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Great Reunion in Birmingham

Every year, our King’s College London PhD group have a reunion, somewhere or other, so far at various select venues in the UK. This year, Jenny Barnwell organised a great reunion at Simpsons (Michelin star) restaurant in Birmingham.

We had a truly spectacular meal in this amazing restaurant. As usual the best part was the company. There is nothing quite like being among friends. We exchanged experiences we had had since we met last year. Who knows where we’ll  meet up in 2019?

Thanks Jen for choosing such a stunning place to meet!

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Jan and Gord on the way, by train would you believe!
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Group photo: from left: Jen, Charles, Kamal, Maya, Julian, ol’ Gord, Jan, Tito, Vera and Chris
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Kamal and Maya, just the two, with Charles half left!
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The Boys’ day out at Brooklands

Thanks to David H, who organised the day, Chris F and Peter S, who were our unbelievably knowledgeable guides, ten of us ‘lads’ from Sutton Nonsuch Rotary had a terrific day yesterday at Brooklands Museum, the site of the UK’s first race track and the construction site of something like 18,000 civil and military aircraft (I’m sure Peter or Chris will tell me if that’s wrong!)

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Couldn’t resist taking this one of the most beautiful, fastest passenger aircraft that ever flew

After a welcomed coffee, we split into two groups of five and our official Brooklands volunteers took us on our separate tours. I was with Chris’ group as were Barry M, Roger F and Malcolm D. Those with Peter were Diego, John N, John C and Steve B.We all met up for a modest lunch at 1pm and resumed our tour, a lot less hungry, afterwards.

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The gang of us… sadly not including the lady at the back!

 

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Our group, from left, Barry, Malcolm, Chris, in steward’s uniform, and Roger

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so this blog is many more pictures than words… well you know what mean! I slightly indulged myself with pictures of aircraft engines but I’m sure you will forgive me for that. I’ve loved taking pictures of them since I was a kid, quite a long time ago!

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A Hawker Fury, one of the first planes that flew at over 200 mph.
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Avro 504, First World War bi-plane. Over 10,000 built from 1913 to 1932
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The famous Harrier VTOL aircraft
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Looking down on the Wellington bomber with its geodetic bracing structure, suggested by Barnes Wallis
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Another view of this Wellington, rescued from Loch Ness in 1985
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Rolls Royce Kestrel engine, 1930s precursor to the Merlin (see below)
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Rolls Royce Pegasus engine (on right) powered the Vickers Wellington
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The brilliant Sir George Edwards who started on the shop floor and ended up as Managing Director of Vickers and British Aircraft Corporation (BAC)

 

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…and now to the London Bus Museum: one on our streets in the First World War. Isn’t she a beauty!
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Chris and Barry standing next to Simon Douglas Lane’s RT3. We’ve seen Simon several times before!
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Another view of Simon’s gorgeous bus, RT3491!
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A classic Route Master RM, on a famous route!
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Anyone for a ride? An RT workhorse!
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The Sultan of Oman’s VC 10, flown by my golf friend Barry Woods. What an enormous plane!

 

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A Rolls Royce Olympus engine, as used in the mighty Concorde, in fact sitting under her wing!
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The massive door to Barnes Wallis’ Stratosphere chamber, used for testing in various simulated weather conditions
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The famous Merlin aero engine, used in the Spitfire and Hurricane and later used by Rolls Royce and Bentley as a basis for their eight cylinder 6.23 litre motor car engine
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The Rolls Royce Tyne engine, a turboprop. First flown in an Avro Lincoln in the mid 50s.
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Rolls Royce Nene engine, widely reverse engineered by the Russians and used in their MiGs
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Rolls Royce Avon R26, power plant for the Vickers Valiant Bomber
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… and another of the stunning shape of Concorde, just to finish off!

Thanks for the visit! Until the next time!

 

 

 

 

 

What a friendly bunch!

Only two days ago, I gave a presentation on ‘My club sandwich career in the Home Office’ to the Woking Seniors Club (https://www.wokingseniors.co.uk/). I couldn’t be more impressed by what a friendly group of guys they are. As soon as I arrived, Martin, the club secretary bought me a pint. Not only that he showed me how to operate the sound system they use, which would save me from having to raise my voice too much. The venue was the private dining room at Sutton Green Golf Club which, you won’t be surprised to hear, is not that far from Woking (http://www.suttongreengc.co.uk/).

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The lake at the 16th hole, Sutton Green.

I gave my talk after a very tasty meal during which I sat next to the current president of the club, Lewis Orchard. We had a very interesting conversation mainly on orchestral music, during which I discovered that he knows a lot about the life and works of local composer, Ethel Smyth (1858- 1944). I’ve since listened to some of her music which is amazing. Rhythmic and powerful.

So many thanks to Peter Mansell for inviting me, the members for making me feel so welcomed, Lewis for stimulating my interest in Ethel Smyth and all those kind folk who bought a copy of my latest novel, Expulsion.

A great day I shall remember for a long time!

 

Two memorable days at the RAM

The Finland Five (Chris, John C, Richard, Steve and me – remember us? We went to Finland back in 2015 to celebrate the 150th birthday of Jean Sibelius – https://theharpistofmadrid.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/sibeliuss-150th-anniversary/ ) … Well, we have been making the most of the recent concert programme at the Royal Academy of Music (https://www.ram.ac.uk/).

