Saturday 22nd February–Trip to London

Hilton London BridgeAn early start to the day on Saturday as we off to London for an overnight stay at The London Bridge Hilton and then on to the grandson’s 4th birthday party early Sunday (10:30 am).  I was up making some sandwiches to eat on the train and packing a few items to take with me – tablets, Kindle etc! Although we got the Waterloo train from Southampton Central, I was surprised when we got there to see a train going direct to London Bridge (it was what is normally the Victoria train via Barnham), but it is a slower train so we stuck with our original plan.  So, we took a taxi down to the station for the 12:30 train to Waterloo, which was fairly easy and then we too the over ground train across to London Bridge from Waterloo East.  A five minute walk at the other end found us in The Hilton Hotel, very easy.  A quick check in and then we made our way to the room, which was very nice, reasonably well set out and an adequate number of electric sockets.  Probably my only criticism was one side of the room seemed dark and how to operate the air conditioning system was unclear, but I worked it out.

cote_restaurant_london_photo_chiswickAfter unpacking, we went for a stroll around the embankment and The More area until we found ourselves in a bar watching the tail-end of the rugby (boy was it noisy though), still England won!  Just across from the bar was a Cotes restaurant and we have always had a good meal in that chain of restaurants and we decided to book a table for the evening.  After changing, back at the hotel, Kathy’s son joined us for a drink and then the meal.  The food was good and I had a really nice smoked salmon starter, followed by belly pork and a glass of red.  despite being Saturday night we got a table easily, and had good service throughout – I remain well impressed by Cotes.

Prague – Czech Republic and my favourite city

I think one of my earliest memories of “The News and Politics” involves the uprising in Prague and tanks in Wencelas Square, but what I didn’t expect was to visit this most beautiful of cities.  We first visited Prague in October 1991 as part of the development of a three-way research collaboration with Russia, The Czech republic and The UK.  It rained really heavily and all I remember was rushing across town in what seemed a maze of streets to a wonderful cheap bar, where we spent all afternoon drinking and eating with a Russian colleague.  The bill came to £10, which made me reaslise this city was going to something special for me, haha!

The funding for the collaboration with The Czech Republic was successful, as were several other grants, and I was able to visit Prague almost every year between 1991 and 2009.  I fell in love with this city and I must remember I am writing a Blog and not a book!  So, where do I start?  I suppose my first thing must be to thank everyone who I met and who made my viisits so pleasent.  I better apologise to all those who attended my seminars and didn’t quite follow my Geordie accent, or my arm waving approach to lecturing!  If you recognise yourself in the picture thanks for attending!

The city of Prague came through the second world war almost unscathed, despite an American bombing campaign and has something in common with Paris in that respect; although, I think it is more beautiful!  It sits on the Vltava river, which provides a beautiful centrepiece for the city, with the castle sitting at the top of the hill over-looking the whole of the city.  In turn, the centrepiece to the river is Charles Bridge, which dates back to the 14th Century and is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever walked across.  However, this also provides a rapid introoduction to the biggest problem that Prague faces – its own popularity!  Charles Bridge is always a river of tourists, with local artists and sovenier sellers lining the edges of the bridge, it has lost some of its early appeal during that first visit in 1991.  But every visitor must stroll across Charles Bridge (early in the morning is a good idea) and into Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”), which is full of bars and good restaurants.  A challenge is to find the restaurant with two hearts on the door, worth a visit for good Czech food if it is still there – they got badly damaged during the floods of 2002, but I believe it is still there.  Sadly the bar we ate in during our first visit has long disappeared, but there are so many other places to visit for good food.  My own preference is to try some the hospodas as these simple bar/restaurants are much more authentic.  The Institute, where I gave my seminars, is lucky enough to have two close by (the “Green House” and “The Black Swan”), but in the city centre near the Old Town Square there is “Futball”, which serves good food and genuine Czech cuisine.

I remember the first few times we walked around the city we soon became aware that an important part of “seeing” Prague is to look up at the buildings, the architecture is always magnificent, but also varied and is also accompanied by beautiful paintings and illustrations.  Hidden away from the city across one of the bridges near the island is one of the most beautiful café/restaurants, which is typical of the type of architecture that is common in Prague.

