A Birthday Treat

It was my wife’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and as a special treat I took her up to London for a bit of sight-seeing, a meal or two and a show. We stayed at the Citadines Hotel Trafalgar Square which, although not cheap, is very handy for all the touristy things in our great capital city.

Citadines Hotel Trafalgar Square

A surprise notification of a parcel delivery delayed our departure, causing us to arrive in the late afternoon. On arrival we were efficiently checked in, and soon installed in our room. As we were meeting up with our granddaughter and her husband later for a meal we didn’t immediately head out to explore. Our decision was cemented by the fact that it was raining outside. We therefore, elected to relax a little, with a cup of tea.

Later that evening we met up with Hayley and Nick, at Skylon where we had a very enjoyable meal.

To start, Gerry had Pressed Watermelon (with Avocado, Shimeji mushrooms, yellow baby plum tomato, lemongrass, chickweed), Hayley had Smoked Salmon cannelloni (Creme fraiche, gribiche, salmon caviar, chervil). Nick and I both elected to have the Pan seared foie gras (Pickled cherries, apricot gel, toasted hazelnuts, oats, nasturtium leaves, cherry blossom).

For the main course I had Scottish Angus Cross beef fillet (Wild garlic, grelot onions, crispy shallots) while the others all chose the Roasted Lamb cannon (Crispy belly, wild mushrooms, baby artichokes, cherry tomatoes).

A hard act to follow but none of us could resist having a dessert. Gerry, a sucker for strawberries, had the Gariguette Strawberries (Elderflower meringue, rose jelly, strawberry sorbet) while the rest of us plumped for the Iced Cappuccino Souffle (Bailey’s chocolate bon-bon). Gerry’s dessert looked fabulous ….

Skylon – Gariguette Strawberries

All of the food was superb and even better, that evening, there was a fifty percent discount celebrating Skylons new chef. Suitably sated and buoyed by a great evening we trudged back over the river to our hotel for a good nights rest.

The next morning we headed out to do a bit of touristy exploring. Our initial target destination was Westminster Abbey. Neither of us having been there before, despite many visits to London.

Whitehall – London

Travelling on foot we strolled through Whitehall Gardens, situated between the Whitehall buildings and the embankment….

There are three statues within Whitehall Gardens. They commemorate William Tyndale an English scholar who became well-known for his translation of the Bible into English, Sir Henry Bartle Frere  a British colonial administrator who had a successful career in India eventually rising to become Governor of Bombay and General Sir James Outram an English general who fought in the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Looking across the river we had a distant view of the Shard seeming surrounded by the many cranes that dot the London skyline.

Shard – London

None of those cranes are anywhere near the Shard, just an illusion of perspective.

Also across the river is the iconic London Eye, towering over the nearby buildings. Principle amongst them is London’s County Hall.

London Eye & London County Hall

As you can see from the sky, the weather was very dull. Although, thankfully, not a drop of rain.

As we strolled along the embankment we came across the Battle of Britain Memorial Sculpture. A very striking work which certainly captures the emotion and horror of the times.

By now we were in sight of the Palace of Westminster, aka the Houses of Parliament.

We arrived at Westminster Abbey shortly after eleven AM and joined the throng making their way inside this ancient building.

Not unexpected, but security is tight and, from the notices, I was concerned that my camera bag might be deemed too big. However, after a short wait in a queue and a cursory check by the security guard we were in. Unfortunately, no photography of any kind is allowed inside the abbey. So the previous shots are all either outside or in and around the cloisters. However, they do make photos available for download, free. So here are a few ….

After so much history and culture we were not a little peckish. So we partook of a rather nice lunch in the Abbey Cellarium Cafe where Gerry had the Bream and I had the Chicken & Leek Pie.

After lunch we strolled over to Covent Garden. Enroute we passed the Cenotaph and the Monument to the Women of World War II. The Cenotaph was originally a temporary structure, erected for a peace parade following the end of the First World War. It was replaced in 1920 by a permanent structure and designated the United Kingdom’s official national war memorial.

The Monument to the Women of World War II depicts 17 sets of clothing and uniforms around the sides, symbolising the hundreds of jobs women undertook in World War II, and then gave back for the homecoming men at the end of the war. They include uniforms as worn by the Women’s Land Army, Women’s Royal Naval Service, a nursing cape, and a police overall.

