Friday, 17 July 2015

Tour de France

A funny thing happened the other week.  I use a clever programme on my computer called GOTOMYPC which lets me access my home computer from another one anywhere in the world.  Very clever stuff, and completely invaluable especially when I'm not tied to my desk.  I've used it flawlessly for a few years now, and have really appreciated it.  But somehow in between logging and getting going it/I managed to post some passwords on my Facebook page.  I realised quite quickly...after only a few minutes...and immediately deleted them, but really quite worrying.  I've changed all my passwords just in case which means I will now find it impossible to log on to anything, as I'll never remember them.

And this is precisely why I write the's just too easy to forget things.

How could I possibly forget one of my 'major achievements'?

But I had.

In May I cycled from London to Paris, along with 100 other riders of various ages and abilities.  I'd trained for it of course...amazingly by May I had cycled over 3000km since the start of the year.  I was far from 'race ready', but a damned sight fitter than I have been for a long does show - I'm slimmer in the face than I've been for many a year, and my pot belly is straighter than it used to be.

So we left from Crystal Palace early in the morning, with the prospect of a few showers, and headed vaguely in the direction of Dover.  It's the longest route that organised bike rides to Paris take, but as the other common one is down to Newhaven and I've cycled to Sussex enough times to make it feel like a commute, this had been the one I wanted to do.  Kent is not flat so there were some tricky bits, but really nothing too scary (though that is me writing with 2 months hindsight, not sure how I felt at the time!).  But it's certainly a beautiful county and the rain stayed away.  On these long rides you follow luminous pink may have seen them and wondered what they are; now you know...but such is human nature, some people feel the need to remove them because they don't like cyclists.  Odd isn't it?  Even with the arrows, you'd be surprised how easy it is to get it was a real lesson in keeping focused and always concentrating on the road ahead.

Everyday we cycled for half the morning, stopped for water, carried on until lunchtime where we were served a gourmet feast by our traveling chefs before cycling on until the afternoon break and then on to our night time hotel.  French roads are generally better maintained than ours, but often the surface is quite rough to start with, so I'd say in any debate it's a draw as to which is actually better.

Most people shared a room.  I guess you could say I was lucky...I had a room to myself.  But it was simply because my roomie had had a heart attack a couple of weeks before the trip.

I would say there were certain 'types' on the trip.  A few groups of northern me who were fiercely competitive amongst themselves, and quite cold to outsiders.  Whether this was because they were northern I know not, but they were and they were.  Men in general were obsessed with their machinery, and with their heroic exploits ( I was going down the road at 45 mph and the wheel came off, but I still managed to stay upright....), whilst the women would generally talk about the countryside and the lovely weather.  There were the keen cyclists who went as fast as they could, the ones who created a small group and then stuck with it, and then there were the folk who just got on with the task in hand. 

Most people came in pairs or groups, and a few were on the trip as soloists.  That included me...and it suits me completely.  Even with a large group, people cycle at different paces, so along the route the cyclists string the end of the day, some were arriving up to three hours after the first finishers.  I preferred to cycle mainly by myself...I don't enjoy chitter chatter with people I hardly know, and the solitude gives me the chance to think and contemplate - and also to enjoy the scenery.

Northern France is not quite as flat as you might think, so there were some quite strenuous times.  Most interestingly for me were the lovely villages...many with tumbledown houses or chateaux; quite beautiful and timeless.  There were plenty of friendly people around to encourage us along.  The ugliest town in the world must surely be Beauvais...a hideous collection of industrial and retail estates; our hotel was next to a graveyard!

I did notice the strain of riding for several days, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting at fact I felt it would have been better if we'd done the ride in two and a half days, not the three and a half it took...generally I was quite quick so had finished the allocated distance by 3 o'clock...which did have the benefit of plenty of time to enjoy a beer or two in the sunshine.

Entering Paris was quite an experience - we had to ride in a convoy with the support vehicles flashing their lights and blowing their wasn't something that I was quite comfortable with...I'd have preferred to have been more discrete.  But we did arrive at the Eiffel Tower and had a great celebration which carried on late into the night.  I felt I'd achieved, it had been a stretch, but not too much of one; I'd met all sorts of interesting people and seen France in a new light.  In fact it was so good I'd put it right up there with the best experiences of my life!  I would love to do it all again; in fact I may well do.  Just to cap it, when I got back I realised that I only had to cycle another 31km to have done 1000 in a I went off to the Lee Vally Velodrome out door track to clock those up, even though it was pouring with rain...

