A Potton Hall concert to remember

Chopin by Wodzinska. Courtesy Wikipedia.org

It was always going to be a fabulous concert at Potton Hall. Lucy Parham is acknowledged as one of Britain’s finest pianists and, I think I’ve got it right when I say she was one of the artists with whom Jeremy first worked with at Potton Hall. Lucy’s first celebrated combination of piano and script took the form of Beloved Clara – Robert Schumann, Clara and Brahms, a true story of passion, music and tragedy”. Her new production ” Nocturne – The Romantic Life of Frédéric Chopin ” sold out in July this year at London’s Wigmore Hall and so we all packed into Potton Hall last Sunday evening with much anticipation of a repeat performance. We expected an appearance from Juliet Stevenson but sadly due to the passing away of a close relative the day before, Stevenson, understandably, couldn’t make the performance. Thankfully, Emily Bruni, who has performed with Lucy in the past, stepped in at the last minute to join Henry Goodman.

Lucy compiled the script of Nocturne with the help of letters, diaries and correspondence written by Chopin, George Sand and their contemporaries. The acoustics and intimacy of Potton Hall brought to life the warmth and passion of all three artists’ performances. Whilst we missed Juliet Stevenson, I felt, Bruni’s performance was hard to beat and I thought the script and performances by both Bruni and Goodman introduced a poignant dimension. Whilst I know and love Chopin’s music well, this concert taught me a great deal too!

Its unfortunate that I’m not qualified to deliver a formal critique of Lucy’s performance but it didn’t take much to recognise that I was being treated to the talent of a much acclaimed pianist. A friend who joined us at the concert summed it up pretty well saying something along the lines of it being hard to believe that “all those notes could came out of only two hands!” We have the combined artistry of both Chopin and Lucy Parham to thank for that.

In the spirit of openness, I wanted to disclose that I help Helen and Jeremy with Potton Hall’s online presence and therefore work on the website as well as help with the online booking and promotion. I do this in an honorary capacity because I feel that Suffolk is truly honoured to have Potton Hall in our midst. Both Jeremy and Helen Hayes’ commitment to Potton Hall, and its artistic integrity, ensures that we are treated to the very best of talent when we are invited to attend these concerts. I am greatly looking forward to hearing another two pianists: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Libor Novacek in their upcoming concerts as well as the local North Suffolk Youth Choir when they perform in December’s Christmas concert. I have also been lucky enough to hear about who we have to look forward to in 2011, so keep your ears close to the ground. (I’ll make sure I publish all the details on the Pottonhall.com website as soon as I can) 😉


How to improve your broadband speed: Sharedband

Sharedband - a well kept secret.

I have finally found a viable way of increasing our bandwidth in ‘Rural’ Suffolk. To say I am thrilled is an understatement.

BT defends its poor service provision by claiming we live in a rural area although there is nothing rural about where we live – we are 5 minutes from a huge Tesco which is the neighbour to BT’s Adastral Park. (we can see the blinking light on top of the BT Martlesham Antenna from our front garden)

We don’t really get more than a download speed of 1 MB/s from an ADSL line (sometimes half that at busy, contended times). A few months back I ordered an additional two broadband lines and ended up letting my wife use one line, me the other, and we ran or VOIP telephone service on the third, desperate, huh? Broadband is a funny thing and although all three services were with BT Business Broadband, all coming down the same line and entering the house in the same place terminated in three identical brand new junction boxes, we get three different line speeds from the services. Slowest sometimes runs at 512 and the fastest sometimes touches the 1.5 mb/s with the middle one rambling between the two.

On a recent visit by a BT engineer he apologetically offered no improvement to the speeds but he did say that we should try a technology that bonds the three lines. All he could remember is that the technology came out of BT Martlesham development centre. After googling a lot – I found the company –  SharedBand. Its the best kept secret, hard to find and not marketed actively but I’m told its a word of mouth thing.

I sent a question through their contact form and received a call within 5 minutes which impressed me. What I liked about what I heard was that

  1. You can bond as many lines as you like and the eventual speed you get out of the bond is purely an aggregation of the download and uploads speeds respectively. So I guessed I’d get around a 3 mb/s service with an upload of just short of a 1mb/s
  2. The setup charge isn’t a material investment – £50 once-off plus a new Netgear router (£49 each) running sharedband firmware for each line you want to bond.
  3. Ongoing monthly charges are £20 per line and you only have to commit to 3 months ( obviously the line and broadband rental is a distinct separate charge with your service provider)

Before making a decision, I evaluated the alternatives:

1) To stay with my three unbonded lines. Downside is that we couldn’t share the bandwidth- meaning we weren’t able to watch youtube videos and *never* could stream BBC iplayer.

