Birthday Weekend – Sunday A lazy morning that began with a cuppa in bed and then down to breakfast. The Restaurant was packed (considering it was a Sunday), and the staff coped with the gazillions of guests really well. We think the extras were staying over from the Wedding event yesterday.
Then, after a hearty fill, it was back to the room to gather up our bits and pieces for a cultural day out. When we got back to the room, there were two swans on our bed!
Swans! And what could be more surprising than Swans on your bed? We were soon to discover it was actually pigeons-in-the-tree-above-your-car! As we approached the Jaguar, we both noticed that it was looking fairly discoloured in several places. On closer inspection, it became clear that it was much worse. In my 40 years of driving, I have never seen a car with so much pigeon-debris on it. They’d managed to miss the cars on both sides, and their precision-pooping had smothered the bonnet in about six places, and the roof, and the boot too! Yuk! Clearly the pigeons had been out for a night on the town, and got stuck into a berry-vindaloo.
We all know that the way NOT to clean the car in these situations, is to attack it and quickly rub hard, so after forty minutes-or-so, and with Ann now an official car-cleaner, we had gently softened the mess and wiped it clean. Luckily I also had some ‘bird wipes’ in the glove-box to finish of the job. Now where’s the shotgun???
After yesterday’s episode with the dink in the front, someone has definitely got it in for the car! And so, it was back to the itinerary. Chepstow Castle I’ve not been here before, but Ann visited here over 30 years ago! We love old castles (even more than we hate pigeons), and it was great just wandering round and soaking up the ambience.
Then it was off to Chepstow Town. A lovely place with cobbled streets and vibrant displays of begonias and other plants. Nice!
Tintern Abbey Then, after sampling the delights of Chepstow, it was back in the car for our next destination. On arrival, two things became immediately obvious. First – parking was a nightmare, with even the overflow car-park 99% full. Second, the temperature was now much hotter, hitting almost 22 degrees (in late September!!!). Neither of which stopped us enjoying this old place – it’s in remarkable condition, given its age, and there is plenty of it left to enjoy!!
And, after all this culture, what better to take a break and stop for lunch at the Pub opposite – The Anchor Inn.
Fruit – One of my five-a-day The final part of our whistle-stop tour was Symonds Yat, a local(ish) beauty-spot with stunning views. But we didn’t make it. After negotiating even narrower roads than yesterday, we couldn’t find it at all! After nearly mowing down a local in the narrowness of the road, he was still willing to let us know that we were at the wrong one. Ehh?!?!
Apparently, there are TWO: a Symonds Yat EAST and a Symonds Yat WEST – and we were at the other one! If the streets weren’t already narrow enough, we now had to turn round, and that’s when I first noticed the ‘road narrows’ sign. This was impossible! as we were already in a road that was only narrow enough for one car, and one local, and now things were about to get even narrower! I had a strong feeling it was going to be a long journey – in reverse – back to road junction. Have you seen the view out of the back of an XKR???? limited doesn’t even begin to describe it. It couldn’t get worse could it?
Of course it could! There was now a car coming from the opposite direction, heading towards us with some determination. Fortunately, a local driveway had just enough space for our new found – and closest – friend to shoehorn his car into, and eventually, after some clever moves, we passed each other with a cheery wave and a joint sigh of relief!
All this proved that we didn’t really know the local terrain at all, and heading for the OTHER Symonds Yat, was almost certainly going to offer us the same driving challenges. We bottled it – and headed for the nearest petrol station, then back to base.
The Crown at Whitebrook Our final stop for my Birthday celebrations was The Crown. The name suggested it was a Harvester, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! This was a VERY classy restaurant in the middle-of-nowhere, where a few days ago was awarded its first Michelin Star. This, officially, was my birthday-meal and from the moment we stepped through the small front entrance, the Restaurant didn’t disappoint!