The photos are in slightly random order, simply because of my tardiness!

View from the hotel to the starting point

We both needed a rest before we started

Arrived in Dover

Refreshment needed

Waiting at the port

Loading up

On board

Neatly stacked

No idea...but obviously we'd stopped for a while

View of graveyard from our hotel in Beauvais

Always keep your back to Beauvais

Blackpool.  Not really.
I think I'm smiling
Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

The sticker was a brilliant, brilliant present from The Boy

Monday, 13 July 2015

...then the good

Well it came as quite a surprise to realise just how few photographs I've taken this year.  A combination of too much cycling, too many builders and just getting distracted.  Nonetheless, as they say, pictures speak louder than words; our new kitchen is born

Friday, 10 July 2015

First the bad

Are you interested in our kitchen?  It's finished after a fair few months.  But you do have to wait a little longer to see the results, as I need to get this off my chest first.  Building work is never much fun and I wonder if ours was any better or worse than the average.

Anyone who knows me will know that I've developed a habit of falling out with's a habit that I regard as worse than smoking.  I can't say I enjoy it at all.  The Cat's Mother on the other hand falls out with no one.  That's a good habit, although occasionally quite annoying.  Anyway, on this particular occasion, we're both of a similar mind.  Some quotes from e-mail exchanges with our new kitchen supplier...purveyors of luxury kitchens to the stars (supposedly).  I was going to include their name, but perhaps it's not can always ask if you want to know.  The blue quotes are from them. 

I apologise if we have indeed not lived up to your expectations

I apologise for any inconvenience you have suffered so far

I will find out what is happening this morning and call you

Whilst I do not know any detail of your particular job, it is fair to say that you appear correct regarding the lack of communication!! For this I humbly apologise. For what it is worth I agree our internal level of communication is nowhere near what it should be and this is something we Te [sic]working hard to change. The upturn in Our Global business levels, has left us playing catch up. No excuse I know, but at least an honest response.

Thank you for your time on the phone earlier, and again apologise for the lack of communication regarding the information below not being relayed to you

I care not whether this offends you

Thank you for your feedback, and I shall be ensuring that your experience is not repeated in our future installations, as the journey is as important as the final product, which I am sure will look fantastic

I would indeed like to meet with you. You are absolute correct that in a Workd [sic] awash with "luxury brands" it is the "experience" as much or even more than the product that defines true luxury.

I cannot guarantee that meeting me will benefit you that much however it will help me ensure that we do not inconvenience others unnecessarily.
So I agreed to meet on a date specified by the CEO, and have heard nothing since.....would I recommend them?  Would I hell, I would recommend anyone but them.....

Monday, 6 July 2015

Funeral for a stranger

We've taken to seeing bands 'just in case' it's the last time they tour.  That was our reason for seeing The Eagles earlier this year, and I guess to a certain extent Paul Simon as I mentioned in the last post.  The Who, adn the Rolling stones are well up on our list now.  A couple of weeks ago we headed to the O2 to see Fleetwood Mac.  The problem with the O2 is that too often you sit so far away from the band themselves you spend the evening watching the screens, which rather defeats the object I think...and so it was this time.  Not to worry, the songs are fantastic...although its fair to say that the first half was galloped through as if they had the last bus ti catch.  Christine McVie was making a triumphant return...and just in case we forgot we were told repeatedly throughout the show.  My favourite sign that this is a collection of phenomenal egos was that instead of having the name of the band on the drums, it was merely Mr Fleetwood's initials.  His ten minute solo was interminable.  So good songs, poor show...although we were the only ones who seemed to notice.

I can't remember when the last time was that I test drove a car before I bought it.  I work on the basis that all cars are pretty good these days, so I don't need to.  That could have been disastrous when i bought my last Jeep, because most of the reports in car magazines liken it to tractor.  But as it turned out, that agricultural feel was what has made it very special for's a challenge to drive, and has acres of personality.  Everytime I got in it since I bought it in 2009, it managed to put a smile on my face.  No other car has ever done that.  But time has passed, the government has gone from extolling the virtues of diesel to vilifying it, and I've never kept a new car for more than three years.  So I decided to replace it...and for the first time I decided I would replace my current car with the same again.  But this time with a higher spec and petrol engine, and (because manual is no longer available) an automatic gearbox.  Metallic bronze instead of silver.  After placing the order away back in December, the Beast was delivered just before my birthday.  And what a transformation the new car is.  It has been turned by the designers from an agricultural workhorse into a luxury cruiser.  Smooth, powerful and full of bells and whistles.  The colour was not quite as suggested, and that has given rise to endless humour amongst friends.  Bling it certainly is.  At least it is not out of place in darkest Essex...I'll be getting a vajazel next.  So far I like it, but don't yet love it...hopefully that will come.  The old one is yet to be if you know someone who would be interested, let me know...just like a pet it must go to a caring home.

