September Sessions


The Business School at UCB held an industry updating session over two days in early September, which included a residential trip to London via Bristol. It was a mere case of hopping aboard.

First stop was the Engine Shed, a collaboration between Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol and the West of England Local Enterprise partnership.


Situated at the heart of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, the Engine Shed is based in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s historic engine shed (bit of a giveaway) at Bristol Meads railway station.


This Tudor-style building was opened in 1841 and epitomized the cutting edge of technology in the 19th century. It is now a buzzing hub for new technology.


A short tour of the Shed and Innovation Centre then followed, plus a couple of presentations to be had before hitting Gorditos for lunch.


Then it was off to London for cocktails at the Ice Bar!

The Ice Bar is exactly what it says on the tin, with capes and gloves being provided before the quaffing can begin.

With the bar, cocktail glasses, tables and furniture carved from blocks of ice, this novelty venue only allows for short stints in allotted timeslots in which to enjoy its chilly atmosphere.





The hotel we were staying at was the fantastically quirky Qbic London City Hotel set in the trendy East End neighbourhood of Shoreditch.

This hotel is a great little melting pot of the unconventional – an eco-friendly hotel with serious commitment to environmental responsibilities, incorporating solar panels, with chemical-free cleaning and waste management within its design. It is sustainably built with comfy beds set in a trademark cuboid arrangement.

Here’s a useful video from their website showing how these unique rooms are put together. Its speeded up so don’t despair!


We just about had time to get ready for dinner, which was at Sheba in Brick Lane, an area famous for its ethnic food and drink.

Sheba is one of the longest standing restaurants in the area, not just celebrated for its Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisine but also famous for being the setting for the Peter Kay commercial for John Smiths.


The location of the hotel is also ideal for experiencing the regeneration of the east of London, and a two hour walk around the area was arranged for the following morning.

Over the last decade, London’s East End has evolved from a run-down backwater of starving artists into an epicentre of creative energy.

The Shoreditch Grind was our chosen muster point, a peculiar circular building perched on the edge of the roundabout – an espresso and cocktail bar, with a recording studio upstairs.


The Shoreditch Grind

The walk took us through various cross-sections of the Shoreditch hubbub through a mixture of buildings including industrial and warehouse properties, with colourful Graffiti and street art covering many a wall.







Silicon Roundabout is fast becoming Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley, encompassing Shoreditch, Hoxton and Old Street. It is all happening here with hundreds of new companies rising up and employing thousands of people thus generating a sense of community, excitement and entrepreneurship in the area. It has become a profitable place to invest, attracting Google and Microsoft to set up business in the region.

And down in the subways, short-term rents were allowing entrepreneurs to set up and sell all manner of stuff.

The Boxpark was an interesting concept – the world’s first container mall house with an eclectic mix of established brands, independent boutiques and restaurants.


The Boxpark


The Tree Office





After lunch at the Old Shoreditch Station, a short presentation from the founder of a tech start-up was squeezed in.

A very competent and interesting talk was given about Makerble, a sort of charity projects subscription service, which can be funded and then followed with issues being addressed and changes implemented as various projects develop.


Then it was onto The Shard, where observation decks provided stunning views across the city.



The Italian architect Renzo Piano designed The Shard, and took inspiration from the spires of London churches and the masts of tall ships as depicted by the 18thcentury Venetian painter Canaletto. The Shard was designed as if a spire-like sculpture was emerging from the River Thames.

As if there wasn’t enough to cram into one day, we finally repaired to the London Bridge Hotel for afternoon tea – with no shortage of tea, cakes and scones on offer.


There must be something about September and city walking. As soon as the weekend was upon us, I joined a bunch of family and friends for a TV & Film Location tour of BIrmingham.

Mark Wilson and Sindy Campbell had joined forces to present an interesting and informative discovery trail of the city’s rich TV and film heritage, both present and future, which covered 40 years of film-making in the city.

We ventured into several filming locations from shows such as Hustle, Dancing on the Edge and Line of Duty. There was also the odd snippet of interest such as Cliff Richards’s starring role in the film Take Me High. His character in this veritable Hollywood blockbuster is sent to Birmingham instead of New York where he helps an unsuccessful Birmingham restaurant compete with its rivals by introducing a new gourmet delight – the Brumburger!

Here’s a couple of before and afters of the film from the website Reelstreets:



Before: Cliff entering Gas Street Basin from Gas Street.