Also along the route we passed Downing Street, Horse Guards and the Coliseum Theatre, our venue for later this evening.

Covent Garden is a district of Westminster and is associated with the former fruit-and-vegetable market which is now a popular shopping and tourist site. The district is a mix of independent shops, street performers and historical buildings, theatres and entertainment facilities, including the London Transport Museum and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

As we arrived there was an escapologist reaching his grand finale.  We spent an hour or so browsing the many shops and stalls intermittently being entertained. There was a juggler ….

Juggler – Covent Garden

…… a contortionist or, as he would have it, a Yogi ….

Contortionist – Covent Garden

And then while we were sitting having a cup of tea we were entertained musically by an opera singer, followed by a string quartet ….

After a super day we headed back to our hotel to freshen up before heading out to the theatre where our day was completed by possibly the best show in London at the moment, Bat out of Hell, the musical.


Yesterday we ventured away from Serandon, took ourselves over to Tulle. Tulle is the capital of the Corrèze département in the Limousin region in central France.

For the drive across to Tulle the satnag offered us the choice of going via toll roads, or not. We chose not. The route was very pretty but, as expected, followed mainly minor roads as it cut across the gorges. We soon felt as if we were on an alpine rally as we negotiated hair-pin after hairpin, and as we climbed up to a peak before dropping down the other side to cross a busy stream.

En-route we passed the ruined fortress of Ventadour, sitting on a rocky promontory that we were negotiating our way round.

Chateau de Ventadour

We will have to make a separate trip to visit this site.



We arrived in Tulle whereupon the satnag, having been programmed for the town centre, had another hissy fit and guided us through the centre, up and out the other side before claiming we had reached our destination. Assuming that we needed to be at the lowest point I ignored the satnag and we eventually parked, for free, right across from the cathedral.

For the uninitiated, Tulle is sometimes known as “the town on the seven hills”.  And those hillsides are very steep and every spare space is crammed with houses and businesses. It must make for some very desirable real estate but it also makes for many steep and winding roads.


Tulle was, historically, an important centre for lace production. It is the town where tulle, the finely woven material, often used for wedding veils, was invented.

Having parked up, and knowing the French penchant for towing vehicles, I enquired in the local pharmacy about parking fees. She informed me that for two, or maybe three, hours around lunchtime the parking was free. Certainly the parking ticket machines seemed to be in agreement. Both of the nearby machines were displaying “hors service” which translates to out-of-order.

Since it was lunchtime, we decided to eat at L’Abbaye. Still unsure about the parking I asked the waiter. He pointed to the ticket machines and when I explained that they were both out-of-order, he shrugged his shoulders and said “then it is free”.

L’Abbaye – Where we had lunch

We had a very nice lunch, both choosing burgers which is an unusual choice for Gerry. She chose the “Classique” which boasted a hache steak made from Limousin beef with tomatoes and onions. I had the “Auvergne” which also comprised the afore-mentioned hache steak, but with Bleu d’Auvergne, one of my favourite cheeses. All washed down with a glass of biere pression (draft beer). Very nice.

While eating we had noticed two guys working on the ticket machines and, still nervous about the parking, we wandered over to check the machines again. Still out-of-order, so we set out to explore Tulle.

One of the items, on our list, to visit was the Cloister Museum at the base of the museum. Unfortunately, it was shut.

According to the sign it was to open at 14:00, however at 14:15 there was no sign of it opening so I took a couple of shots through the bars of the iron gate and we moved on.

We opted not to venture inside the cathedral,

Tulle Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tulle)

preferring to stay outside in the sunshine. Literally, just around the corner from the cathedral entrance is Maison Loyac.

Maison Loyac – Tulle

Dating from the 16th century it is decorated with sculpted motifs of plants, animals and occasionally figures in compromising positions. So says our guide anyway. See if you can spot them.

While in Tulle we raided the local tourist information office, lifted a few leaflets to  give us some ideas for future days out.

Municipal Theatre – Called th Theatre des Sept Collines, Built 1899

Another item on the list is the Municipal Theatre, also known as Theatre des Sept Collines (The Theatre of  Seven Hills). It was built in 1899 and, although built of reinforced concrete, it  has a beautiful facade decorated with enameled sandstone, busts and medallions in glazed plaster.