I've come to like going to funerals.  That feels peculiar to me...but I have a reason.  I went to the funeral a couple of weeks ago of someone I didn't know.  His parents taught me at school, and I have enormous respect for them, so when I heard the news of his premature death due to complications from malaria, I felt it was something I wanted to do.  His father seemed to be bearing up well, although his mother couldn't hide the impact of losing her youngest son was having on her.   So why did I like going to this funeral?  It was because of the eulogy by his brother, which brought him to life in a vivid fashion.  An extremely talented pilot who lived a life of adventure whilst retaining his passion for his family and home country.  I felt completely lifted to hear about him, and it was true to say this was a celebration.  Of course, I would rather there had been no reason at all for me to be there.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Post Modern music tastes

This post has been sitting around for was going to be much longer...but who ever said 'bigger is better?'

Three more launderettes have gone up...I'm still not sure that I've found my way with it yet, so any guidance appreciated here

I've been lucky this year with music.  First of all I discovered Robert Plant.  Or perhaps I should say rediscovered.  I picked up a copy of his most recent album and have hardly stopped listening to it.  I've enjoyed it so much that I've gone out and bought a whole stack of others, and I've enjoyed each and every one from start to finish.  Of course, I've known of Robert Plant for many days were spent listening to Led Zep blast out down the dorm...but perhaps like whisky it was a taste that I only picked up when I'd matured a bit.

The other amazing discovery is Post Modern Juke Box - essentially they put modern songs into a time machine.  I've been so over excited by their stuff that we've bought tickets for their next show in Engerland - even though that's not until March next year.  Enjoy this:

There's many more videos to see and please do, and if you want to join us next year, let me know!

We went to see Sting and Paul Simon at the O2 in April.  Not two concerts, but one as they shared the stage together.  It's an odd combination, but one that works very well indeed.  they mostly sang separately, but occasionally sang together.  In a case of romantic symmetry, The Cat's Mother had seen Paul Simon, and I had seen Sting before, so it was great fun to be seeing them both together together.  Naturally, it was a bit of a greatest hits show, and none the worse for that.  Luckily we were quite close...well Paul Simon is very short, and Sting's face was largely covered by a very bushy beard.  We came away having enjoyed three hours of great music performed by two terrific musical stars supported by a large fact two of them.  But, much as I enjoyed it, there was something that didn't quite seem right...I can't quite put my finger on it, but it was definitely an oddity, irrespective of how enjoyable.

Thursday, 11 June 2015


Yes, I am still here
Yes I am well.  All is well
Yes I have been distracted
Yes I am lazy
Yes I have been busy.  We have been busy
Yes I have slightly lost my enthusiasm
Yes I will post something soon
Yes I do still look at your blogs (sometimes
Yes I'm grateful you are all still writing
Yes I am grateful you have read this
Yes I have half drafted something and it's been sitting on my computer for weeks
Yes I have posted a few more pics in my launderette blog here

Monday, 27 April 2015

I hear dead people

I may have missed the boat this time round, but I think for the next general election I'm going to set up a new party.  I will call it the 'No Vote Party'.  They say that if you don't vote, it's a wasted vote, but I simply don't agree with that...why should you vote for someone who you don't believe in, whose party's policies are not those that you don't want?  So I'd like to set up a party and have candidates in every constituency so that people who don't like what they're being offered can register their dissatisfaction. There's no point in me voting in our constituency, because it is true blue through and through...but I don't want to vote for any old random party just to be able to say I have put a X in the box...I'd much rather register my disatisfaction by voting for the No Vote Party.

It does feel that the major parties are hardly distinguishable, and face up to each other with small changes of policy that don't really bring the change that's needed.  It looks as though the two parties that will do best (not vote size) will be the SNP and UKIP - they're two parties that I can't agree with at any level...but they each have a vision and people understand and want is such a shame that the other parties don't or can't see it.  Anyway, I do so hope I can count on your vote in 2020.