I could write about so many places around the city, but this will become boring eventually, so, instead a few thoughts about what makes the city special for me (apart from the architecture).  I think the first point is that you can sit in The Old Time Square (either at a bar, or just around the statue) and people watch – the city is always busy, there are jazz bands coming and going, or just the variety in people from all nations.  I have spent many a day sketching out a scientific paper while also people watching!  Tram hoping is one of my favourite ways to see a city and Prague is very good for this.  You can buy a ticket that lasts all week, which allows travel throughout the city and just swap from tram to tram.  You can occasionally jump off to visit the castle or some other passing landmark, but if you do this outside of the rush hour you really get a feel for the Hotel Europalayout of the city.  Live music is the other thing I really like in Prague – usually this means visits to various jazz clubs, but also other types of music are played all over the city.  One example I liked from early visits was The Hotel Europa, which has a very Bohemian bar/restaurant at the front entrance, and we used to sit listening to a violin and piano entertaining the restaurant clientele – very pleasant!

If you have never been to Prague you must go, avoid the weekend if you don’t like crowds and hen/batchelor-parties, but visit the traditional Czech bars and restaurants.

The 40th Meeting of TOFC – The Golden Lion, Bedhampton


The Golden LionThe Golden Lion, Bedhampton was a new venue for TOFC and also for me, in fact I have not been to Bedhampton before, but I am happy to report that the journey was worthwhile.

The train journey from Southampton was about one hour, changing at Havant, but the journey went quite smoothly.  For many of the other TOFC members the journey was a bus ride from Portsmouth, but no one complained about problems getting to Bedhampton, which is good.  I had thought we might only have a few members for this meeting, and I had booked a table for 12, but in fact it was one of the best attended meetings of the year with 17 turning up!  This also meant it was a good mix of people, most of whom were able to sit around a big round table in the main window of the lounge area of the pub.  The rest of us grabbed a couple of tables nearby.

The pub was very welcoming and they had no objection to us moving tables and taking over most the lounge area.  The bar itself is fairly short and a couple of locals were sat at it, facing the bar was what I would describe as a bar area, while the lounge area, where we were, was off to the right of the bar.  There were three real ales and most of us drank jail Ale, which was very good.  The food menu was very reasonably priced (main meals were £5) and the food order was processed quickly and the food arrived very quickly.  In fact the service was both friendly and efficient and there were no problems at all.  In fact, it was a very enjoyable afternoon out and the pub is definitely worth a visit.

Another free music festival – Music in the City


The weekend of the 5th and 6th October saw another festival of music in Southampton, the weather was reasonable and so we went for a walk around a few of the events, a couple of pubs and a meal in the evening……

The music was due to start around 1 p.m. and there were a wide range of locations, mostly set in historical setting around the city.  We decided that the best idea would be to have lunch down at Town Quays and work our way from there to a couple of the sites where there was music playing – there were so many bands and locations it was always going to be impossible to see many sessions, but we saw this more as a trip around places we haven’t been to (mostly in the City Walls).  Platform-Tavern-Close-UpSo, the first stop was The Platform Tavern, where we have been several times and new that they did good pub food.  This pub is on the front at Town Quays so is ideally placed for visiting the bottom end of town.  The lunch menu is reasonably good and we had two meals for £10, which is not too bad – the food is cooked well and was tasty – I had a wrap filled with Cajun Chicken and their locally brewed beer, DNA, was excellent as always.  From there we made our way to The Weigh House in French Street.  Weigh_HouseThis is a grade 2 listed building that dates from the 13th century and is believed to have housed the King’s weigh beam and was an interesting setting for the music.  There were a whole string of bands listed, which meant this was probably the best place to hear different types of music, but what intrigued me was that some of the sessions were indoors and I was interested to find out what that meant (knowing that the building had no roof).  When we arrived we could see that the outside music was just inside the metal gate in the main room of the building, but no one was playing at that moment so we made our way through an exit at the back to find the indoor music.  Somewhat surprisingly this led into an underground cellar-like room with a stone arched ceiling.  Amongst The PigeonsThere were only a couple of people listening to the last few pieces by a one-man band called Amongst The Pigeons.  He was basically producing a synthetic music mix from keyboards and synthesiser, which reminded me a little of Tangerine Dream.  I had thought to ask him if he knew their music, but he had to get out of the way as the next band arrived.  I actually thought the music he produced was good; although, sometimes a little too repetitive, especially at the end of the tracks.  What it did show was how the stone walls were going to make a “wall of sound” effect on the music.  We had grabbed a couple of seats at the back, but the next band, The Flying Alexanders, was unexpectedly popular and we ended up with a lot of people standing in front of us.  The band consisted of a lead singer, who was a big lad who looked like he would have a strong voice, a drummer, The_Flying_Alexandersbass player and lead guitar, they produced a fast rock sound that illustrated the “wall of sound” effect and we were glad that our ears were sheltered a little by the crowd.  Still it was good to see that the music event was attracting a crowd and I think in any other setting I would have enjoyed the band.  We listened to a few tracks and then made our way out.