2) To go with a Satellite solution – costly and where we might get a decent download speed the upload speed would still be awful (got to wait a few years for symmetric satellite technology to become affordable)

3) Leased line – BT quoted a £25,000 installation fee and £1k a month – ok we’d get massive up and down speeds but its not even worth contemplating cost-wise

Therefore, we made a decision quickly – placing the order on Thursday evening. – the Sharedband service was up and running at 10am on Tuesday morning and its absolutely changed the mood around here!

The routers weren’t quite plug ‘n play (as something needed tweaking) but my support call to Sharedband was dealt with brilliantly and the service was up and running 15 minutes later.

Run at lunchtime on Sunday when nobody else on the internet! Proof that Sharedband is revolutionary!

Its now been running nearly a week and its as stable as the underlying adsl services. I can confirm that the eventual service speed you get from Sharedband is indeed simply an aggregation of the individual lines’ up and download speeds. Life changing. Highly recommended.

On FoodSafari in Orford, Suffolk.

The first weighty catch of the day!

Whilst splashing around in my Twitter stream one Saturday night in March, (as you do when you have young kids) one of Polly Robinson’s tweets grabbed my attention. Who was Polly and What was Food Safari I wondered? Naturally, I looked at her website which showcased their product very well. Being a ‘there-and-then’ kind of a guy (actually it only took 8 minutes), and kindly facilitated by the simple and elegant Food Safari website, a few clicks later and I had booked and paid for our places on the Seafood in a Day course which we attended in the very glorious sunshine last Saturday. I guess I join the ranks of being one of Polly’s Twitter Return on Investment (TROI) case studies!

Polly on board the Regardless

Orford is no stranger to my wife and I. When I first arrived on the UK Shores more than a decade ago I gravitated to Suffolk as my Late Great Aunt and Cousins lived in Orford and Woodbridge. My cousin has always had a fishing boat moored at Orford Quay and we have often been up the river most often picnicing on Havergate island.

The day started when we met at Pinney’s new(ish) quayside shop for a very decent coffee. We walked witha spring in our step: one of those rare times we were childfree, the sun was shining and the day promised an opportunity to understand how Orford and Pinney’s (a business we already knew well) contributed to the reputation that Suffolk is increasingly proud of: being a county known for the quality and diversity of its owner managed foodie offering.

Peter about to 'deal' with one of the Grey Mullet caught on the River Ore

The first part of the day was spent on the Regardless, a fishing boat that took us up the River Ore. We pulled up Lobster Pots: an experience filled with expectant anticipation. Not a single fruitless pot and, as a Woodbridge resident, I couldn’t help wondering how to get into the Lobster business, for personal consumption only that is! We learnt how to sex crabs and that male Lobsters and Crabs were generally better to eat owing to the size of their claws.

Peter, the skipper, also pulled up two generously sized Grey Mullet and convinced us that they were as good as Sea Bass. He prepared them on the boat for the barbeque (sadly, the latter lacking onboard the Regardless)

Bill Pinney talking oysters

Our Food Safari continued on land when Bill Pinney talked about the Oyster Beds on the Butley River. Pinney’s is now a third generation family business. In common with many Foodie businesses in Suffolk, the charm and success of the Pinney’s brand appears to be underpinned by the modesty of the business that goes hand in hand with its commitment to quality. Bill talked about their business still being an Artisan business and this was very evident when we were shown around the Smokehouse,the green oak burners still being Bill’s father’s original design.

The salmon being artisan smoked

Lightly smoked, we left for lunch at Pinney’s restaurant in Orford Market square where we savoured a lunch of several of the Pinney’s delicacies, the highlights, being for me, the Smoked Prawns and Cods Roe. Irene, a member of the Pinney’s team, showed us how to slice a side of Smoked Salmon and showed us the best way of opening an oyster.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the day out – I’m off on Safari again at the Catch & Cook event later this month. Apart from Food Safari being a business that we certainly can recommend, Polly does a tremendous job evangelising the fabulous foodie reputation of which Suffolk deserves to be proud.

More photos on Flickr Here

Breakfast quiz

I decided to run a quiz at the breakfast table for our two girls. Imogen is 5 in September and Clara turned 3 a few weeks back.

Question 1 – What’s the tallest animal?

Imo hits the buzzer first and offers me “Giraffe”. Clara shouts, no Imo, it’s a Whale. I pause to think (knowing she may be technically right) IMO argues Giraffe and clara replies- No IMO, what if the whale stands on it’s head?

So that’s a point scored by each.

Question 2 – how many notes in an Octave?

Imogen asks me what an Octave is – I can’t really explain quickly so I choose to sing a scale. She looks puzzled then replies  “Well… an Octopus has eight legs so… Eight?! Clara was left repeating the scale I sung, counting the notes on her fingers.