I was deeply saddened and upset whilst I was away to learn of the death of a friend.  I mentioned his wife a year or so ago.  I had known her in my early career, and we had been good friends, but there was a disagreement based on a misunderstanding, and we lost touch and even though we met up again some years later, just after the birth of The Boy, the friendship had been damaged never to be put on an even footing again.  It was always a great sadness to me, and I counted it as a particular loss - she and her boyfriend (then husband) were wonderful people who touched many lives.  She worked in the charity sector, doing much good, but very sadly had cancer and died a couple of years ago.  On holiday I learned that her husband had died suddenly.  Heart problems.  He was just 55, she had barely made 50.  They left three teenage children.  I wonder whether he died of a broken heart.  I decided to attend Lloyd's memorial service - there were over 300 people there - as I felt the need to say good bye Clare as well.  I had always known that Lloyd was a good person, but what I hadn't realised was how much of his time was spent in the community - running football and rugby teams for children in the south London area.  He was clearly much loved, and will be sorely missed.

It made me think about how I remember people - often there are photos, or other memorabilia, but for me the one thing that truly enables to remember the person is to remember their voice...I seem to do this for everyone I know that has died, and find it much more of an emotional connection than anything else.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Murder in the garden

Not the title of a new Agatha Christie novel, rather a reflection about life on the edge of the forest.  During the day we'll regularly spot foxes (but these days that's nothing unusual even if you're a city centre dweller), multitudinous cats, the odd hedgehog and much bird life...all seemingly as happy as Larry.  But once the sun goes down, the garden becomes a dangerous place to be.  The evidence is normally seen in the morning with feathers spread all over the lawn, and usually preceded by a few squawks as some pigeon gets its head ripped away from its body.  But a couple of times over the last week or so we have heard noises that would scare even the hardiest of horror film's bad enough just as you're going to sleep, but worse still to be woken up at 3.00 am.  The noise may be squirrels who can make the most hideous of noises when they're a bit pissed off, or foxes whose screeches can curdle milk...but we're both too scared to look and hide under the duvet.  There's no evidence in the morning...even though the noise is accompanied by by the sound of scuffling.  So no body and circumstantial evidence only...but I don't doubt there's a serial killer on the loose and a bit too close for comfort...

I had a lovely time skiing thank you very much, even though I did arrive a day early...diaries are never my strong point, but this may be my worst yet (although I may have done something similar when traveling with Fred six years ago).  Usually skiing at this time of year means starting and finishing early before the warming sun has turned the snow to porridge density slush, but on this occasion we had fresh snow pretty much every day, and a glorious time was had by everyone.  As usual I traveled by train there and back -- its as quick as flying and infinitely more fun...when not watching the scenery fly past the TGV, I can catch up on a film or two - this time I managed to see Two Faces of January...sadly a bit disappointing, but at least it's been ticked off the list.

I came back with a horrible cold...they really do knock me for six...I had hoped that being fitter now than I have been for a long time would stop my catching anything, or at least make it go away quicker...nothing could be further from the truth.  Anyway, I returned home to find both Fred and The Cat there which was delightful...I think it's been a very, very long time since they've been under the same roof and getting on that made me extremely happy indeed.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The text conversation and following phone call

As I travel fast along a very twisty mountain road.

Me: "Just in lift to a couple to Les Saisses...see you soon"

Graeme: "I hope you are joking as we don't fly until tomorrow"

Me:  "OMG...No..I'm literally going to be there in half an you have Mark and Michelle's number?"

Graeme: " :-) OMG I will find it and send it now" 

(Sends vCard)

Me: "Can't download it..can you send number by text"

Feeling a bit travel sick by now.  Number arrives.

Me: "Hello Michelle, it's Nick"

Michelle: "Oh hi Nick, how are you?"

Me:  "I'm fine, erm, but I have a bit of a shock for you....I'm fifteen minutes away...have you got a room available.......?"

Well, it can only get better from there....

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Blowing bubbles

I have a reputation for being a bit of a rottweiler...and it's not always meant in a positive way..but just occasionally there's no other way to get something sorted.  BT decided to replace the telegraph pole outside our house last fact the work itself is done by Openreach...which BT maintains is a separate business, even though it is all part of BT Group.  They did the work quickly, but left us with no working telephone line.  When I rang I was told that it would take up to six days to repair...and they wouldn't accept that this was different to a normal fault...this was a case when they had done the breaking.  E-mails and phone calls made no difference.  Openreach wouldn't deal with me because BT is their customer, not me.  And BT was sticking to its six day rule.  Eventually at 3.30 on Monday I emailed BT's chairman.  I'd had a call back by 5.00 pm, and the line was fixed by two monkeys climbing up the pole at 10.30pm.  So two lessons - one an economic one: Openreach is the monopoly supplier and behaves as all monopolies do - badly; the second one is - always go to the top to lodge your complaint...