King_John's_PalaceThe next location was to be King John’s Palace, which was originally a 12th Century building, but was altered to become part of the City Wall’s defence in the 14th Century, but before we got there we stopped for a drink and comfort break at The Duke of Wellington pub in Bugle Street – always a popular spot, but this time we ran into a wedding party!  I hope they had a good day, but it is not every day you see a bride sat in the local pub.  Lucy Kitchen (2)The music that we heard at King John’s Palace was much more folk-orientated and the singer – Lucy Kitchen – played acoustic guitar and sang her own songs.  She is a very talented young lady, with a really good voice and a good repertoire of songs.  We sat through most of session, but I knew we had to move on to catch other bands and places!  So far we were enjoying this event and I was very impressed by the organisation that must have been put into it to ensure it ran smoothly.

The next location was to be The Castle Vault, which is just along the wall from John’s Palace and when we got there it was already quite full of people and a band called “Not Made in China” were playing.  The setting was something similar to the first underground cellar; although larger.  Not Made In China (2)The stone walls were again reflecting the sound, but it was not too bad from where we were stood at the entrance.  Once again I was glad to see that there was a good-sized audience and it was clear that this event was working and very popular.  The band had a very individual sound, which I thought was let down a little by the lead singer’s voice being a little flat (maybe she had a cold), but overall they sounded good and were popular.  I am not totally convinced by the “underground” style setting for amplified music, but that is just a personal view.  however, I think making more people aware of these places (and maybe the history surrounding them) is a good idea.

Doghouse Boat BoysAfter listening to a few tracks by Not Made in China we made our way back to the first venue (The Weigh House) for the final outdoor acoustic band – The Doghouse Boat Boys – we have seen this band before at The Platform Tavern, but they were very much an amplified band, so I was interested to see how they would do unplugged.  The band had already started when we got there and there was good crowd in The Weigh house courtyard area.  The band has a good following and we recognised people we had seen before at their gig.  The upbeat, almost bluegrass sound, always gets people dancing and there was a good deal of that happening already.  Their music is a cheerful stomp and a little afternoon alcohol had certainly warmed the occasion.  They were just as good unplugged and I was surprised how clear I could hear them despite only just being inside the gate.

KutisBrasserie_6So, overall a good day out and another success for Southampton Councils entertainment people – these concerts must boost local economy – I think they are a good idea and will maybe get more people listening to local bands.  We moved onto Oxford Street area and found ourselves at Kuti’s Indian restaurant for a meal.  I can really recommend this restaurant – the service was excellent (we got a seat easily without booking) and the food was an amazingly wide choice across a wide range of flavours.  We really enjoyed the meal and the whole day.

Southampton Free Music Festival – SO:WEST

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe weekend of the 21st September saw a free music festival arrive in Southampton – a stage was setup in The Guildhall Square area with additional stages at The Frog and Parrot and outside The Soul Cellar.  Although it was not a particularly warm day, the weather was reasonable and so we thought we would take a look at some of the acts.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe Guildhall area, with the main stage, was busy but never really full.  It was nice to see a wide range of age groups and that everyone seemed to be enjoying the music.  We went down around 1pm and started off with lunch in the new Italian Café in the Square (the food was tasty but small portions for large prices were a bit of a let down).  Then after lunch we watched a couple of young acts on the stage before making our way down to The Soul Cellar – we have not been there before and I had wondered what the place would be like.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe small stage was set up facing The Soul Cellar and was playing a mixture of Reggae and Ska music, which was easy to listen to.  We were able to grab a table just inside the Soul Cellar, which meant I could have a couple of beers while we listened to the music.  Although The Cellar was small and only sold keg beers, it was more comfortable than I imagined and clean enough.  Later we found out that the noise from any music played in there is over-powering, but maybe we a re just getting old!  Outside a reasonable crowd gathered to listen to the DJ playing the Reggae music and again a wide range of age groups were present – it was clear that the free music festival was creating a lively and good atmosphere and was popular.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHAfter a while we decided to make use of our time to explore a couple of other places and The Tudor Building were on my list of places to try.  In particular we went into The Arts Café, where there are often live music events or comedy sessions, and had a coffee and cake (for Kathy).  It was quite a reasonable place; although, we didn’t get upstairs to look around and the prices seem very good.  I imagine it has a warm atmosphere and is worth a visit.

By now the headline act was due to start on the main stage, so we made our way back to watch Ben Goddard and I have to say his music was very good and I enjoyed listening to him.  Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHHis session lasted quite a while and the evening was growing dark well before he finished.  Sadly, one or two people were a little worse for wear (after drinking more than they could manage), but the atmosphere was still very good.