In our first concert there, believe it or not an all Sibelius affair, we enjoyed the Lemminkainen Suite, Op. 22. This is the one in which the hero spends three years seducing all but one of the women on an island from which all the men have gone to war. After three years of indulgent pleasure, Lemminkainen decides to sails back home, The one woman he fails to seduce sets his ship alight. Meanwhile the men have all returned and are threatening to kill our hero. I knew you’d like the story! The music is truly inspiring too.

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Three of the five outside the RAM. Ricardo, Chris and John

 

The second piece was Sibelius’ Second Symphony, also known by the Finnish people as the ‘Symphony of Independence’. It was written around 1901 when the Finnish people were rebelling against the increasing influence of the Russians, who wanted to make Finland more like Russia, which had had control over the country since 1809. Finland became independent in 1917. This is one of my favourite Sibelius works, probably because it was the first piece of Sibelius I heard and that was over fifty years ago!

The concert was conducted by Jac van Steen who clearly has a deep appreciation of Sibelius’ works. This young orchestra were brilliant and were as enraptured by playing the piece as we were listening to it!

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Across the Thames from Tate Modern. Went there from RAM to see Modigliani exhibition

In our second great experience at the RAM we listened to one single work, that masterpiece, the Symphony No. 8 by Shostakovich. Sir Mark Elder conducted the symphony after giving us a knowledgeful introduction to this highly emotional music. It was written in 1943 just as the Russians were gaining ground over the Nazis and forcing their retreat. But it is miles from being a triumphant piece and hardly optimistic. There are some glimmers of hope in the early part of the last movement or was the master just being ambiguously sardonic? I wonder if Shostakovich deliberately wrote in the same key as Bruckner in his No. 8 or was that just a coincidence? A favourite piece for me, even though I discovered it only about twenty years ago!

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That great young orchestra in front of Jac van Steen

Once again, the young performers gave their all to make this an amazingly memorable concert. They truly deserved the adulation they received at the end of this marathon in orchestral music. Well done The Academy Symphony Orchestra!

 

 

Fantastic evening at Coulsdon Manor Hotel!

This is where the Coulsdon Manor Rotary meet and it was my privilege to be invited to talk to this famous club about my books and writing them.

What a great bunch of guys they are too (No women members – yet!) and I had a great time with them starting in the bar with a tasty pint. On being offered another I declined and said I needed to stand for 30 minutes to talk, apart from driving home!

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The Coulsdon Manor Hotel

I sat next to President Revd Malcolm Newman. We had one of those wide ranging conversations that in half an hour flat covered everything from feeding the poor, through protecting the environment to Donald Trump and what he’s doing to America, not all bad.

I spoke for about 30 minutes and concluded to a barrage of questions about the books. One was what sources I had used for the research; another about how many words I wrote a day; another was on whether I had translated any of them.

So thank you, David Caddick for Inviting me, President Malcolm for a great conversation and all the other members of this friendly group as well as those who bought copies of the books. As I said, I now give £1 from each book I sell to the brain injury charity, Silver Lining (http://www.thesilverlining.org.uk/). They are an especially deserving cause.

A Special Evening at Burhill

It was a great pleasure for me to talk last week to Walton on Thames Rotary Club which meets in the sumptuous club house of Burhill Golf Club, one of the most prestigious golf clubs in Surrey. It brought back some pleasant memories for me because I played on one of the courses there some fifteen or so years ago and that day played one of my best rounds of my golfing life!

I was looked after so well by the club members who treated me like a true friend. Us Rotarians always get on well together wherever and whenever we meet.

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The spectacular club house at Burhill GC
Needless to say, I spoke about my books and the talk seemed to go down well. So thank you Leslie Hooper for inviting me, to all the other members who made me feel so at home and especially to those who bought a copy of one of my books! Enjoy the read!

What a special evening it truly was!

 

 

Two great pre-Christmas signings!

I’m quite hoarse now having spent five hours today chatting to many, many customers in WH Smith’s new store in the Centrecourt Shopping Centre in Wimbledon. I felt the same last week after I’d spent about the same time in WH Smith’s top store in Sutton! I must say I regard it as a great privilege to be given these marvelous opportunities not only to speak to all these wonderful people but also to sign off some books into the bargain.

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Centrecourt, Wimbledon
I’ve met an incredible range of people, several of which were writers too. One lady told me about her work for the Waitrose monthly magazine for which she writes on food. Another had written 11 pantomimes, each of which had been performed in schools and in a number of local theatres. Yet another wrote books on life improvement and getting over mental problems. He gave me some good tips on using the internet for marketing.

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WH Smith’s great store in Sutton High St.

Not everyone I spoke to bought a copy but many did and I’m especially grateful to each of them. A lady in Sutton hesitated until her two daughters persuaded her. Two Spanish ladies decided they’d buy, especially when they could see that I had written in modern English which they could easily read. The easiest sale was to a guy in Wimbledon who, when he discovered I was the author said, ‘I’ll have it!’ Another couple bought two!

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The flagship store in Centrecourt

So thank you Simon Bruckland and Ashley Keogh, respectively the managers in the Sutton and Wimbledon branches, for inviting me to do the signings in their stores. You’ve given me such a great opportunity and I’m so grateful to you both. And not least, thank you to your staff for making me feel so welcome, Courtney, Samantha and Martin to name but a few.