There's a bit of a scandal in the neighbourhood.  One of the wives has run off with another man, and instantly what was seen as one of the most secure marriages around has become the focus of discussion, debate and idle gossip.  I think it is such a shock, not because of the individuals involved, but because where we live could be described as one of the last outposts of traditional English society.  People have gone to school, then college, spent the next 30 years commuting to the office, waved off by their wives who then go about their charity duties, until hubby returns home, dinner is prepared.  And so on until everyone retires. And then dies.  Children have been born, brought up and educated before they too join the same conveyor belt.  On the surface all is well and good...happy marriages, nice houses, beautifully furnished, three holidays a year and shiny cars parked in the drive.  But beneath I have always suspected things are rather more torrid.  This recent split proves it, and it has been interesting to observe the reactions from both men and women.  No doubt the dust will settle, and life will continue.  My fascination is partly because I'm relatively new to this world...I joined the gang just six years ago, having come from a completely different environment where change was the only constant, so I'm more of a shrug my shoulders and move on sort of person...except that stability and tradition has enormous appeal.

We've been in a cultural desert recently - a school production of Les Mis in which elder Muffin was one of the street urchins was brilliantly done...but the musical itself is one that I don't care for.  At all.
And that's it.  I think we've become hermits.  The only TV programme we've watched is 'Home for Dinner' -  a documentary series about home life and the kitchen from the 1950s onwards.  It's great fun to see how our eating habits have changed, and indeed the role of men and women at home has been transformed.  The main point of interest for me though has been that the family featured is the Robshaws from Walthamstow.  I was at school with the head of the household Brandon Robshaw, so it's interesting to see him many years later; I'm told that his school friend Gary Lancet will appear in one of the episodes, so that's something to look forward to.

And apart from that, I've been just working away and cycling like I've never cycled before.  1200km this year so far.  Thank heavens I'm away skiing next week, so will be able to relax a bit....

Monday, 16 March 2015

Widescreen entertainment

Over the last few decades there has been a terrible concentration of wealth.  The rich have got richer, and the rest have pretty much stayed where they are (down at heel). In an open democratic society I find that quite a country where a sense of fair play still underpins our way of life, it staggers me that fairness and fair play now seems only to apply to anyone other than me, me, me.  We were reading the Sunday Times yesterday, and what is very apparent is that there are half a dozen journalists that completely dominate the pages - AA Gill, Giles Coren, Jeremy Clarkson and the others.  They seem to be given carte blanche to write about anything and everything.  What that means is that other equally (in fact probably more) talented writers are excluded.  The concentration in writers is one facet of the concentration of wealth.  This is an example of how the culture of celebrity is destroying our green and pleasant land...with a small elite dominating culturally, economically, socially and politically.  No wonder I finished the weekend so depressed.

Friday night started the weekend on a high note...we went to see Man and Superman with friends.  This play contains 57,000 words (evidently - I didn't count them) and lasts for three and a half hours.  That's normally a recipe for fidgety bum syndrome, but thanks to a truly towering performance by Ralph Fiennes, we were transfixed.  I've always enjoyed his performances...although I wasn't convinced by The English Patient...and particularly liked Coriolanus last year (the year before?), but this was in a different league.  The pace was perfect, and he was so relaxed and so true to the part, that it never once felt like an acted performance. I was so enthused, I wanted to give a standing ovation...but it's not done at The National, where middle-aged, middle-class white English people would regard that as quite vulgar.

And a round of applause too for the NHS.  A couple of weeks ago I had to have the sort of check up that only middle-aged men get.  I really wasn't looking forward to being starved for nigh-on two days, but surprisingly  it wasn't quite the hardship that I expected.  As for the mixture they gave me to clear out my tasted horrible, but certainly did the job.  Throughout the night and following day.  But what truly impressed was the hospital.  Whipps Cross is so not fit for purpose as the modern saying goes these days with buildings spread higldy-piggledy across a large site that has grown and grown in a seemingly random fashion since early Victorian times.  Ironically, it's just been placed in 'special measure' for its culture of bullying and harassment, and lack of patient care.  But the department I went into was well staffed by incredibly sympathetic and supportive nurses who were also incredibly efficient.  Nigel Farrage may be disappointed to know that they came from all corners of the globe, but they should be highly praised for their efforts.  Anyway, I arrived, was sedated and then wheeled into the modern, clean 'operating theatre' where I was conscious enough to watch the large screen TV displaying various parts of my innards.  Lucky me.  And lucky me as all was well and I've been given a clean bill of health...