That’s when I realised that we are truly truly blessed having the responsibility of bringing up these two children. They dazzle and amaze me every single day. Thank you girls!

Why France could teach Britain a thing or two on travel.

Yesterday I drove back from a week’s holiday in France: almost 1,000km I had time to notice things and even think a little. (My family flew back: relative luxury considering the peace and quiet). Obviously the British roads and countryside are my reference point so comparing the pleasure of driving on French highways these are the notes I made:

  1. There were absolutely no road works to be seen on any French Highway. This is certainly not the case in Britain: the Land of the Traffic Cone.
  2. Considering the above, the highways were in far better condition in France than Britain.
  3. I never lost a strong and usable mobile phone signal on French highways. In Britain one can’t even maintain a conversation on the M25.
  4. There are many more wind-farms along the highways in France
  5. The French understand how to keep out of the high-speed outside lane only using it to pass, the British don’t
  6. There are hardly any four wheel drives in France.
  7. There are many more highway fuel stations in France.

So there: its different and more pleasant to travel in France than Britain. But then, you already knew that. (BTW this applies to rail travel too)


Suffolktweetup: Our Special Guest @jobsworth

Please welcome JP Rangaswami to Suffolk

Well, I’m sure many of you who follow @jobsworth on Twitter, will be thrilled to hear that he’s coming to our tweetup on Thursday (see below for details)

We’ve been meaning to meet for sometime now and JP is working at Adastral Park this week so in our neck of the woods so he’s re-arranged his schedule to join us on Thursday night.

Why am I blogging this? Well, I do not make a habit of this kind of stuff but I have followed JP since my early twitter career and he’s always made my stream a lovely place to be. So I wanted to thank him. His twitter bio says it all:

Passionate about things I care about

The diversity of his passions is extensive, probably because he cares about so much and his tweets are always a fine example to all of us:  all that should apply to both our online and offline lives. He is always kind, approachable, caring and very sincere.

JP introduced me to the appauling mess of the, now, Digital Economies Act and I follow his blog keenly.  From his tweetstream you’ll see many culinary delights, he’s changed the way I BBQ for instance, and I’ve felt I’ve attended a few concerts together and he’s definitely broadened my exposure to some fab music.

JP, Looking forward to meeting you tomorrow and thank you for sharing so much.

Tweetup Details

Apologies in advance if I have not gone about this officially or if I have stepped on any toes but technically I only picked up on Gemma/@Roundaboutmag‘s suggestion and was selfserving enough to suggest a date before we go on holiday and a venue in Woodbridge, just up the road from us. 😉  Anyway, a whole bunch of us are meeting up at The Angel in Woodbridge this Thursday 10th June at 8pm, although many arriving earlier.

I’ll do my best to keep on track of the tweets and update the attendance list below:

@roundaboutmag, @jobsworth, @adrianmelrose, @fiswaff, @spudballoo, @melrosemutt, @jamieriddell, @abisignorelli, @janehamerton , , @solebaycheeseco, + 2 others keen to join twitter.

Update: also @shopkeeperswife (if your name is not on this list either tweet me – @adrianmelrose or comment below on this post!) would be good to know numbers to help Chris @angelwoodbridge

Tweet with integrity: disclose your interest.

Since moving from London to Suffolk I have used Twitter to meet people, consume local products and services and help out where I can.

One of the reasons I rate Twitter so highly is the positive impact it has on our family life through the “Word of Mouth” (WOM) recommendations and advice we continue to receive from our network of followers.

However, as I’ve seen Twitter grow and as I’ve become more acquainted with my Twitter community, I am increasingly concerned that the integrity of the WOM value may be under threat.

The internet in general relies on openness and transparency. Twitter is no different and these two qualities are the bedrock of Trust and Credibility on which the value of WOM depends. The internet has given us a tremendously powerful platform and most would advise to make full and clear disclosure of who you are and who you work for before using it to communicate with any audience.

I’ve found several “Power-Users” in my Tweetstream who understand how to use Twitter and they have a good following because their tweet stream is a combination of useful content/conversation, personal anecdotes, good advice and sage recommendations. Lets call them the influencers.

Influence is a valuable commodity but, I fear, its value is being eroded by some careless and sloppy practice. This erosion of trust isn’t a sinister thing and it’s easily cured. In a call for increased openness and transparency, there is a requirement for all of us (influencers or not) to declare our interest when promoting people and products on Twitter (and the same applies to levying criticism)

Declaration of interest cannot dilute influence; its the non-disclosure that erodes it. I am just as likely to follow a recommendation from someone I already trust knowing that they’ve just punted a client’s product. However, trust will be threatened if I later discover a client relationship or other self-interest motivating a tweet. That said,on the whole, I believe there’s nothing sinister about the practice of non-declaration. All I’m suggesting is that we sharpen-up our disclosures.

