John Owen Smith’s log for 2014

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29th December 2014

I hope your Christmas was as peaceful and as successful as ours. This time last year we were cruising in the Canaries, but this year we felt there's no place like home!

15th December 2014

A group of us went to Swanage for a few days last week – our annual 'December house' outing. The weather was kind to us.
Then, almost as soon as we got back, it was onto the stage for the village Christmas Concert which Dil now organises.
Both went well.

1st December 2014

Peppa Pig was first broadcast in 2004, yet the animal seems to have taken on a new lease of life only recently with all the franchised merchandise. Anyway, Peppa was due to visit our Xmas Fair on Saturday and Dil's granddaughter Tallullah, a big fan of all things Peppa, wanted a picture of me with the eponymous pig – so here it is. Enjoy!

28th November 2014

Back from a few days in Bruges: the weather was mild and the rain stayed away. Here are some quirky shots.

We stayed in a converted barge on a working canal – this was the stern.

This was a the side view – we were in a cabin on the upper floor.

A favourite corner of Bruges.

One of several of 'God's Houses'

A horse fountain …

… for real horses.

Is this a euphemism?

This is a chip musuem.

The things you see in shop windows …

… and outside!

But never fear – there's still a C&A
to keep things in perspective

And we're only here for the beer!

Why are there metal shells on the pavements?

Why do the windmills here have sails
in Dutch colours?

Why should a horse in a zebra suit be in Brussels station café?

And is Mr Heindryckx trying to turn us all
into vegetarians?

17th November 2014

They've landed a robot on a comet!!

10th November 2014

The lecture season is upon me – two talks done this week, and two more to come next week. We also took part in a chaotic quiz evening on Friday night, and went to the first of two 70th birthday parties on Saturday – another coming up next Saturday; these youngsters!

I went for a second pacemaker check-up on Thursday, and all was well. They can read off on their computer your whole heart's history since your last visit – apparently I had two occasions when my heart rate increased – I'm trying to remember which bits of fun might have caused it!!

3rd November 2014

I spent Saturday plying my trade behind my bookstall at the annual West Surrey Family History Society's Fair & Open Day at Woking Leisure Centre. I was able to browse other stalls, and picked up a slim tract written around 1900 on the history of my home village Chalfont St Giles. In my youth I had no interest whatsoever in its history, and so I found it a fascinating read. In particular it described views from the hills which were never there by my time, due to the 'houses in-between'.

27th October 2014

Panto rehearsals have started, though we haven't fully cast all parts yet, particularly in the junior sections. However, on Wednesday I met Sam Mendes at his mother's birthday party locally, so now during rehearsals I can say "as Sam told me". In fact all we actually discussed were the benefits of Pilates!

I organised the second Here's Headley evening on Friday, which went well, and I was able to donate £100 to the local surgery funds from proceeds.

Currently the Headley Mill pond is drained due to a broken sluice gate. It's an opportunity to see the contours of the bottom (see right) and, with advice from Richard Ellis the miller, see how its shape has changed through the centuries.

Headley Mill pond drained

20th October 2014

It was a week when several people seemed to be suffering from low-grade bugs of one sort or another, including me. But despite this, the Club wrapped upthe second weekend of The Darling Buds of May successfully – and so now on to the pantomime, which we cast last night. As I write we still have to inform everyone of their parts, so more on that later.

Today was also a day when I had to give two different talks at two different locations, which I managed to do without muddling them up. The second talk took place when I was supposed to be in Headley auditioning the panto cast, but Dil manfully managed that job for me – I arrived on the scene just as the process was ending and we had some drinks at home with an ad hoc casting committee to complete the process by midnight.

13th October 2014

We were serving the food at the performances of The Darling Buds of May over the weekend. Once again the Club seems to have picked on a format which the punters like – we had a full house on the Saturday, and another predicted for next Saturday.

Tonight we did the first read-through of this year's pantomime script, Ali Baba, and had a good turnout. We last performed this script in 2001 ../drama/2014-10-Darling Buds.htmand some of that cast were around for the reading. Auditions are next Monday.

6th October 2014

We spent my birthday week visiting the area round the Forest of Dean, and the weather smiled on us. In fact it must be the warmest birthday I've spent in this country.

Monmouth boasts both Henry V and Charles Rolls

We saw strange sybols in the countryside …

… this one in a sculpture park!!

We ate fine food in fine places
(this is Ledbury)

We went on a pirate ship
in Gloucester Docks …

Ross-on-Wye is full of interesting shops …

… and Hereford is full of bull!!

24th September 2014

I spoke in the evening last week at Southbourne, and Dil and I stayed the night in a hotel near Christchurch. The photo I took of a sign in their car park pretty much sums up our feelings about the place. Actually the staff were OK, but the dire breakfast – cold croissants like cardboard, cheap bread for toasting … but I won't go on. Dil will make sure there's an apt review on their website!