Pleased also to report that I've already cycled over 1000km this year, so getting well trained for my ride to Paris in a couple of months...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

One out, all out

Sad to see Terry Pratchet go...he was a wonderfully imaginative man, and alzheimers is a nasty, long road to reach a grave.  Awareness of alzheimers and other debilitating age-related mental illnesses has reached anew high, and I read the other day that doctors are being overwhelmed by middle-aged people worried that they are succumbing.  It appears many simply don't realise how forgetful we all are at any age, and we all get a little bit more so with each passing year.  That won't stop me remaining paranoid everytime I misplace my keys or can't remember someone's name.

Before I forget, I just want to write down that my three favourite sounds in the whole world wide are:
  • Seagulls
  • Church bells (especially those in the German or Austrian Alps)
  • The sound a two-stroke scooter makes of an evening in a distant street

Can't think why, but all those make my stomach jump (in a good way) every time I hear them.  Clearly it jumps a lot when we're in Brighton, or when skiing in Kitzbuhel.  I wonder if other people are moved quite so much by such simple sounds?

You may remember that we're having building work done at home.  That has been going on since October and has caused much misery as these things do.  We've been without any form of cooking facilities, save for a kettle and a microwave, for about three weeks now.  It's no fun.  So invitations for dinner (and breakfast and lunch) will be gratefully accepted.  Microwave recipes will not be cordially received.  At some stage I will properly blog about it...well it'll probably just be a picture story, but that will have to wait at least a week when the windows are due to be installed. I bet you can't wait.

In contrast to some of the high-brow theatrical nonsense we go to, yesterday we went to see Made In Dagenham.  It was entirely my choice, although I don't think The Cat's Mother was anti.

We had both enjoyed the film which managed to turn a significant piece of social history into something that was eminently watchable, amusing and indeed educational.  Although the musical has been reasonably well reviewed, neither of us had particularly high expectations, but we were confounded.  We absolutely loved it.  A great story (we knew that already), a remarkable set, some fabulous performances including Gemma Arterton as the main protagonist, Rita O'Grady, and Mark Hadfield as Harold Wilson and some truly terrific songs throughout.  We had a wonderful night out.  There were only to tragedies really.  One, the theatre was half-empty, and two, the whole thing is closing on April 11th.  I know I say it too often but if you do get half a chance, grab this whilst you is a great night out and you will have a ball.  I promise.  The Cat's Mother is planning to get a group of friends together to see it later this month when I'm away.  It's that good.

Monday, 9 March 2015

This Charman man

After my last celeb fest, I should probably just STFU.  But I can't.

We were very lucky that for the first time in heaven only knows how long, The Boy and The Cat were re-united under the one roof for 24 hours.

They had returned because we were attending a gala at the National Theatre.  Effectively it's the end of Sir Nick Hytner's reign there, so it was bound to be a big thing.  We had a table for ten...and were teased that we would be joined by two special guests.  We gathered for drinks in one part of the theatre complex, and then paraded (yep really) through a tunnel of fire to where we were to dine.  I've never been papped before.  I'd like to tell you who were the 17 celebrities we counted (there were many more) but my memory is not what it should be...I'll include Olivia Coleman, and the vicar from Broadchurch, Sir Ian McKellan, Phil Daniels and erm, err, erm, err....

We were joined at our table by Philip Glennister (Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars) which pleased the girls and the boys.  A consummate professional, he gamely kept chatting all night.  My sympathy to him as I'm not sure it was his bag.  I was sat next to our other guest.  Matt Charman.  You don't know that name?  Well nor should you...he is a screenwriter, and so not a star as such.  But if you're going to the cinema this weekend to see Suite Francaise, pay close attention to the credits...he did indeed write it.  he has an ITV series coming up, and later this year a new film with Spielberg.  Yes that Spielberg.  He's going places.  More importantly he was utterly charming.  Absolutely attentive, fully engaged, and you got the feeling genuinely interested in us.  I can't think he really was, except he did say that he spends every conversation wondering whether that may be the spark for a new story, a new script.  Genuinely one of the nicest people I've ever met.

At the end of the evening, we headed back to our hotel, where Kevin Spacey was holding a party to celebrate his return to the Old Vic.  I'd like to say we saw or spoke to the man, but we didn't.  But we did have a great view from our room