Rebecca has posted some photos to her Flickr account.
In a much quicker turnaround than a professional photographer, and with equivalent quality, James has got the official photographs from Martin & Karen's Wedding up on the web.
East Anglia is too flat! Luckily, given that it's where I live, I tend to forget that fact when I'm here, but I am reminded just how much I miss hills and how far I am from any proper hills whenever I head back up North. So it was great to spend a long weekend up in the Lake District.
We were up in Cumbria for the wedding of my mate Martin. The whole event was held in the superb Leeming House Hotel; possibly the best hotel I've ever stayed in, with lovely views over Ullswater. We had the hotel to ourselves, which worked really well, it was almost like having it at a private country house - the large restaurant room for the ceremony, meal and dancing; and a few other rooms where guests could sit around on comfy sofas with a tumbler of whisky and a good cuban cigar in front of a log fire.
On Sunday a group of us headed over to Tarn Hows, just south-west of Ambleside. Luckily the rain mostly held off, and the fresh air and gentle walk helped to clear our hangovers. Then it was back into Ambleside for a much appreciated late lunch at the Apple Pie Eating House and Bakery.
From there we said our goodbyes, Rebecca and I leaving the others to make their way home as we had a superb blatt over the Kirkstone Pass and up the A592 to Penrith where we were staying for an extra night. In the morning we called over to Keswick for a wander down to the river, and around the shops. And after a hearty lunch at the Keswick Lodge pub we made the surprisingly hold-up free trek back down South.
I'm sure James, who did a sterling job in his role as official photographer, will have much better photos, but the few that Rebecca took are in the photo album.
This year's Oktoberfest (that's the one I host, rather than the proper one Germany) was a couple of weeks back now, but things have been a bit busy and I've only just got round to posting up the photos.
Not many photos taken, at least not on my camera. As usual, it was a good laugh, although I seem to get less time on the karaoke these days... it must be that everyone else is overcoming their reluctance to have a go!
Coming soon: The Tale of the Best Man and the Lost Speech.
"East meets West" said the faux film poster invitations. And it was. But with a huge helping of pure Neil and Kuljit. I don't think I've been to a more personal wedding. Kuljit and her sisters, the bridesmaids, were in saris, and had had their hands tatooed with henna. Neil and I, his best man, were in tails.
The party started on the way to the wedding. All bar the bridal party boarded our open-top Routemaster London bus, and sipped champagne as it took us to Avenue House, via a brief stop at Alexandra Palace for some photos.
It was a civil ceremony, but there was still much rejoicing in the musical tradition. You aren't allowed to have anything with religious wording at a civil ceremony, but that was okay, because the guests all joined in renditions of the Beatles' Love Me Do and All You Need Is Love.
After the usual photo shoot in the lovely grounds, we sat down for a absolutely fantastic three-course Indian feast. Then it was time for the speeches. I wasn't feeling particularly nervous, but then I'd had my panic the night before...
I still had the ending of my speech to write when I left home at Friday lunchtime. I knew roughly what I wanted to say, but hadn't actually written it.
After an afternoon spent helping out with last minute preparations for the big day, then some food and a drink with fellow guests staying at the hotel, I retired to my room and booted up my laptop. Only to find that Windows Offline Folders hadn't synchronized the speech onto my laptop!!! Not good. I have one of the most important speeches I'll ever give to do tomorrow, and the only copy of it is over fifty miles away in Cambridge.
If I'd had Internet access then it wouldn't have been a problem, but of course I didn't have the lead to connect my phone to my laptop (and haven't bought a Bluetooth dongle for my laptop yet), and the hotel didn't have WiFi. I guess I could drive back to Cambridge... Or maybe go round to Kuljit's in the morning and use her Internet connection...
I decided to see how much of the speech I could remember, and luckily, I managed to recreate it without access to the original. After all that, actually giving the speech was almost the easy part!
With the speeches over, my main responsibilities were finished. I still had a few announcements to make as toastmaster - cutting the cake, the first dance... but for what seemed like the first time all day I didn't have something else I needed to do. Until I started sorting out taxis for people at the end of the night.
Not that my tasks during the day were arduous, or things I was worried about, or that I didn't enjoy. Far from it, it was just rather hectic. I didn't realise until I finally got to bed, and started to unwind, just how emotionally charged a day it had been. Just a wonderful day and I was honoured to play such a part in it.
This space soon to be filled by men in kilts.