This week, walking on Ludshott Common we saw this wee beastie (right), looking like a little black scorpion – we looked it up when we got home and found it's the Devil's coach horse beetle.

And speaking of wee timerous beasties, there was of course the Scottish Referendum last week. Did you have a vote? Neither did I. Apparently it only concerns people living in Scotland as to whether or not the UK survives. My MP has received an e-mail with my thoughts about that.

With possibly the worst continental breakfast on the planet!

Devil's coach horse beetle

12th September 2014

Just back from a week in France: first to Brittany, then a day with friends in Cherbourg before heading home on the overnight ferry from Ouistreham last night.

First we visited the canal at Hédé where we had hired a boat with Nick & Erika back in June 2001…

…this was how it was for us then; not quite the same spot, but the fields in the distance look much the same.

Lunch by the river Île at Pontivy
– to be recommended.
I'll do a section on food later!

Here am I seemingly contemplating a bottle of pink water. But the cider by my left elbow was real and good!

At Gourin – a replica of the Statue of Liberty in the town square.

Eventually we made it to Quimper
– we had booked accommodation
in a 'camping' nearby.

Here's the accommodation
– Eurocamp's latest in their line of
'mobil-homes', though this one was
more like a chalet and never mobile!

The site was on the banks of the River Odet (whose mouth is at Benodet).

Its grounds had once been laid out as a formal French garden
– some of the formality still remained…

…though we never did understand why they locked this gate
when you could just walk round the corner to get to the other side.

'The Old Man of the Sea'?
at St-Guénolé.

Seen on a yacht at Pont-Aven.
Can somebody tell me what it's all about?

Pont-Croix is a gem of a place…

…and we can recommend the restaurant
in the town square.

And speaking of restaurants…
Try this one at Fouesnant.

And this is one at the Vieux Port nearby
which we enjoyed on a previous visit.

Did I mention food?…


And so at last to Cherbourg…
where the harbour master seems to have an easy time!

Perhaps he just gets tired
counting masts.

He could, of course,
go up the Jolly Sailor.

Or get away from it all
on a visiting cruise liner.

1st September 2014

We held the annual Headley Theatre Club barbecue here on Sunday evening, and were blessed with good weather. Just in case of rain (and also to avoid pine needles falling in the food) we erected a double-size gazebo which covered the entire lawn. Job done! We managed to squeeze 41 people into our garden.

Which bit goes where? Janet has the plan!!

And the result on the night was good.

25th August 2014

August Bank Holiday today, and it's pouring with rain!

However, yesterday we were thankfully blessed with a fine sunny day for Simon & Megi's wedding at Farnham Castle, where my Sarah played saxophone to the delight of all.

Pru puts final touches
to the cake stand

The staircase to the lawns
where we devoured canapés before the ceremony …

…and where Sarah played afterwards as we waited
for lunch.

18th August 2014

Drove to the Bath area and back over the weekend with no ill effects. I'm still supposed to resist making "explosive movements" with my left arm for a few more weeks, but other than that, the world's my oyster again.

11th August 2014

OK, I'm driving again!

4th August 2014

Steady progress on the pacemaker front. On Thursday I go for my first check-up. Let's hope they say I can start driving again – I'm getting cabin fever!

21st July 2014

On Friday we went for a short walk along the northern section of the Shipwrights Way in Alice Holt Forest, past the sculpture depicting the Roman Pottery works which were near there.

I noticed clover all along the edge of the path and, as Wikipedia insists that a four-leaf clover occurs one in 10,000 times, I started counting. And sure enough, after the 9,999th plant, we found it! Lucky?

14th July 2014

Despite the impediment of one immobile arm, I took part in the show over the weekend – and it went very well indeed. It was called Reflections, and took the audience through the First World War in songs and readings. Some said it was the best thing we'd done, which was gratifying after my fraught run-up to it.

I still have to take it easy for another three weeks until the ticker is checked again, but it feels OK to me. And it's difficult to stand by and watch everyone else do the heavy lifting, etc, without volunteering to help. To be honest, I'm getting a bit bored – but that's totally better than the other thing!

7th July 2014

So this is how it goes – you go to the doctor complaining of sciatica in your left leg, and the next thing you know is you're in an ambulance being taken to hospital to be fitted with a heart pacemaker! I won't complain about sciatica again, honest!!

All seems well now, but I'm not supposed to drive for a month, so Dil will be my chauffeur if I need to get out and about. My apologies to those for whom I had to cancel visits and appointments. These things happen.

30th June 2014

We went to the new Wanamaker Playhouse at the Shakespeare Globe over the weekend – not to see a play but to listen to music. The place is lit by six chandeliers with real candles in them – in a wooden theatre.