After: A new bridge to take pedestrians over the canal. Gas Street Basin is where the New Main Line Canal of the Birmingham Canal Navigation (BCN) meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Highlight of the tour was access to the old Birmingham Municipal Bank with its grand ionic columns and Portland stone façade that squats on Broad Street. It is now used as a versatile and regularly used filming location. On the ceiling is an inscription: “Thrift radiates happiness” which could almost apply to me if I wasn’t so downright wanton with money.

In the basement, a door of 12 inch thick steel leads into two-feet-thick concrete walls, which contains the safety deposit strongroom.

Altogether the room houses a total of 10,528 silver deposit boxes, which are all still intact.

These tours are organised in partnership with Film Birmingham and are great way to spend a couple of hours mooching around the city and learning stuff.


Nature Notes Warning (the part where the blog gets down and birdy):

Frampton Marsh always does it for me: the big skies, The Wash awash (although not quite) and bundles of wilderness to get through. Who wouldn’t enjoy a visit here?

Always a favourite with its saltmarsh, scrapes and shimmering pools, this reserve offers up a real pic ‘n’ mix of birdy stuff with an impressive pool of waders taking centre stage. There are plenty of designated trails to follow, so we traipsed aimlessly around a selection of them enjoying good views of Yellow Wagtails, Ruffs, Little Stint, Kingfishers, Spotted Redshanks, Wood Sandpiper as well as Marsh Harrier, and a probable Merlin whooshing past.


Wood Sandpiper


Two fluffy Little Owls were perched over the rubble by a barn and (a possible first for the reserve) a Fulmar.

The Fulmar was out of sorts so we assumed it had made its way up through the gullies of the saltmarsh after suffering some mishap. Or it could have just been out on the lash last night and was recovering.


Fulmar – far from home…


There was still just enough of the month left to squeeze in a trip to the Trentham Estate in Staffordshire.


Apart from the mighty award-winning gardens, there is also a lake, lots of woodland, and a sizeable monkey  enclosure stocked with Barbary Macaques, which can be walked through.

A few of us opted for the miniature train ride up to Monkey Forest (how old are we?) as well as getting the boat back.

However, we did manage to scale the high peak to the monument.





Perseus with a big weapon


And now for a postscript.

That shy and retiring friend of ours, Stevie B, again had to be cajoled into getting up on stage during Musical Bingo at the Old Joint Stock – and it wasn’t even Karaoke night.


Ok, we’ll finish on a little poem – this posting hasn’t had nearly enough culture in it…

Yesterday returneth not,
Maybe tomorrow cometh not,
Today is thine,
Misspend it not.



…and we’re still in August!


Yep, still here – still not managed to bag and bin August.

Fortunately, Yumi’s cruise celebrations to Norway surrendered a good chunk of the month’s account so here’s the rest of what was occurring:

There was not much chance of a free weekend after returning from the cruise (woe is me!) The Fell-Walkers eschewed any fells and took to Shropshire for a sunny yomp along the Mortimer Trail.

Quite a spectacular walk this one so here’s all the gen from Stuart:

Meet at Wigmore, Herefordshire SO416689, SW of Ludlow. 

Map: Explorer sheet 203

From Wigmore, we walk east along quiet country roads for about 3 miles towards Leinthall Starkes, then south to Yatton before climbing to Yatton Hill and Croft Ambrey Fort to join Mortimer Trail (fine views). Continuing south west along the ridge to the outskirts of Lucton before turning north west to Aymestry for lunch at The Riverside Inn.

There is a good choice of real ales. <http://www.theriversideinn.org/>

The licensee has told me that they are quite happy for us to eat our own food on the riverside tables providing we buy drinks (I’m sure we will). The riverside location is actually very pleasant next to the River Lugg.
After lunch continue north west following Mortimer Trail before heading north west then north east passing Lower Lye, Woodhampton and Barnett Woods to return to cars.

Wigmore was once a major town and centre of power. In the 10th century it was the major civic centre for the region and sometime home of King Edward (didn’t state which one).

During the Norman Conquest it was a stronghold for the anti-Norman rebels led by the legendary Edrik the Wild, Lord of Wigmore (does anyone remember him?) Wigmore was eventually captured and given to the Mortimer Family who made it their seat of power.

From the late 14th century the town fell into gradual decline. It lost its regional power in 1970 with the closure of the magistrates court. There are some excellent examples of traditional timber framed buildings and also ruins of the castle dating from early 14th century and which sits on the site of two earlier castles. English Heritage now owns it.