Something old... being an usher; I'm starting to get the hang of that now, what with it being the third time I've done it. Admittedly, the job was made much easier by the level of planning that had been done for me - I was furnished with two sides of A4 of instructions, plus a guest list, and a seating plan and spare copies of the directions from church to reception which include photos taken en route for you to check that you're going the right way!
Something new... wearing a kilt. I was a little apprehensive about doing so, mainly because I wasn't quite sure what to expect. However, it seemed well received; none of the Scots present challenged my right to wear one; and I quite enjoyed it. It just took a little while to get used to sitting down in it correctly without getting it crumpled under me or unwittingly displaying what was under it.
Something borrowed... the kilt. Well, hired, but that's pretty much the same thing. From the very helpful, if a little hard to find (the shop is a tiny converted house, so quite easy to miss) Stuart Tailors on Chesterton Road in Cambridge. A much better selection of tartans to hire than the three that Moss Bros offer!
Something blue... the tartan of the kilt. Although not quite as blue as I'd have liked. Unfortunately, the McEwen isn't amongst the thirty or so tartans offered for hire by Stuart Tailors. The kilt I hired was the Hunting Stewart tartan, which was the closest match to the dress McEwen but it doesn't have quite as much blue in the weave.
It was a lovely day. The exchanging of vows seemed to lift the clouds and brought out the sun in time for the photos. The speeches were entertaining, Malcolm's in particular was superb; I'd like to hear more from the best man as to why the chaplin had to put Malcolm to bed though... And as mentioned, Karl's ceilidh provided for suitably energetic celebrating long into the evening.
There are a few photos over in my photo album, but I'll leave you with one of the happy couple...
Well, another year older means another excuse for a party. An excellent turn out for a most enjoyable night, although I'm sure the real draw was Rebecca; I suppose given how long I've been single, my acquiring a girlfriend is big news :-) So I apologise to anyone I didn't get chance to introduce her to, it wasn't deliberate.
I think Dinan deserves a mention for the most ambitious choice of song on the karaoke. It isn't captured in any of the photos, but his rendition of James Brown's Sex Machine was unmissable!
And finally, an honourable mention to two non-attendees to the party - Dan and Cheryl spent most of the Sunday at West Suffolk Hospital welcoming their first child into the world, a lovely baby boy. So a suitable excuse for missing my party I guess... Congratulations, he's picked a great day to be born!
Where to begin? It was such an excellent and jam-packed three-day weekend that it's taken me all week to get the photos up and write up the event. The photos are all available over here.
Like the groom, and quite a few of the other wedding guests, I stayed at the hotel hosting the reception on both Friday and Saturday nights. This meant that my ushering duties could start early with me helping to ferry items to be set-up at the reception and pick up the suits for the groom and his attendants. There was a minor panic when I didn't find a shirt with my suit, but one of my fellow ushers, Johnnie, had bought a rather fine new shirt for the groom so we had one spare. Of course, when I was hanging my suit up at the end of the Saturday what did I find hiding in the bottom of the suit carrier but a brand new shirt still in its packaging...
The Saturday morning dawned clear and dry, if a little gusty. At least the continual rain of the previous night had abated. After a hearty breakfast (for those of us not nervous of giving speeches later ;-) the best man's and my cars were both bedecked with ribbon and we headed over to the church.
Dan, the third usher, had done an excellent job of finding out what we had to do at the rehearsal so when we arrived at the church we had our strategy set: who would affix buttonholes, who would hand out the orders of service and who would show guests to their seats. Of course, as soon as the guests started arriving all our plans went to pot, but we soon recovered our composure and got everyone seated before the bride arrived.
It's a cliché I know, but Sam and her bridesmaids looked stunning. The service went without a hitch (well, apart from the obvious one... pun not intended, but I'll leave it in); the readings were lovely and during the signing of the register we were treated to a wonderful violin and piano duet. I was curious to see how Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "The Power of Love" would sound with just the two instruments; and the answer is it sounds rather good.
During the Address, the reverend discussed St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians. Luckily I managed to keep a straight face, as when he started all I could think of was Eddie Izzard's sketch on the same topic... "Don't do bad things, only do good things. Always treat your neighbour like someone who lives near to you. Never put a sock in a toaster..."
After a few photographs in the church grounds, and once we'd seen everyone safely on their way to the reception, we *ahem* chased the bridal convoy to the hotel. It's quite hard to sneak past in a bright yellow Integrale covered in ribbon, so we gave the bride and groom a wave as we overtook to ensure we were ready for their arrival.