23rd June 2014

A week of sciatica and not driving. Dil drove me to Camberley to give an evening talk. We played in a skittles match on Friday (and were in the winning team!) and that seemed OK, so let's hope I'm on the mend.

16th June 2014

Last week I gave my 200th talk to a WI … and did these feet in modern times walk into many village halls!

9th June 2014

Wonderful summer weather this last weekend, and spent in good company in a sunny garden in Kent. And for a bonus, as we were gazing up at the stars on Saturday night, the International Space Station made an appearance gliding in ghostly silence across the clear sky!

3rd June 2014

We're back from a week in Normandy – just made it out before the world descended for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. There were Allied flags everywhere and old WW2 vehicles rolling in from all parts. We travelled over from Portsmouth to Le Havre, and stayed in an apartment in Dives-sur-Mer – where another successful invasion began in the opposite direction in 1066. Quite appropriate really! Here are some images from our time there.

Breakfast in Honfleur, in one of the cafés in this view of the harbour

Then on to Dives

and to our apartment by the marina
– this is a view of the front of the block
from the marina

and this is a view from the apartment block
towards the marina and local restaurants.

Our balcony,
which did not have a sea view

though it did attract visitors!

Guillaume was everywhere in Dives – here's a bit of his tapestry on the wall of the marina office

and here he is on the pavements!

Here he is again

and his wife!

and if you haven't already got the message…

Interestingly, the location of the marina was once a factory specialising in copper products.
Here's part of the old equipment on display.

This is the leffe!
Me outside the local bar.

but I'm sure this wasn't
meant for me!!

and what's he doing here?

I must be seeing things!

The Dives Tourist Office
in the old quarter.

One of the shops there insisted I look at his stock upstairs!

Louis found his place…

There is a little-used railway
line snaking to Dives.

The footbridge over the River Dives to Cabourg

where we saw egrets.

and outside the Casino
was a mobile jazz band!

In Houlgate there are interesting houses – this one is on the sea front.

The viewpoint above Houlgate looks along the length of the landing beaches

on a clear day you might spot this,
in Ouistreham.

Just a fraction of the WW2 vehicles which were rolling in for the 70th anniversary.

And this place was beginning to feel
the strain of another invasion.

We headed inland
– first to Beuvron-en-Auge.

Going inland has its problems
– was this a through road or not?
Luckily, it was.

The compensations were: calvados…

…and cheese – this at Livarot.

At Crevecoeur-en-Auge
there's an interesting set of buildings…

…housing a museum of
petroleum extraction!

All good things must come to an end
– and as soon as this man lets go…

…we can head back to Portsmouth on the good ship 'Seven Sisters'. Au revoir France!

26th May 2014

Up Pompeii went well over the last weekend – see photo of the cast. I'm the one in the middle with the pigs heads on poles – I never did discover their relevance to the plot! Dil made a Vesuvius cake for the cast to consume after the show, which was well appreciated.

So today it's a Bank Holiday, it's raining, and Dil is packing for our week in France. Let's hope we don't take the weather with us!

19th May 2014

Too busy with Dress Rehearsals for Up Pompeii last week to post an item – but it's up and running now; we did two shows over the weekend which went well (even though we missed more than a few lines on the Friday night!) and looking forward to doing another two shows this coming weekend. It's on at The Phoenix in Bordon in case you want to come.

Beautiful weather over the weekend. We took a picnic to Hinton Ampner on Sunday and found ourselves sharing a field with a rather noisy flock of ewes and lambs. Fortunately they kept well away and we didn't have to share our food! We also visited The Flower Pots at Cheriton for a swift drink – it was doing very good trade.

5th May 2014

In glorious sunshine, I led the annual 'bluebell walk' yesterday and not only was their colour phenomenal but they seemed to be growing in places we hadn't noticed before. We also heard a cuckoo, my first of the year. The walk took an hour longer than usual, because people were stopping to gaze around and take photos. The only down side was that we got back too late to visit the pub!

Another positive was that my sciatica didn't stop me walking, and seemed no worse for the experience when I got home.

28th April 2014

So, just as the toe gets better I get a recurrence of sciatica, possibly caused by bad posture due to the toe. Life! Anyway, on the mend from both now. And due to the enforced inability to move either far or fast, I've spent time finishing off the new MacHamlet play. An example of advantage from adversity.

21st April 2014

I'm on antibiotics, having developed an infection in a cyst on top of a toe. Glad to say I seem to be responding to treatment, but over the past week Dil has had to be my chauffeur. It all started after I'd worked backstage for a dress rehearsal of Blackadder. They had to do without me for the performances over the weekend, which I'm pleased to say for them went well.

14th April 2014

Friday's Historic Headley evening went very well – 51 attendees – and I'm planning another for 24th October.
Mark your diaries!