This was a posh place, and doing good business, considering it was a SUNDAY night. OK, the portion-sizes wouldn’t have kept a mouse alive, but that wasn’t the point – every course was a taste explosion and presented in a way where it was almost a shame to disturb it! This was an operation at the top of its game, where they didn’t put a foot wrong all evening. Table-cloths and napkins ironed and starched within an inch of their lives (these days, I know about these things!), and Waiters who put the customer at the heart of the dining experience 100% of the time. Set the wow-factor to 11!
And by 10pm, we were done, so we slowly navigated the Jaguar back through the impossibly narrow lanes, arriving back at the Hotel just after 10.30. It’s been a very enjoyable surprise Birthday (and I don’t normally like these sorts of surprises!), and one that I’m sure we’ll still be talking about in years to come.
We check out of the Hotel tomorrow – checking back into normality, just after lunch. Another year older – and perhaps wiser too!
Good Wishes and Gifts
Ann Angela Antoinette Bev Carey, Clive, Abigail and Madeline Carol David and Val Denis Gill and Chris Ian and Sharon Ian and Ann Jo and Janet John and Sue Merrell Kerry and Tanya Lee Margaret Spencer Margaret and Alan Neil, Debbie, Alfie and Frankie Nick and Celina Nicki Paul and Karen Peter J Philip P Ralph and Karen Roger, Jane and Oliver Rosi, David, Rhiannon and Jack Roy, Susan, Janine and Lauren Sally, Amie and Zak (x2) Steve and Helen Sue, Paul and Ben Tom and Julie Trish, John, Sean and Conor Valerie H
Mike P Nina B Paul M Peter W Ralph G Richard P Rosi L Stefan B Stella H Trish C and Gifts… Ann – Red Shirt/Blue Shirt/Xeryus Rouge/Gerry Anderson Limited Edition DVD and Book Bev – Book: Super Graphics David and Val – Book: Doctor Who – 100 Objects Denis – DVD: Man in a Suitcase/ DVD: The Saint (Colour Series) Jo and Janet – Bottle of Champers and a Pub Voucher Nicki – DVD: Enigma – Remember the Future/DVD – Randall and Hopkirk, Box Set Paul and Karen – Bottle of quality Red and Moisturiser Rosi, David, Rhiannon and Jack – Set of Coasters and and a salt & Pepper set for the Kitchen Roger, Jane and Oliver – DVD: Strange Report/DVD: Dark Skies/DVD: Lone Gunmen/CD: Sarah Brightman – Classics Tom and Julie – Coasters for the Kitchen + Bottle of Prosecco
It wasn’t quite a packed house (only about 99% full), but everyone clearly enjoyed themselves (including us – Ann, Jo, Janet, Carol, Chris and Pete) on one of those rare very warm evenings (that inevitably turned to ‘chilly’, as it got later). Veterans of these events were easy to spot: armed with blankets, cushions, and HOT drinks!
As we’ve come to expect with all these performances, not only is the acting superb, so is the singing – and coupled with the imaginative set-design, Kilworth Theatre really is THE West-End-Theatre-Just-Down-The-Road. With a couple of tunes that were sung at our Wedding too, it made for the perfect evening. I think we’ll be humming the tunes for weeks now including my fave – Bali Ha’i
I even ran into Roger H, my colleague from the Old Croydonians there – we’d only been emailing each other a few hours before trying to decide when we could next speak, and hadn’t realised we were both destined for the same event!
Given the sheer number of theatre-goers, exiting the event by car just after 10.30, was pretty straightforward – and we were soon back on the A14, and then home. We’re here again for their performance of Sister Act in August. I can’t wait!!!
After a brief visit to Neil’s and then Mum’s, I was then off to the annual reunion & AGM of the OCA, and hopefully my re-election as Chairman.
It was a good turnout by recent standards and I wasn’t completely surprised that in spite of contacting every member (all 500+), a month-or-so ago, to ask them to nominate someone, no-one else stepped forward for the role – that was a good feeling, especially as I wanted to carry-on for a second three-year term. And when the time came and the congregation was asked to vote, my ego got a healthy boost as every hand in the room went up!