UnplugTheWood – a one-off…

Unplugthewood, The Lion Brewery, Ash.

L-R, Me, Rai, Nick, Richard

Once a week, I go to an acoustic jam and open mic night at the Lion Brewery in Ash, Surrey. It’s on a Tuesday and starts at 8:30pm, hosted by Mike (otherwise known as Krabbers) and his now wife, Caroline.  Every week, without fail, they prepare, set up, host and pack up a lot of work for which everyone who attends is most grateful.

Mike & Caroline got married last week and they risked handing the ‘reins’ over to Richard, Nick and myself to run the night. We learned first hand the preparation involved, getting song books together, making sure we had all the mics, amp, mixer, stands, cables and so on available. Rai, Nicks partner was organising everything else.

Mike had given us the songbook and a template of the key slides used on the big screen. Opening titles and opening song, the open mic header, raffle song and so on.

Now, remember as of April 2012, I had little experience of music apart from listening to it. I had had a few lessons at school on guitar (one lesson a week for two school years) and a year of piano, but that was it. I had never sung or played solo to anyone. I bought a ukulele and by the end of May I had found UnplugTheWood, by the end of June I had performed my first open mic slot. Since then, I have not looked back (until now I suppose!), been to every UnplugTheWood except for two in all of that time. The jam has been utterly inspirational and motivational for me, without it, ukulele would have been a passing hobby, rather than the obsession it has become. (and a significant revenue generator from my usual ukulele supplier, Omega Music!)

Mike and Caroline left some big shoes to fill, but thankfully, there’s a bit of a ‘routine’ which I know well, so it was easy enough. But would it be acceptable to the UnplugTheWood regulars?

We sat down, and got started, with Wyn on double bass and Paddy in support. As we started, more and more people turned up. The pub was packed, standing room only, more people than we had ever seen there before, they just kept coming in! That was quite daunting, so many people and so many new faces. We had to keep the standards up, and not let Mike & Caroline down.

Chris & Myself slaughter "Bring Me Sunshine"

Chris & Myself slaughter “Bring Me Sunshine”

Unpluthewood, The Lion Brewery, Ash.

Louise watches the open mic

Unpluthewood, The Lion Brewery, Ash.

“Angry Bees”, while the cat’s away, I’ll play his songs

Unpluthewood, The Lion Brewery, Ash.

The Weird Sisters

With all the displacement of our ‘jobs’, my role as photographer was passed over to the very capable Chris Nevard who provided the pictures here.

So, we started, myself with some trepidation, could we carry this thing off? Soon, the whole pub was rocking to the sound of ukuleles, guitars, trumpet, saxophone, mandolin, harmonica, tambourines, keyboard and probably a few more instruments I missed. Were there 40 people, 50 maybe?

We went through the old favourites, “Folsom Prison”, “Call Me The Breeze” and so on. Joy sang “Wonderful World”, we did a few more, then started the open mic.

Eight or so different acts, some brilliant, some OK, some downright silly, but all much appreciated by everyone.

Start again with the raffle, raising money for the MS Society of Great Britain, and back into the jam again.

Now, I was in the real flow of it. “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, “What’s Up” got belted out, plus a few more, finishing up with “Rock & Roll” and the closing song.

Unpluthewood, The Lion Brewery, Ash.

Mike The Landlord

I was just amazed and overcome by the generosity of compliments from the people there, including Mike the landlord of the pub, who shook our hands with a huge grin on his face. He even very sportingly had his picture taken with the “Caroline” stand-in wig.

So, certainly my first ‘big’ musical event hosted, I think we did OK, but normal service is resumed next week.

We had a blast, but then, we always do. Come along and join in the mayhem.

Listen to the edited highlights if you dare and judge for yourself. What anything lacks in musical finesses, it makes up for in fun.

UnplugTheWood, an acoustic jam and open mic, every Tuesday at the Lion Brewery, Ash, Surrey. The rule is, if you can get it through the door, you can play it.

Farnborough Airshow 2014


Red Arrows MINIs from Barons

What an amazing show! Over $201BN of business for civil airliners and engines was made during the show. Key manufacturers displayed their products, both on the ground and in the air.

Organisations like the air cadets, disabled flying organisations, historic and preservation societies, even the Bloodhound SSC team were there amongst many others.