Even though there was a freely available chocolate fountain at the reception, the guests were all well behaved and we didn't need our (impeccably colour-coordinated of course) riot gear, which freed us up to assist with the various groups together for the remaining photographs. And gave me opportunity to demonstrate how useless I am at shouting.
From then on the ushering role was greatly, although not entirely, reduced. We got to enjoy the meal and the speeches - the best man had enlarged a number of photos to suitably embarrass Ian. I forgot to take a picture of the one featuring me on my bike but the one of Ian streaking across the Coliseum is in the set.
As is to be expected, the celebrations continued well into the night. Much drinking, conversing and dancing was had by all; the bride's father's tireless dancing, even to the hip-hop tracks; Paul's (the best man) flamboyant and energetic style; and his girlfriend Natasha's Beyonce-style rump-shaking all deserving of a mention. I'd also taken a few of my finest Cohiba cigars so we ushers could celebrate the marriage properly.
Sunday morning saw us cram more and more of the dining furniture together in one corner of the restaurant with the ebb and flow of guests arriving for breakfast. We used the remainder of the buttonholes and ribbon to decorate Ian's car after he foolishly entrusted us with the keys so we could help with the luggage, and with our final act of ushering we escorted the honeymooners to a brief stop at Sam's parents' place.
There we went our separate ways, Ian and Sam heading west whilst I turned south giving Johnnie and his fiance a lift back to Cambridge. And to round the weekend off beautifully, we were treated to a musical send-off of "So long, farewell" (from the Sound of Music, as if you needed telling).
And as I had my camera with me, there were plenty of photos taken of the varied types of architecture...
Liverpool has a number of rather grand public buildings. Keeping watch over the city are the two cathedrals: the Roman Catholic Metropolitan, affectionally known as Paddy's Wigwam; and the Anglican, the largest Anglican cathedral in Britain and Europe. The Anglican celebrates the centenary of the laying of its foundation stone this year, although rather amazingly the Metropolitan was finished first - in 1967, eleven years before the Anglican was fully complete.
There are more grand buildings to be found on William Brown Street - The Walker (below right), the Liverpool Museum (below left), and St. Georges Hall. I didn't get any photos of St. Georges Hall, as it's currently under wraps being restored.
Of course the best known building in Liverpool is the Liver Building, but if you walk away from the river, up Water Street and into the central business district, you'll find a collection of other fine office blocks also from the first half of the twentieth century.
At the bottom of Water Street are the Tower Buildings, the offices where my grandfather spent most of his working life, now being converted into luxury apartments. Further up on the same side is the Martins Bank Building, with even closer family ties - my Mum worked here, in the architecture department, until I was born. By then, Martins Bank had merged with Barclays and the building, with its grand banking hall, is still used as a branch today.
Back down at the waterfront, the regeneration of the docklands continues apace. I doubt that much of what's finished will end up Grade II listed in a hundred years, but it's putting the dockland back to use, and some of the planned towers look suitably impressive.
The Royal Quay apartments look nearly abandoned on the car park for the Albert Dock, and seem almost a pastiche of their 19th century warehouse neighbours. I can't quite put my finger on why, but they seem rather bland - perhaps it's the colour of the walls, or the lack of symmetry.
Developments on the other side of the Pier Head are more promising. There's already the new Radisson Hotel and Beetham Tower, and a number of office blocks on Princes Dock. They could all quite happily be dumped into any number of business parks anywhere in the country without anyone noticing; so they aren't too exciting, but that buildings which wouldn't be out of place on the M4-corridor are being built is a promising sign for the confidence of the city. There's a noticeable contrast between the two photographs below, both taken from the same spot, just at 180° intervals - the dilapidated moorings on the river vs. the cranes and new offices around the dock.
The cranes are constructing (I think) a new multi-storey car park; just off to the left of the picture, work has commenced on the new Conran-designed City Lofts development; and a raft of other projects are going through planning. There's a good round-up of all the developments over at skyscrapercity.com.
So there's a level of activity and a number of cranes in and around the docks which hasn't been seen for years; but rather than loading and unloading cargoes, they're creating the next wave of business for the 'Pool.
I did make it up to the North-West for the Halloween weekend, and so spent a fantastic day wandering round Liverpool and taking in some of the sights of the Biennial. I'll cover the general wandering in a separate post, but want to share some of the experience of the Biennial here.