I have record of several tweets by repeat offenders entering into the “disclosure-omission” game. In most instances, a simple declaration could have helped maintain the tweet’s credibility and more importantly preserved my trust in that person’s WOM stream. At this stage, I’m not brave enough to single any out! Instead, I thought I’d encourage a debate on how best to achieve openness and transparency. I’ll initiate with three pointers:

  1. Try and incorporate a clear disclosure of interest into a tweet. If you’re promoting a friend say so. If the promotion is connected to your employer, your business or a client, say so. Self promotion is usually evident but make it clear if it isn’t.
  2. If you repeatedly promote someone or something try and have an area on your website or blog where you disclose your interests.
  3. Understand your own motives before tweeting: If you think people may be confused or question your motives behind a tweet , ensure you offer clarity there and then.

Can you think of any other ways of promoting transparency?

Hope for tomorrow’s change

Whether you know me personally or follow me on twitter, you will have to endure endless complaints about my back pain. My wife is a saint as she has to live with my often short-fuse caused by the agony that persists. In 2003, I was hit by a 26 wheel truck while stationary in my VW Beetle on the M1. Miraculously I climbed out of the car and caught the Luton express back home. But unfortunately, like so many injuries, the effects were far more severe than originally anticipated and it caused a prolapsed disc in the lower portion of my Lumbar Vertebrae. This means I am always in pain. I have a disabled badge that helps me travel and makes working possible, especially in London. There were stages when I couldn’t walk at all and through the work of  Torben Hersborg, a miracle-worker-Osteopath  in London, I got back to a reasonable level of operation. I guess, bringing up two children is never easy on the back and its taken its toll forcing me into a horrible vicious circle of weight gain which compounds the back pain which, in turn, cripples me in any exercise program. So after much resistance, I have consented to having cortisone, a steroid hormone, injected into my spine. As a procedure its not a big deal apart from the pain when administered! Cortisone is a miracle drug not without its side effects but we’re all hoping it takes the pain away for long enough for me to get fit and healthy again.

Why Alain de Botton blocked me on Twitter and enraged the foodies.

I have enjoyed consuming Alain de Botton‘s tweets. Thought provoking if nothing else and a few of them are worth a chuckle. In fact, I’ve retweeted him a couple of times recently  here and  again agreeing with him there. I’ve also (purchased) and listened to one of his books and found it a worthwhile and recommended “read”. So you could say I am was an Alain de Botton fan

This morning, one of his tweets passed me in my twitter stream and I instantly took exception to it (being a foodie myself):

Nothing more natural than to appreciate good food: yet something ominous about those who build their identities around this affection.

I am afraid I cannot link to the original tweet because it no longer exists. (I can only assume de Botton deleted it?) Fortunately, I took a screenshot of my failed attempt to retweet it and add my profuse disagreement. I then posted this tweet:

Am I going mad or has @alaindebotton just deleted this tweet? I was about to RT and say how I disagreed

I then discovered that the foodie community had jumped all over de Botton’s original tweet especially after Jay Rayner’s Guardian article “Alain de Botton’s perfect dinner party turns my stomach”

(ironically was a response to de Botton’s tweet that I had retweeted *and* agreed with)

Oh well, he’s entitled not to hang out with me on Twitter but wonder what this piece of wisdom meant only tweeted the day before yesterday. (warning: if the preceding link doesn’t work, it means de Botton has again deleted it)

Highly necessary to keep hanging out with people one doesn’t like – they teach one so much.- Alain de Botton

In closing, I can’t resist highlighting Trish Deseine’s tweet accusing de Botton of being a “Hit and Run, Philosopher” – have you also been blocked Trish?

Perspectives on South Africa following my recent visit.

Walls are 5m (18ft) high.

South Africa was my home for the first three decades of my life: you could say a compromised and complex heritage. I have my parents and myself to thank for the hard work that afforded me most of the personal status with which I departed South Africa. Only now, having been in the UK for my fourth decade,  can I begin to appreciate the starkness of my formative years spent in an Apartheid South Africa. Being “White” afforded me unnatural opportunity and that weighs heavily on my mind. The complexity of my upbringing isn’t easy to distill and I don’t hope for a perfect analysis.

In a recent visit, I’ve observed the significant changes the country has undergone since Nelson Mandela miraculously steered  its people away  from potential civil war. My periodic visits to South Africa have tracked this change. A great effort has been made by many to redress the imbalances and injustices of the past. There’s frustration that this can’t be achieved in a single generation but education and social empowerment must take time. Whilst the South African people have achieved miraculous things in the past 15 years, the pendulum has swung hard. Sadly I can see many things that are going wrong.

My analysis has been made easier by my wife’s observations (she grew up in the UK) and my 4 year old daughters comments in my very recent visit. So please expect a few posts as I distill my analysis!