For Farnborough, the airport is the lifeblood of the town, and the airshow brings a huge amount of additional business, not just in the week of the show, but local hotels accommodating contractors and business people for six months before, too. Without the airport, Farnborough would be just another vanilla town, like many others in the UK.

Local restaurants and other businesses have a boom time during the show.

Over 100,000 trade visitors attended during the first five days, with the same number expected over the weekend, being the public days. The public visit, with children allowed in free, local people given a “buy one, get one free” ticket offer, and many exhibitors encouraging the engineers of tomorrow with all kinds of attractions. Meet the Red Arrows, sit in an F-35, build rocket powered cars…

A nice touch from Breitling, apart from their wing walker displays and the beautiful Super Constellation was their lounge, just flash your watch and get entry to a little bit of peace and quiet in the show with complimentary drinks and air conditioning, too with a nice viewing platform.

The Red Arrows were stunning as usual, the A380 never fails to impress and the Boeing Dreamliner is probably the most stunning airliner in the skies today.

How the F-18 can do the acrobatics it does is incredible and the Eurofighter Typhoon is great, but not really a match visually for the American plane. No doubt the F-35 when it does finally arrive will trump them both!

The media are well catered for, with the usual WiFi, press information and so on, and a well elevated viewing platform – but as usual a bit manic up there!

Local car dealer Barons also hosted an event on the Thursday, half-way through the show and showed off their nine Red Arrows liveried cars.



Many people watch from outside the event, seeing much of the displays, but missing out on the action inside the airfield perimeter.

Something for everyone, and the weather was good too.

A full gallery from the event is available to view at my main web site.

Convenience At The Expense Of Safety


S2XSC Audi – parked on Zig zags. 18/3/14

Parents dropping off children at local schools often park legally, but a few clearly have no consideration for other road users or the safety of others. These pictures, taken this morning show what happens outside most schools, most mornings.

S1LUN Mercedes on double yellows

H1LUN Mercedes on double yellows. 18/3/14

Parents drop off their children and to save a few moments they park in places that are marked for no parking, or even stopping.

Why are these markings provided? It is to provide clear space, visibility and an element of safety for other road users.

If you are a parent who takes your child to school, please don’t stop on double yellow lines or zig-zags. They are there for a reason, please consider others.

Update 20/3/14, more cars illegally parked/stopped.

VW P87ERS stopped on Zig zags. 20/3/14

P87ERS VW stopped on Zig zags. 20/3/14

KIA RE62KVR parked on double yellows. 20/3/14

RE62KVR KIA parked on double yellows. 20/3/14

RE60UKT parked on double yellows. 20/3/14

RE60UKT parked on double yellows. 20/3/14

Update 21/3/14, more cars illegally stopped.

HY08 NPK Skoda

HY08NPK Skoda stopped on zig zags

DN12XEZ Vauxhall stopped on zig zags

DN12XEZ Vauxhall stopped on zig zags

More cars illegally stopped on 4th April 2014

More cars illegally stopped on 4th April 2014

I’m Not Brian North!

Brian North's Letter

Brian North’s Letter

On Thursday, I posted a tweet about a letter in our local newspaper, the Farnborough News. A Mr Brian North of York Road, North Camp in Farnborough had written expressing his boredom with the re-hashing of a story in said rag. Almost instantly, a group, “Watching Rushmoor” who are an unknown group of people responded to accuse me of writing the letter under a pseudonym and that I am Brian North.



Incredible, libellous and wrong.

They continue to stand by their false accusation and behind their cowardly anonymity.

Is There No Demand For Another Music Venue In Farnborough?


In Farnborough a local pub, the Tumbledown Dick was closed almost six years ago and lies derelict. It has been bought by McDonald’s and will now become a drive-thru(sic) restaurant. Since it closed, another pub opened around the corner. The old pub was the subject of much local attention, but now things seem to have become a lot quieter in the town.

The campaign group, Friends Of The Tumbledown Dick, apparently secured funding to re-open the pub as a music venue and community centre in the event that McDonald’s pulled out and the building came up for sale. But now, the silence is deafening, and I am wondering if there actually is the demand for such a venue in Farnborough at all? Is there an interest in moving that funding to a different location, or was there never really any motivation for a live music venue?

