All posts by John Ewbank

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Those who were unfortunate enough to miss my starring performances in such classics as ‘Lady Chatterley’s Final Fling’ and my masterful portrayal as Herr Flick in the Churn Valley production of ‘Ello, Ello’ are in for a treat!  I’ve decided that the trouble with live theatre is that too few of my admirers have been able to enjoy my epic performances – so this time (by popular demand) I’ve made myself available to a much wider audience and will be featuring prominently in a brand new Hollywood classic ‘Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death’ which is due to be broadcast on Sky this coming Christmas.  Not content with just one role I expect to be featured in a number of character parts, including …..the man driving a vintage car (Bertie) down the road …..the chap carrying an old fashioned gramophone … and, perhaps my most demanding role, so far, that of  ….the bloke on the vegetable stand at the village fair!  Anyone seeking exemplars of high quality ‘method’ acting need look no further than this masterpiece of modern cinema.

Seriously though ……..I happened to meet the casting director when the production company was recceing our Village Hall as a location for this this pilot episode and naturally when he asked ‘does anyone want to be in it?’ my natural reticence went completely by the board and before you could say ‘Errol Flynn’ I found myself signed up for two days as a ‘supporting artiste’ (the new term for those stalwarts I’ve always known as extras).  As I’m now completely smitten and stage struck I strongly advise you to watch this space for news of my next starring performance.  Just think … day you’ll be able to say ‘I knew him before he was famous!’….. but don’t hold your breath.

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention

I don’t think that you could consider either of us to be regular festival goers.  Denise had never been to one before, and the last D-at-Cropredytime that I let my hair down (metaphorically) at a ‘pop’ festival was on the Isle of Wight in 1969 – at this rate I shall be 107 just in time for my third festival attendance.  Though I have to say that we enjoyed Cropredy so much that we may just shorten that cycle by a few years.

For those who don’t know (and why should you?) Fairport Convention have run annual gatherings in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy for the past four decades, with growing attendances which this year topped 20,000 for most of the three days.  Not being entirely familiar with the style and flavour of other such events (unfortunately I simply can’t remember anything about the Isle of Wight – such was the devastating effect of too much cider!) we can’t really make comparisons, but suffice to say that this was a really chilled experience in the company of lots of like-minded Saga members – in some cases accompanied by their children, grandchildren and pets.

.. a life of the ocean waves, a home on the rolling sea....
.. a life of the ocean waves, a home on the rolling sea….

The weather was reasonably kind and the site, which straddles the Oxford Canal, is lovely – lots of scope for walks and for getting away from the music if and when it all gets just a touch too much.   The music ……….. oh yes, that was pretty good too.  An interesting mix of folk and prog rock and quite a few things in-between – really nothing that we could take exception to, and quite a few acts that we’d probably be happy to see again – if only we could remember what they were ………… well, with cider being sold in four pint milk cartons, what do you expect?

Hackett does Genesis - not bad at 64!
Hackett does Genesis – not bad at 64!

The Joys of Camping

After an almost unbroken two-month long spell of good weather it was probably inevitable that for the few days we chose to go camping in Scotland the clouds would gather and we’d have a few spots of rain to remind us that British weather really can’t be trusted.  Although ‘north of the border’ probably wouldn’t have been our first choice for a few days away, I have to admit that our destination, Kirkcudbright, on the northern  shore of the Solway Firth, turned out to be a beautiful and interesting little spot that was well worth the journey.

The occasion for the visit was an opportunity to celebrate Jennie’s birthday in company with her and Nathan and to have an opportunity to get to know Steve, Ann, Jan and Gordon – the prospective ‘outlaws’.  As it turned out, the weather threatened rather more than it delivered and we were able to get out and about and see something of what the area has to offer.  Kirkcudbright has an interesting history, not least as the destination of choice for many of Scotland’s early and mid-twentieth century painters – notably the so called ‘Glasgow Girls’; the town celebrates this connection with a series of exhibitions and a huge number of small galleries where their work can be seen and bought.  The Glasgow GirlsFascinating stuff and a couple of hours very well spent on Saturday afternoon prior to the ‘crabbing’ grudge match in which Gordon, more or less ably assisted by Denise, produced an outstanding performance to catch no less than 48 crabs in the space of around an hour!  Jacques Cousteau could have done no better.