The weather has been pretty rubbish this month considering that we’re still in summer but there were a few interesting exhibitions on offer to escape the drizzle and murk.

The Gas Hall, one of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s premier exhibition spaces, presented Love Is Enough. This was a good opportunity to see world famous masterpieces by two very different artists – Andy Warhol and William Morris.

This unusual combination of taste was curated to highlight surprising connections between the two with regards to mass production, popular culture and mythology.

On show were Warhol’s iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, plus archival material including a signed photograph of Shirley Temple, which was posted to Warhol when he was thirteen years old.

The main focus of the exhibition was a series of Holy Grail Tapestries, produced by Morris’s company, and the only set in a UK public collection.

With the drizzle and murk determined to see out the month, an additional trip to the Ikon Gallery for the Vanley Burke exhibition was in order.

Referred to as the “Godfather of Black British photography”, Vanley Burke is a bit of a hoarder (OK – a dedicated archivist and collector of objects relating to black culture in Britain).

At Home with Vanley Burke showcased the entire contents of Burke’s flat in Nechells. Amongst the paraphernalia were piles of newspapers, pamphlets, leaflets, street posters, figurines, tapes, records and masks. This could be construed as a conscious, or even sub-conscious, documentation of Burke’s role as historical archivist.

But the biggest question remained – just how big is his flat?

Here’s some photos from the Ikon Gallery’s website:

At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, 2015. Photos: Stuart Whipps.

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Although I did go and see The Fantastic Four on the first of September, it is probably for the best if this ever so so-so film remains as a footnote to this month rather than appear as the opening gambit for the next one.


Cruising with Yumi


Yumi decided to celebrate her significant birthday by embarking on a Norwegian cruise and press-ganged some hapless ship-mates into joining her aboard the good ship Adonia.

Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches…

On board, there was no shortage of things to do and certainly no shortage of food and drink – fine dining every evening and a veritable plundering of the impressive breakfast and lunch buffets every day.

The entertainment was predictable but not as cheesy as you’d think with the Adonia Entertainment Crew going above and beyond to keep the troops happy and occupied. Amongst an impressive list of activities on offer, there were allocated slots for exercise, comedy, various lectures, classical piano, some nifty guitar, musicals, films, yoga and line-dancing to name but nine (I just counted ‘em).

There now follows a Cruise Log with attendant foot-notes and miscellany…

Sunday’s theatre production was West End West Side – a sort of melting pot of Best of Broadway and Best of British with West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls and suchlike given a good stirring by the enthusiastic Adonia Theatre Company.

The fine dining experience in the evening varied little other than the choices offered each evening – lobster, three-bird roast, barramundi, steaks, salmon – actually, the list was so extensive it may be easier just to mention what wasn’t on the menu.


As Monday was a full day at sea, it was perhaps fortunate that the sun blazed away merrily but there were plenty of things to do if you could be bothered to peel yourself off the sun-loungers.



There was a classical concert, featuring guitarist Carlos Bonell who performed a selection of pieces form the Baroque to the Beatles.

Interesting aside: Carlos was a student of John Williams who, if I may lift a chunk of Wikipedia, composed some of the most popular and recognizable film scores in cinematic history, including the Star Wars series, the first two Jaws films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones series, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a bunch of other stuff.

More musical culture came in the shape of brilliant pianist Chris Hamilton who made those keys his own, and improvised an impressive finale with heaps of requests from the audience.

For an unexpected and triumphant ending to the evening, Steve took to Karaoke like a duck to orange sauce with some blistering performances on set.

Surreal moment of the cruise was his rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell with a line-dancing troupe unraveling behind him.



On Tuesday, we woke up at Stravanger, which was once a thriving canning and fishing city until an oil discovery reinvented it as the petroleum capital of Norway.

The weather wasn’t the best but we managed a trip out along the coast by coach to Egersund, one of the largest natural harbours in Norway. After a brief foray around the town, we returned by train. The whole day provided obligatory wide horizons and open skies with landscapes that didn’t disappoint.

Plenty of time to engage with Stravanger before the rain sent us scurrying back to the ship.



Captain Birdseye, a friendly Troll and Yumi…


The town is a mixture of old wooden houses and modern architecture with Old Stravanger having the largest concentration of 18th century wooden buildings in northern Europe (173 if you’re counting). It even embellishes the whole ensemble with narrow cobbled streets and some good old fashioned lamp-posts.