Since the refurbishment of the Swan pub just down the road, there is live music there. Agincourt up the road in Camberley caters for the more ‘hard core’ music fans and there are many other pubs local to Farnborough that host open mic nights and live music. Even the Village Hotel that opened since the Tumbledown itself closed is now hosting live music.

There are plenty of potential venues with the police station coming up for sale soon, and a vacated car showroom just down the road that is for sale (I fear this will actually become a Tescos Local, or another drive-through, it’s a prime location).  Both of these sites could also be re-developed, plus there are also units in the town centre that could be used – potentially attractive as the cinema opens and we get new restaurants, too. Plus, the cinema may be able to host live music?

For more formal events like concerts, recitals etc., Princes Hall in Aldershot is there, with plenty of spare capacity.

David Clifford, a local councillor, has tried to move this forward, but just seems to get mostly vitriolic comments, as if those commenting don’t appreciate any help.

So, could Farnborough even sustain another venue, with the existing competition? Anything that might open for business clearly has to make a profit, and it’s not the responsibility of the council to open such a venue. I’m not sure the demand is really there, anyway.

Europe in 2033, a short history of the 21st Century European War



Back in 2013, Europe was in turmoil. Financial crises had begun to ravage the union. Countries previously considered “second World” had been admitted to the union, causing stress and disruption amongst those that had been part of the Economic Union since its inception after the Second World War – a union that had been largely responsible for the peace that had existed in Europe for almost seventy years.

But, the financial crisis had put incredible stress on the member countries and had forced the then German Chancellor, Angela Merkel to effectively depose the Italian government as their financial situation became critical in 2012. Merkel was to intervene one year later, in 2013, as the Cyprus banking system collapsed, and Merkel was hell-bent on saving her precious Euro currency, used in seventeen of the European countries at that time. She engineered the system of “Citizen Prop”, a draconian method of saving a country by ravaging the savings of citizens to help balance the books of that country. Simple taxation would not be fast enough, and many European countries had economies that were so grey that most trade was never subject to taxation anyway.

The effect was that countries under threat of collapse saw this and started to pull out their savings and resort to keeping cash in secure locations outside of the banking systems where governments (and Angela Merkel) could not touch it. First to go was Spain at the end of 2013, having previously rescued their own banking system, and again, Merkel walked in, deposed the Government and restructured the banks.

Ireland, one of the early gems of the European system, who benefited from development subsidies in the 1990s, but as a result had a very highly geared economy, dramatically collapsed in 2014. This took the country back nearly 100 years as they became the first country to leave the Euro, infuriating Merkel. The economy in Ireland reverted largely to agriculture – which allowed a bartering system to return, avoiding the New Irish Punt altogether.

As other countries followed Ireland’s stance, France in 2015, Holland and Belgium in 2016 and most other Eurozone countries all leaving by 2018, Merkel’s position as chancellor became untenable, so she moved to change the constitution. A handful of countries remained in the Euro – Germany, Spain, Cyprus and strangely, the Vatican. Merkel had effective political control of Spain and Cyprus anyway after deposing their governments as she had Italy’s years before.

Switzerland, in the middle of all of this, looked on in amazement.

The United Kingdom, considered its leaving the ERM in 1989 a lucky escape, saving it from the Euro, and Scottish Independence, finally ratified in 2018 had made the English resolve even harder. Scotland had created their own currency, the British Prime Minister Mr Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party coming to power in 2015 and welcoming the Scottish devolvement saying “If they want to leave the UK, good luck to them, we will see how they cope with that half-witted idea”. He was right of course, Scotland’s balance of trade was not in their favour by 10:1, North Sea Oil having all but dried up, and the geography of the country making agriculture and communication difficult. Scotland was in a worse situation than Ireland by 2020.

Merkel made emergency changes to the German constitution in 2022 to give her emergency powers to avoid German financial collapse, and in the process she effectively became a new German Dictator. Her power now was absolute over her government. She was drawing resources from Spain and Cyprus, civil wars in their countries having been suppressed by the German military in previous years.

Merkel had been infuriated by the countries who had left the Euro, and in 2023 started a military offensive to restore the European union that she lusted over. Ironically, she started with Poland – although they were never part of the Euro currency, she was incensed that they never had been. Weeks later, invasions took place across Europe, France falling first, surrendering without a gunshot as the German forces approached the border. All of the other countries offered little resistance, with their economies having collapsed they had no military forces to speak of and only civil resistance existed, easily overcome by the efficient German army. Ireland was the only country to remain, having unified with Northern Ireland and having a useful geographic isolation from the European mainland.