Sunday was an equally relaxed affair involving an afternoon visit to a local wildlife park followed by an evening beach barbeque accompanied by a little singing and guitar playing.  (note to self … next time learn some songs before you go!)

A quick round of ‘pitch and putt’ on Monday morning gave Jennie yet another opportunity to demonstrate her competitive spirit before we had to say our fond farewells to our fellow campers and set off for home.  Altogether a very pleasant long weekend in good company and in a lovely part of Scotland – who knows, next time we go we may have to take our passports!

World War 1 Commemoration

Our local village of North Cerney is fortunate in having a village hall that serves the local community by providing a safe, convenient and comfortable venue for events such as jumble sales, community suppers, pantomimes and a number of classes and activities.

The hall was built in 1926 as a memorial to those who fought and died in the ‘Great War for Civilisation’, so it was appropriate that, with the centenary of Britain’s entry into the War approaching, the Hall should act as the focus the village’s commemoration.

Last weekend’s activities included a fascinating talk by Lt Col (Retd) Rob Dixon OBE, Chairman of Trustees of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, about Gloucestershire during the war.  This was followed by a workshop for families which brought to life the experiences of the many young men from the county who enlisted.

Six North Cerney men on the day they enlisted
Six North Cerney men on the day they enlisted

My own little contribution to the weekend was to bring together a mini-exhibition with information about the men of North Cerney and Bagendon who went off to war – some, of course, never to return.   Fascinating staff and an ‘enjoyable’ insight into local history.

Austin, Austins everywhere!

In common with all enthusiastic  ‘nerds’ who want to get to know all about their new hobby I decided that membership of a motoring club would be helpful in getting better acquainted with ‘Bertie’ our new (well, new to us) Austin 12/4.  As it happens there are several extremely good clubs catering for Austin owners, but as the Vintage Austin Register claims to cater mainly for ‘vintage’ cars  it seemed sensible to give them a try.

Preparing Bertie for his outing
What’s this fly doing on Bertie’s windscreen?!

As it happens the club’s annual ‘my car’s shinier that yours’ rally took place near Bromsgrove at the end of June, so the weeks leading up to the event were spent in preparing Bertie for our first major expedition.  Although the car is generally in really good condition, its clear that its done little or no mileage for the past few years and that some routine maintenance had lapsed.  Finding grease nipples in inaccessible places, adjusting the brakes and changing the oils was a good starting point, but the real work came when we realised that the fuel tank was full of rust and a horrible sort of gum residue that results for leaving old petrol in the tank for years on end.

No, its neither lentils nor basil.... this is the rubbish I removed from the fuel pump!
No, its neither lentils nor basil…. this is the rubbish I removed from the fuel pump!

Removing the tank was simple enough, but getting the rubbish out and then cleaning and re-sealing the internal surfaces was a very different matter.  In the end I bought some specialist products and gave it as good a clean as possible before fitting the fuel line with an in-line filter which will hopefully prevent the worst of what remains from clogging up the carburettor in future.  Time will tell.

Anyway, the momentous day arrived and we set off at ‘sparrows’ leaving ourselves plenty of time to cover the 55 miles to the rally without having to hurry.  In point of fact  the words ‘hurry’ and ‘Austin 12’ should probably never be used in the same sentence as the maximum speed that we were brave enough to reach was only 40 mph.  You know, its amazing just how little traffic you find in front of you when you’re travelling at that speed – though whether the dozens of frustrated motorists behind us found it quite such an enjoyable experience is another matter altogether.

The VAR Rally at Avoncroft 2014
The VAR Rally at Avoncroft

Whilst I’d love to be able to tell you that we came away with armfuls of trophies the reality is that some of the cars were very, very shiny and a credit to the countless hours of hard work put in by their owners – so there were no prizes for Bertie on his first outing.  That said, we certainly weren’t put to shame and I spent several profitable hours looking at the competition and working out what improvements need to be done over the coming months to bring him up to standard.  All very enjoyable and made even more so by meeting some very nice fellow enthusiasts – most of whom, oddly enough, weren’t nerds at all!

