Sunday, 1 January 2017

Cheltenham Races, New Year's Day, Gloucestershire

  If it is a cold and wet start to the New Year, then Cheltenham Racecourse's many bars and covered stands can get very, very crowded. It can feel like Oxford Street, only with more Tweed and less racial diversity. Spanning the generations and the social classes, the punters tend to drink steadily, but are generally good-natured and knowledgeable. Traditional bookies still line the course, taking minimum bets of a fiver, from underneath their umbrellas. From the main grandstand, there are sweeping views over the white fences that criss-cross the grass, leading the eye to the hills beyond. On the day, you have to pay £35 for this view, but many club ticket holders still cram themselves into the Centaur arena and watch the action on the big screen, cheering raucously for their chosen steeplechaser. To keep you going through the seven races, there are plenty of food stalls, offering reasonably priced hotdogs, pulled pork, chillies and the like.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Walk at Dusk around Merrist Wood Golf Club, Surrey

Frost in Brockwell Park, South London

 Trees cast long shadows across the crisp grass on a frosty winter morning in Brockwell Park

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Amadeus, the National Theatre, Southbank, London

Images from the National Theatre web site
An ambitious production melding classical music with melodrama, theology and comedy, Amadeus follows the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the jealous eyes of Vienna's incumbent court composer Antonio Salieri. Once you get past the strangely lethargic and dreary opening monologue, Salieri springs out of his wheelchair and back in time to when Mozart first arrives in Vienna. The play also springs to life, harmoniously working extracts of soaring Mozart's operas into the narrative, which traces how Salieri comes to terms with the fact that he is a mediocre composer and that Mozart, rather than him, is God's instrument on earth.  At times the storyline's exploration of the nature of genius and its impact on others is both compelling and entertaining. In one memorable scene, Salieri plays a dull welcome march he has composed for Mozart. A little while later, the prodigy vaults over to the harpsichord and plays Salieri's march back by memory, embellishing it with flourishes that ultimately transform it into a fine piece of music.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

DoubleTree by Hilton, Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, California

A big boxy building overlooking the busy Hawthorne Boulevard, the Torrance DoubleTree franchise is a typical soulless mid-market hotel. If you have a room at the front, you will have to put up with the extraordinarily noisy air conditioning units. Although they seem to quieten down as the night progresses, there can still be a steady hum from the nearby highway. You probably won't spend much time on your compact balcony. Still, the en-suite rooms themselves are quite comfortable and fairly plush, if predictably decorated in browns and beiges. It is a lengthy walk down to the ocean front (more than two miles), but the hotel is on several bus routes and there are coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance. And you get free cookies when you check in. 6/10