I am not sure how much it benefitted the local bars and cafes, but I think this event was really good and I am sure the local bands enjoyed the chance to feature in the local paper.  I certainly enjoyed most of the music and only felt that a couple of songs were not my style.  We eventually ended up in The Turtle Bar restaurant for a meal (quite a spicy curry), so we certainly contributed to local economy and now I just hope they do this again.


The Concorde Club – Amy Winehouse 30th birthday bash

This was our first time at this private members club and the occasion was a music tribute to Amy Winehouse in aid of The Amy Winehouse Foundation (her father introduced the event and explained the concept), with tributes to Rihanna and Pink also performing.The_Concorde_Club,_Stoneham_Lane,_Eastleigh_-_geograph_org_uk_-_501023
The club is a little off the beaten track (although on the Bluestarbus 2 route), so we took a taxi to avoid the rain!  When we arrived the car park was full and it was clear the event would be busy.  Once through the reception, where we were told our table number (18), we fought our way past a very busy bar to the table at the back of the room (a little disappointing after having been told the receptionist would do her best to give us a good view).  Looking at the layout for the first time I noticed that the main room had quite a low roof, but we were in a short conservatory at the back.  The bar was to the right of a dance floor on a lower level at the front, while we were on a raised section that was the restaurant area.  Finally, there was another room to the left behind the kitchen entrance.  Having squeezed our way to the table, our immediate view on the club was that the restaurant area was too crowded and after a short while a group of eight arrived at the large round table next to us, which meant that even the waiters were struggling to get through to serve tables.  the-concordeAfter a short wait we had ordered food and drink (the waiter had got to us just before the large group arrived) and the wine arrived quickly.  The starters also came quickly, but as the place filled it was clear that the service would slow.  Despite the crowded nature of the place, the waiters did a good job, but we did have a longish wait for the main course, but the food was tasty and well presented.  By this time the first singer was introduced (Just Lucy) and was something of a disappointment – too loud and not a great singing voice – but the other performers were better.  In fact both Pink and Amy were excellent and entertaining, but the noisy atmosphere (primarily from the noisy group next to us, who seemed not interested in the music) spoiled the evening!
The charity side of things seemed to go well and the sale of an oil painting for £500 must have helped a lot, but I felt that the Amy tribute should have lasted longer.  Overall, I cannot say I am keen to return to The Concorde Club, which is a shame, but any live venue is always at the mercy of the audience and this one didn’t work for me.

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Cowes Week – first time visit

I have never been to Cowes Week (I am not really the sailing type), but we thought it would make a change to make a trip over to see what it was like.  So yesterday (Friday) we took the Red Jet catamaran (also for the first time) over to West Cowes for a day out.Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH  I was impressed by the speed that the catamaran left Southampton Harbour and how quick the journey was and we were walking up Cowes High Street within an hour of leaving the house!  Our first task was to find somewhere for lunch and by chance we popped into a small café called The Octopus’ Garden and discovered a little gem.  The café has a Beatles theme (hence the name) and is a popular family-run, family-orientated place (there were lots of parents with children).  The food is freshly prepared and was good and this was a good start to  our day out – we even returned in the evening – and cooked breakfast went down well!  We then had a walk around Cowes, first up to The Parade (where there was live music and a beer tent) and along past the start-finish line for the yacht racing (I still cowes_corinthian_wp_smtotally fail to understand what is going on, who is who and how anyone knows who the winner is, but the building that houses the marshals (is that the right word?) was impressive and the yachts looked really pretty in full sail.  The walk back to the High Street eventually led us to The Yachting Haven and another beer tent (Theakston) and a pint of Old Peculiar was really nice.  Unexpectedly, while drinking the beer, we met an old friend from The University (small world) who we directed toward The Parade.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHAfter that refreshment we wandered back to The Parade to catch a band called Lucid, a local folk band, who played a good variety of tunes from the 70s as well as some of their own.  This excellent entertainment was accompanied by a couple of beers from The Island Brewery – The Yachtsman seemed appropriate and was an excellent ale.  The crowds were really building along The Parade by now, in anticipation of the fireworks later, and it was clear that we would get very hemmed in later.  Therefore, despite enjoying our afternoon in Cowes we decided to make our way back to Southampton for a band at The Platform Tavern.  The band turned out to be a popular gig by The Black Kat Boppers, whose style of rock/dance music brought in a very large crowd, but we were lucky enough to get a seat!

An enjoyable afternoon out and we will return to Cowes soon for another exploration (pubs).