Oh yes ………..and we got home in one piece too!

Bertie and friends
Bertie and friends

Home again, and getting down to the serious business of retirement

Well, in truth I’ve decided that I’m not going to use the ‘R’ word; the reality is of course that I’m going to be just a busy as I was when I was in paid employment- probably more so!  The difference is that now that I don’t have to toddle off to work every weekday morning I can actually get on with all those jobs that have been stacking up for the past several years, plus a thousand and one new adventures/challenges, without the pressure of having to get everything done during the weekends.  It’s early days, but so far I think I like it!

There have been two big excitements in our lives since we returned home.  First of all, just to make sure that I’m not going to get bored with all this ‘free’ time that I’m going to have available, we’ve decided to buy ourselves a little bit of motoring history.  I’ve always been a bit of a petrolhead, and having owned and largely rebuilt a 1969 MGB over a period of nearly thirty years, for a number of years now I’ve nursed a hankering for something a little bit more unusual.    A 1929 Austin 12/4 ‘Heavy’ Tourer may not be everyone’s idea of exotic motoring, but I reckon its going to give us a lot of fun over the years to come.  ‘Bertie’, as we’ve decided to christen it, will arrive from Yorkshire towards the end of the month.


The other bit of excellent news is that Jennifer and Nathan have taken the plunge and got themselves engaged (to each other!).  Fantastic news and great excitement  all round.  We’re all delighted to welcome Nathan to the family and are happy in the knowledge that they’re very much in love with each other.   The really good news, of course, is that the wedding car is already sorted!

Out and About in Bangkok

The flight from Sydney to Bangkok went as planned – fortunately our kamikaze Russian minibus driver wasn’t at the controls.  As we learnt afterwards, our flight over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam was around six hours after the Malaysian Airways flight to Beijing went missing in the same area – not a nice thought.  Bangkok airport was bathed in bright smog/haze but the temperature was still a cosy 34o with humidity right up there.

After the rural peace and quiet of New Zealand  the Bangkok experience comes as a bit of shock – noisy, not a little bit smelly, crowded as hell and you take your life in your hands whenever you atempt to cross the road.  The moped riders are the worst and the safest thing is to expect them to attack you from any direction at any time.


Our itinerary (how to squeeze a quart into a pint pot):

IMGP4484Day One.  Covered Market (15,000 stalls, its enormous), Skytrain, River Taxi, Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo.


IMGP4647Day Two.  Jim Thompson’s House, the MBK and Pantip Malls (dodgy software), Wat Pho, sat on the riverbank to get an evening photo of Wat Arun and then walked down past the Flower Market to get a street meal in Chinatown.

DSCN7612Day Three.  Made our way to the central railway station and took the train to Ayutthaya (about 70km north, former capital of Siam until sacked by the Burmese in 1787) and toured the temple ruins by tuk-tuk.  Rode an elephant!  Excellent day only marred slightly by my new lens deciding to fall apart for no particular reason.  The railway system is fascinating  – on the way there we went  by 2nd Class train (they have different classes of train , not carriages) which cost the princely sum of 345 bhat each (around £7), coming back we travelled 3rd Class (no aircon, but with the windows wide open it was fine) at a cost of 20 bhat (40p) each.  Wonderful!

Day Four.  Washout – I succumbed to a case of Bangkok Belly and was laid low for much of the day.  We managed a short shopping expedition around midday and an evening meal in a Japanese restaurant but for much of the day my attention was elsewhere.

 IMGP4562 IMGP4642 IMGP4522 IMGP4676

Sydney Stopover

We booked our fights with Thomas Cook and were pretty pleased with the price and the service they provided – except that about a week before we came away we noticed that they’d managed to arrange our flights so that we were due to leave Sydney twenty minutes before we would have arrived.  As a result we had to sacrifice a day in New Zealand and stay overnight in Sydney – at their expense.  They booked us into the same hotel in Darling Harbour that we’d stayed in when we visited Australia a couple of years ago, so at least we knew where we’d be staying and could plan a little bit of exploring for yesterday afternoon.