Although there was some sort of settlement here in the 8th century, it remained a piddling little place until early 12th century when the cathedral was built in 1125.

In April 1940 Stravanger was one of the areas where the invading German army landed on Norwegian soil. Although the north resisted the invaders for much longer, the south of the country was soon overrun.

Fun fact: the inventor of the sardine can key came from Stravanger!

We managed to catch the comedy slot with John Evans, a mandatory Scouse comedian, before hitting the bar for the 60s & 70s Party Night.


Black Tie Evening on the horizon…

Wednesday: Rosendal – a picturesque fjord-village on the southern shore of the Hardangerfjord, the fourth longest in the world, and the second longest fjord in Norway. The water wasn’t deep enough for the Adonia to dock so tenders (little boats apparently) were used to ferry people ashore.


The history of the Hardangerfjord goes far beyond its Viking history, back to the time of hunters on the surrounding mountains, and later on, farming along this fertile area which today is considered the “fruit orchard of Norway.” Later the fjord became the birthplace for a large tourism influx to Norway, and in 1875 Thomas Cook started weekly cruise departures from London to the Hardangerfjord, due to its spectacular nature, glaciers, and grand waterfalls. Soon after this many of the major waterfalls became the power source for large industries in fjord settlements. (Thanks, as ever, to Wikipedia).


After a very pleasant walking tour around the village, we then embarked on a coach journey along the shores of the fjord. As the Hardangerfjord narrows into the Maurangerfjord, we all piled out to admire the tumbling Furuberg Waterfall as it cascaded down the mountainside.

Further along, situated in a valley is the tiny industrial village of Sunndal, from which we began a leisurely walk along a gravel path to the Bondhus Lake. From the clear, still lake, the Bondhus Glacier could be seen bombing its way down the mountain towards the valley.


Back on board the Adonia, the aforementioned Theatre Company delivered a Night of a Thousand Stars to general acclaim, and the resident band, Quintessence, provided their take on the Jazz Story.

And then there was more drinking…


Thursday. Welcome to Eidford!

Eidford was probably our most impressive stop with archetypal fjord-land scenery – those heavy buttresses of mountains and their reflections forming a wall around the ship.

This little town was built on ground that was originally covered by a glacier and is surrounded by an escarped landscape. It is also one of the wealthiest communities in Norway due to the Sima hydro-electric power plant.

A morning walk in the bright sunshine took us to a small stone church dating from 1309, with walls nearly six feet thick. The story tells of a domineering and powerful Rich-Ragna (whatever that is) who built the church to pay for her sins.

Later on, we took in the view of Vøringsfossen, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Norway, which pours out from the Hardangervidda mountain plateau and snakes itself down the narrow and wild Måbødalen valley. (Thank God for copy and paste).


An afternoon walk took us to a little of the cultural landscape on the Haereid mountain plateau with ancient burial sites from the Iron Age and the Viking era.

Pleasant walking through woodland and along the lakeside ensued before we returned to the ship. There was just enough time to visit the Nils Bergslien Art Gallery for a top up on the Old Norwegian culture – lots of goblins, mythology and monks proved an interesting diversion.


In the evening, Steve couldn’t keep away from the Karaoke again, no doubt inspiring Yumi to clamber on-stage and deliver a few little warbles of her own – all very well done!

Friday was Yumi’s significant birthday and, as the rain pelted down, as we looked out on our final destination – Haugesund.

Haugesund is a fairly young town but the surrounding areas were lands of power during the Viking Age with the first king of Norway, Herald Fairhair, being buried close by. Haugesund was also big on fish during the Herring Age.


We didn’t have a great deal of time here with an afternoon sailing penciled in but managed to check out the Town Hall and Art Gallery, and generally had a mooch up and down the streets.

The theme for the evening’s sesh in the pub – The Crow’s Nest – was Great British Pub Night, so it was as you are then.

There was also more comedy from John Evans (still Scouse) and an entertaining play, Private Lives – Noel Coward’s most famous play – put on by the Adonia Theatre Company, who made a very decent fist of it.

Saturday was a day at sea and, with the weather taking a turn for the better, we took several turns around the ship trying out different sun-loungers and mocktails.

Yumi went to a seminar on how to increase your metabolism and look well good and healthy but it was cancelled because the instructor was sick.

Again, plenty to keep us occupied, especially with the start of the football season and several matches being shown on the big screen. There was also a Dixieland theme night taking place in the Crow’s Nest, which was the inevitable end-point for us all to finish up and reflect on a great week’s cruising.