Medallion, Municipal Theatre – Tulle

Mooching around on a warm summers day can develop a thirst, so we felt the need to stop for refreshments. Our chosen establishment, La Taverne du Sommelier. One beer and a coke later we were on our way meandering around Tulle.

A few more photo’s taken ….

…. and it was time to head back to the gite. A short detour into a boulangerie for a fresh loaf and we were on the road again.

Since we arrived in Serandon the local forecast has been threatening us with thunder storms and rain. Well it finally delivered the rain part of that deal, and made the first fifteen minutes of our journey unpleasant. As we travelled further east the rain disappeared and the skies brightened.

The evening back at the gite was very pleasant and I found myself watching the mists develop down in the gorges. Of course I had to go and take some, well quite a lot of, photographs. I’ve included a couple below ….

The shape and volume of the mist changes by the second and I could have stood there for ages. Well, actually, I did. I had to force myself to stop taking pictures, of the mist anyway.

Here are a couple of other shots taken while I was being mesmerised ….

Later this same evening the mists thickened until we were totally fog bound. The only reason I could see my car was that there was a street light right by it.

A suitable close to a great day.



Did Chas Hodges Pull A Rabbit Out Of His Hat ?

On Saturday evening my wife and I, along with my sister, visited the White Rock Theatre in Hastings.  The entertainment for the evening was to be Chas Hodges, he of Chas & Dave fame.

The theatre was nowhere near full. The potential capacity is 1066 people but there were probably only around 60 folks putting bums on seats.

At around 19:30 our bizarre evening began.

If anyone made an announcement I missed it but a bunch of guys walked out onto the stage and took up positions. The band started playing but I had no idea who we were watching. All I could tell was that they were apparently doing cover versions of Lonnie Donegans songs. After a couple of numbers, the lead singer started regaling us with anecdotes liberally sprinkled with “my dad did …” and “when my father…” and so on. Suddenly the penny dropped, we were being entertained by Son of Donegan.

Well of course he did all the standards and we had a sing along and tapped our feet but, even back in the day, Lonnie Donegans voice was a bit of a trial. I wouldn’t, by choice, listen to one Donegan record followed by another. Peter Donegans voice is very similar to his dads. I liked the instrumental breaks best of all as they are all very competent musicians.

Apart from the vocals the other big detractor for me during there performance was the two dickheads in the row behind ours. They paid good money to see a show,  then proceeded to talk all the time. Strange thing was that they shut up when the music stopped. Anyway, I couldn’t put up with their incessant chatting (note I avoided using the term” rabitting”) and asked them if they were planning to carry on through the whole show. After being asked twice, one of them said that yes he probably would. After a long glare from me they quietened down a little but they never did totally shut up.

So Son of Donegan finished their set and the lights came up. The chatterbox and his friends went out, presumably for some lubricant because his throat was dry. We all had an ice cream.

As I said earlier there were only about 60 people in the theatre. We were 8 rows back from the stage and there were only 17 people in front of us so we decided to move away from the noise. We moved two rows forward. Apparently the people to our right had also gotten fed up with the talking and they had moved to the right.

It transpired that we didn’t need to move as the chatterboxes never returned.

And so, on to Chas.

Well he and his band came on and it was just like Chas & Dave. He did their whole repertoire along with some tracks from his new CD. My view is that he can’t sing for a toffee. It was like being in a pub listening to a bar room singer. Just like with Son of Donegan the best bits were the instrumental breaks. Even some of them left a lot to be desired. One piano break prompted me to mutter to my wife “Come back Les Dawson, all is forgiven”. Where the Donegan anecdotes were all surrounding “my dad”, the Hodges anecdotes were liberally sprinkled with “when I was playing with Jerry Lee Lewis”. Where Donegan was quite eloquent Hodges was not, tending to mumble and stumble through his stories.

Maybe I’m being hypercritical and, just maybe, he would have been better had there been a bigger audience for him to feed on. I was entertained and it really was better than spending an evening watching TV.

But only just. The highlight for me was that I was out with my wife and my sister.

So in answer to the title question…..No !!!