We mulled over whether to take a boat over to Manly or to catch the bus to Bondi Beach, but in the end decided to join the thousands of  kids (anyone between the ages of 16 and 36) showing off their tans on the golden sands of Bondi.  If anything’s guaranteed to make you feel your age it’s to sit on the beach in the middle of  a sea of suntanned flesh trying to hold your tummy in for a couple of hours.  To add insult to injury, as we were sat there a young guy who was going surfing asked us to keep an eye on his possessions – he said that we looked ‘trustworthy’, which I reckon meant that he thought we were too old to be dishonest!


We booked a shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport this morning.  I think that the driver must have been a tuk-tuk driver in another life – if you’d think that travelling at 500mph at 35,000ft over the ocean in a thin steel tube would be more dangerous than to be driven though Sydney by a suicidal Russian you’d be wrong!




DSCN7381As New Zealand’s largest city Auckland has quite a different feel to it than Christchurch or Wellington, both of which seem to have retained a bit of small town charm about them as they’ve grown.  Not that Auckland is unpleasant, or at least the bits of the city centre that we’ve seen anyway, but the place has a little bit of big city bustle about it that we’ve not experienced elsewhere in New Zealand.  After five weeks of what’s been a very rural experience it feels ever so slightly frenetic., but perhaps that’s just a sign of a busy town and a healthy economy.

IMGP4465That said, you can’t build a city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean without it taking on a maritime character and Auckland has done that very successfully.  We spent a couple of very pleasant hours this afternoon walking through the harbour area and ogling some of the significant nautical hardware moored alongside.  I’ve avoided calling them yachts because these titanic (!) vessels are about as far away from my experience of yachting as you can get.  No doubt a helicopter is an absolutely essential accessory if you own something that’s the size of village and cost rather more than the GNP of a small country – jealous, me, surely not?

This morning we met with Ed Verner , a chum of sons Richard and Thomas, who made the move to Auckland around three years ago and is now prospering here as a professional chef.  It was great to hear how well he and his partner Laura are doing and to hear something about their plans for the future.  Good luck Ed, and thanks for finding the time to meet up.


Heading back towards Auckland

We had a bit of a technical disaster the other evening.  Before we set off on our travels I’d cunningly copied a number of films from DVD onto my ‘tablet’ for viewing during the holiday – among them I’d included all 20 episodes of The Killing – in Danish with English sub-titles.  Anyway, we got as far as Episode 13 to find that for some reason the last eight episodes had been copied without subtitles.  It took about two minutes to realize that our command of Danish is limited to two words – ‘smorgasbord’ and ‘sauna’, neither of which seems to come up too regularly in The Killing. So now we’ll have to wait until we get home to find out whether Troels did the dirty deed, whether Sarah Lund will marry Bengt move to Sweden and live happily ever after, and if Meyer is going to smoke himself to death before the end of the series.

For the last two days we’ve been heading south back towards Auckland.  Tonight is our last night in the van and then we’ve got a couple of nights in a hotel before we fly off to Bangkok with a night’s stopover in Sydney on the way.  Time for reflections then……..

  • New Zealand is a truly fabulous country – virtually everywhere we’ve visited has been absurdly stunning, in fact I can’t think of one part of the country we’ve seen that I wouldn’t be happy to return to, or recommend to others.
  • The North and South Islands have their own characters but the differences are more subtle than you’d expect – the South is probably a tad more spectacular and wild but the North is no less beautiful and perhaps has the edge when it comes to beaches.  The fact of the matter is that it’s not a question of either/or …. if you’re coming all this way, make the time to do both North and South Islands.
    • People talk about New Zealand as being like stepping back into a UK of 20 or 30 years ago but I’m not sure that’s quite right.  Yes, it’s much quieter, less crowded and more relaxed than the UK of 2014 but there’s something else as well.  I can’t recall the UK as ever being quite as ‘chilled’ as most of the Kiwis we’ve met have seemed to be.  I’m sure that it’s not perfect and as a nation they have some social and cultural problems, but the national character and very obvious focus on enjoying and protecting their environment is hugely attractive.
    • ……….and contrary to expectations it has been possible for Denise and I to live in the confines of a campervan for five weeks without coming even remotely close to killing each other!

      Denise in one of her moods after four weeks in the campervan with John
      Denise in one of her moods after four weeks in the campervan with John!