My introduction to the artworks was one of the more popular images of the Biennial - Peter Johansson's Musique Royale, or the little red house on the Pier Head.
It does rather capture your attention as it comes into sight, and things just become ever more surreal as you enter its world; the strains of Abba increasing in volume as you get ever closer, and then your entire field of vision filling with glossy red as you step through the doorway. Even the outside world seems a little different when glimpsed through the red-framed windows.
Also inside the little red house was a stock of Biennial guidebooks, which presumably violated the everything-is-red ethos a little, what with them being orange. I could forgive the transgression though, as it meant I didn't have to try to remember all the information I'd read on the website the day before.
The next stop on my Biennial tour was The Walker. Having never visited before, I had a wander round the permanent exhibits first. There I found an assortment of interesting pieces, but as usual I forgot the artists' names within minutes of seeing them. Adrian Henri is the only name I can remember, and that's just because I'd heard of him before; it was good to finally see some of his work.
I have much the same level of recollection of the Stuckists Punk Victorian exhibition. Even looking through the website since has failed to bring any names to mind, but none of the Stuckist works really resonated with me.
The John Moores 23 collection was much more engaging, and the highlight of my Biennial experience. As luck would have it, all the works are included on the exhibition website, so I can share my favourites with you. In alphabetic by artist order...
En route to the Anglican Cathedral, I came across this installation on Hope Street. I'm sure I'd read about it online before my visit, but there's no mention of it in my Biennial guide and I can't find the online article anywhere; I can't even tell you its name. I think the trunks and cases hark back to when Liverpool was the starting point for many a new life - the last contact with the old world and the beginning of the adventure emigrating to the new world.
Belonging And Beyond at the Anglican Cathederal is a curious piece. Made up of coats donated by the peoples of Liverpool and its twinned city, Cologne, accompanied by audio snippets of conversations with residents of both cities. To be honest, it lost out to its setting; the enormity and grandeur of the cathedral captured most of my attention.
From there it was a short wander down Upper Parliament Street to the Independent District. The little orange guidebook says "A map in the independent district provides specific locations for all exhibitions within the district." The only map I could find was just a general map of the whole Biennial, which showed I was in roughly the right place, but didn't tell me what I could find where.
The solid iron doors spread across the base of this semi-derelict warehouse were all topped with little orange boxes, another hint of Biennial activity; however there was no information about what was behind the doors, and the doors themselves didn't seem too inviting. Maybe they were just advertising the availability of WiFi Internet access? A neat touch, but perhaps the effort would've been better spent informing visitors what they could visit...
I was about to abandon my search when I heard a lot of clattering from down the street. Closer investigation showed that it was coming from the washing-machine drums that had been converted into windmills and installed atop Jump Ship Rat. At least I'd found one of the Independent District venues!
In looking up at the windmills, I also noticed the rather thought-provoking sign - worship for SALE faith for HIRE don't forget you still BELIEVE in lots of things.
Inside were a number of exhibits by Columbian artists. There's no information on the Jump Ship Rat website, and I forgot to make any notes when I was there (actually, I was just assuming I'd be able to find things afterwards on the web). The ground floor housed a bizarre car built out of all sorts of junk: old toasters, traffic lights... I could easily believe it was the lovechild of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Back To The Future De Lorean! A more political piece discussed the amount of oil in Columbia, if I remember correctly, highlighting the dissonance between the greater amount of oil in Columbia vs. Iraq and the US's greater interest and intervention in Iraq. In another room downstairs some sort of video presentation was playing, but I didn't want to interrupt its audience and so moved upstairs.
There I found the work pictured to the right: 3 million tears I think was the title, dealing with the injustices of a Coca-Cola bottling plant; and a series of photos documenting the myriad of street carts which are a regular sight on Columbian city streets. All home-built, and customised to their wares - bedecked with foodstuffs or even approaching an entire hardware store, perched atop a couple of bike wheels.
By now it was getting rather late in the day. I had planned to round things off with the Internation programme at the Tate Liverpool but there wasn't enough time. So my Biennial tour finished rather as it had started: red and on the waterfront. Only this time it was Satch Hoyt's The Puzzle, floating in the Albert Dock.
All the images in this post are collected together here (still as links to bigger versions).
Update: Added link to the other post for the weekend
Way back in June, a few of us went over to Frankfurt for the weekend to celebrate Stefan and Julia's marriage. We didn't go for the wedding itself, instead we were invited to their Polternabend.