I'm rehearsing for the part of Lurcio in the stage version of Up Pompeii which goes up in May at The Phoenix in Bordon. Someone snapped this shot of me for their records. I don't have many photos of me, as I'm usually behind the camera, so thought I'd share it with you, dear reader.

7th April 2014

Over the past 2 weeks, I've continued to learn my part as Lurcio in Up Pompeii (due on stage from 16th May), and started to write a third play in my MacHamlet series. It has the working title 1056 and All That, and brings in characters from The Tempest to mingle with our old friends from Macbeth and Hamlet. Why 1056? I'll tell you later. At the moment I've completed Act I and I'm struggling with Act II.

On Friday I'm organising my first Historic Headley weekend – it will be interesting to see how it goes. Do come along. Only a fiver on the door, and profits to a good cause.

24th March 2014

We ran an evening of performances by our Youth & Junior sections on Saturday – called GR8 Xpectations ;) I was cast as Master of Ceremonies. They did well, and I hope we'll develop some GR8 talents from it! Meanwhile the senior members of the Club continue to rehearse for Blackadder II – and the good news is that the two scheduled shows are already sold out, so we are adding another on the Thursday (17th April) which would otherwise have been a dress rehearsal.

17th March 2014

I did one of my longer journeys to give a talk this week, over to Andover. It was in the afternoon and the day was sunny and warm, so quite a pleasant trip, and Dil came along to keep me company. I don't mind travelling so far in the warm and the daylight – but I drew the line and politely declined when the other week I was offered a winter's evening talk at Eastbourne next year.

Over the weekend we visited Deb in Surbiton to help her clear stuff and reorganise stuff – and walked along the Thames in hot sunshine to have a nice long lazy lunch at a Spanish restaurant in Kingston. I forgot to take my camera, so sadly no picture!

10th March 2014

Yesterday the sun shone as we celebrated Herne Bay Sarah's birthday – and for the first time this year we were able to use the garden to eat, drink and be merry. Here's the mob, except for me (behind the camera) and Dil busy in the kitchen. Pru and Erika turned up later.

The previous day, I had puzzled over how to extract a fat frog from between the sliding door of the conservatory and the fixed window. We discovered you can't remove our sliding doors (really?) and sadly the deceased remains of le grenouille had to be prised out using a plastic ruler. Ugh! But how did it get there in the first place?

3rd March 2014

Received a copy of Richard Mabey's new biography of Flora Thompson: Dreams of the Good Life in which I am well referenced. I think it's rather good.

Last week, Dil went in to a music shop to buy me a tube of cork grease and came out with a mandolin! She's also booked us both in for a week's music course at Marlborough College in July; she to do beginners guitar and me to play jazz. No pressure!

17th February 2014

The weather has been foul with high winds and much rain, and an organised walk I had planned to do on Friday morning was called off.

On the Friday evening, while the wind howled outside the Village Hall, members of Headley Theatre Club held their first 'Green Room' event – and it went very well. I played saxophone and sang to my bass, and accompanied Dil on bass while she sang 'Fever'. I think we did OK.

10th February 2014

I've been cast in Frankie Howerd's part in the stage production of 'Up Pompeii' at The Phoenix in Bordon in May. Titter ye not! It's a lot of lines to learn, but I console myself with the fact that he never ever seemed to be word perfect himself.

We're just back from a visit to Blenheim Palace for a book signing (Valerie Mendes' latest offering Larkswood – it's based on Grayshott Hall and I helped her with local research). Returning today, it seemed as if Oxford was ringed by flooded fields forming a moat of water – no wonder there are flood warnings along the Thames downstream. Will it ever stop raining?

3rd February 2014

We've spent most of this week redecorating our hall and landing – a symphony in black & white. You want to see what a zebra looks like when stretched out as a stair runner? See here==>

The wallpaper adds giraffe and leopard to the zebra – well, a snow lepoard maybe, but I'm not sure about a black & white giraffe.

27th January 2014

Back to business. I have no fewer than six books on the go at the moment: four to typeset for others, and two of my own to get done. Everything comes at once!

Also, I'm learning to play the saxophone. On 14th Feb we are running a 'Green Room' event in Headley Theatre Club in which any of the members are invited to do a turn of their choice. My view is that it should be something they've not done before: hence the saxophone (I'm learning 'Satin Doll'), and for my second turn I'm planning to accompany myself on the electric bass singing 'Autumn Leaves' in French. No pressure, then!

20th January 2014

The panto's over and done - see pics.

13th January 2014

Three down and three to go! Panto performances, that is. It's gone well so far – let's hope for a good second weekend.

6th January 2014

While we were away on our cruise, we missed some fairly foul weather back home. Our only damage appears to be one panel of fencing (which was past its best anyway) and a small leak in the flat roof of the office (ex-garage).

So now it's all hands to the panto, which goes up this Friday. I'm well miscast as a dwarf!

Continued …

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