The polternabend is a traditional German celebration before the wedding to bring good luck to the marriage. All the guests bring old crockery (or in our case new crockery bought from Woolworths in the middle of Frankfurt that morning) to smash. The noise and smashing of the crockery scares off bad spirits, although smashing glass brings bad luck. The bride-and-groom-to-be have to clear up all the broken pottery - quite a task when many of the guests come laden with baskets of old cups, plates, bowls... and even the odd basin!
Arriving in Frankfurt on the Thursday night meant we had some time to do a bit of sight-seeing. On the Friday we drove over to Heidelberg, a picturesque little town about an hour or so away, overlooked by an impressive castle. The best feature of the castle being the world's largest barrel in the cellar - you could be besieged for a long time before the 221,000 litres of wine it contained would run out!
The Friday evening saw us out drinking in the centre of Frankfurt before ending the night at the seemingly out of the way Vinyl Bar for some suitably German techno.
As a result we weren't up too early the next morning, but just had time to buy our Welsh(!) plates and wolf down a bratwürst from the Frankfurt market before heading over to help Stefan and Julia get things ready for the evening's festivities. Then it was a quick call back to the hotel to freshen up and back to Julia's parent's house for the crockery crushing.
The polternabend was fantastic fun. Once everyone was through smashing things, the party moved into the nearby church hall for a more recognisable celebration: cold lager flowing freely by the keg; buffet; and a DJ encouraging plenty of dancing. It seems that Nena's 99 Luftballons serves a similar purpose for the Germans as New York, New York does for the British - the song that pulls everyone onto the dancefloor in a mass group hug singalong and signals the end of the night. Or, given that it was approaching 6am, should that be the start of the morning?
Thinking back to that night has just reminded me of the impromptu (light-hearted) karaoke duel I had with one of the German guests when the DJ accidentally put on the instrumental version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Luckily it was about four in the morning, so the remaining attendees would be too inebriated to remember it properly...
Our flight back to the UK wasn't until the Sunday evening, so that gave us plenty of time to chill out and potter round Frankfurt. A lovely way to wind up a hectic, but immensely enjoyable trip.
My photos from the ball are now available for you to laugh at...
Update: There are also some interesting night-time effects on the photos Simon took.
My photos are on their way, but until then, you'll have to make do with the ones Monica took.
Well, there are less photos of people's backs in the photos of the latest karaoke event. And we managed to persuade a few previous karaoke-averse attendees to partake and enjoy things so much that they felt they should (unnecessarily) apologise for hogging things :-)
The karaoke came in handy at midnight too, 'cos we could just call up Auld Lang Syne to get the words and some accompaniment. It seemed to be running a bit faster than we could manage en masse, and by the third verse our enthusiasm was beginning to wane...
I might have to stop joking about "there's always space for a tent in the back garden" when people want to stay over, though. Otherwise I might have to do more tent pitching at 5am when insane partygoers insist that they do want to forgo a (very comfortable) sofa-bed for a night under canvas in the cold, rain and wind. I must admit, I quite liked the challenge of pitching it in the dark :-)
The worst that we got up to after going bowling in Middlesbrough was boy-racer-style congregating in a car park, and even that was accidental (we did wonder why Andrew had taken the wrong exit from the roundabout).
Obviously I should have chosen something darker than the Stone Roses to listen to on the way there...
It is said that if you can't see the top of Clougha, it's going to rain. And if you can see the top of Clougha... then it's already raining.
Neil and I decided not to travel too far for our Christmas ramble, seeing as the days aren't too long at this time of year, so Clougha, just inland from Lancaster, near Abbeystead seemed like a good choice.
The weather was lovely in Rainford when we left, on the morning of Saturday 27th December, but nowhere near as nice when we got up to the car park by Clougha. It wasn't raining, but, well, we couldn't see the top of Clougha as it was in the clouds.
Still, we were prepared for inclement weather, so it didn't overly affect our walk, even when it was snowing and hailing on the top... It was good to get out on a hill, work off a few of those Christmas calories, with the added bonus of catching up with my old haunts from my Uni days (I did get the Fiesta stuck in a snowdrift whilst trying to get up Clougha once...).
The main disappointment was the lack of visibility, it would've been nicer to have had a proper view over Lancaster, the Lune estuary and Morecambe bay but the photos show that that wasn't going to happen.