America looked on, with enough of their own troubles so that this time around, they would not intervene in a European war. Only in 2029, when England & Welsh forces decided to liberate France under Farage’s direction did the situation change. A nine-month war ensued, finally resulting in the pushing back of German forces to their borders, America turning up late once again and as America started to amass troops in England, the war ended without an American bullet being fired. Germany agreed that France should remain under Anglo-Welsh control. Merkel, now a  stress-beaten 75 year old woman and struggling to retain control, relented to the smaller United Kingdom. After all, France had little to offer Germany, they considered their wines inferior to the Bavarian varieties and the French car industry had been pointless for decades.

Farage decided that France should not become independent again, and annexed it to the UK, calling it the State of South Kentishire, which somehow sounded an appropriate name for the new France.

So, in the Brave New World of 2033, we look forward to peace once again with Germany, the pound reigns supreme over a larger land than ever before, and the Scottish are learning to speak German, deep fried battered Bratwurst being the new Glaswegian delicacy.

NOTE : If you are reading this in 2033, I apologise for a few factual errors.

DAB is Dead – Long Live SONOS Streaming Audio


We live in an area with quite poor radio reception and as a result antennas for radios are always frustrating. FM requires an outdoor aerial, or has a constant hiss, DAB only works reliably upstairs – for a radio in the kitchen, I had to install an outside aerial.

We use the radio in the bedroom as an alarm, so any unit we have there has to have a timer and clock function – quite a difficult feature to find now, and limits the choice a lot. I wanted to have a radio in our conservatory, but again, getting reception there was a nightmare.


SONOS PLAY:5 unit, available in Black or White – bigger sound than the PLAY:3 – also has a line in input.

A friend has had a SONOS system for a while, I had never really understood it, but thought that streaming radio would be the answer to the conservatory problem. So, I purchased a PLAY:3, a self contained speaker from the SONOS system. It’s available in black or white.

The unit came with a BRIDGE, the ‘rule’ being that you must have one SONOS device connected to your broadband router via an Ethernet cable – after that, the system is completely wireless (apart from mains supply cables, of course). The BRIDGE just connects to the network and sends the SONOS signal wirelessly, if your first SONOS speaker is going to be next to the router, you won’t need a bridge, it will perform that function for you.

We are well equipped at home with iPads, iPhones and computers, these are the remote controls for the system, and being WiFi, you don’t need to point the remote or be able to ‘see’ the units. Setup is easy, is surprisingly non-techie, just hold down a couple of buttons on the unit, no settings to enter. Apps are available for Mac, PC, iOS, Android etc.

After that, the app on your phone does the rest. You can select radio stations – they stream audio over the Internet, and now, you are not restricted to the stations within reception range, but from anywhere in the world. Listening to radio from Sydney or Los Angeles can be a bit surreal, though.

If your music library is available on your home network – either by sharing the drive on the computer it’s stored on, or in my case, it’s already on a NAS drive – then you can point the SONOS system at it and all of your library is available via the app. I can think of a track, find it and play it in well under ten seconds now. Try doing that with your CDs! You can also stream straight from your iPhone.

After the success of the first unit, we got another two, one for the bedroom, another for the kitchen. Now, SONOS really comes into its own. You can have different things playing from each room – streamed radio, your music library, whatever. Plus, you can ‘group’ speakers so they play the same thing simultaneously and without any time difference. Even DAB radios don’t do that, you get annoying echoes as you walk around the house.

You can set the system to play different things at different times, so working as a radio alarm system. We have the bedroom unit working as an alarm, and I have another as a background music device coming on a bit later. All very conveniently set via the remote control, and you can have different alarms (or no alarm) for different days, so the days of disabling the alarm on a Sunday and holidays have gone!

SONOS also have CONNECT and AMP devices. The former provides a link to and from an existing audio amplifier, the AMP will drive your own speakers. These have the benefit of giving you stereo audio, the all-in one speakers don’t have the separation.



New to the range (and next on my list) is the PLAYBAR. This is a TV soundbar with an optical input to connect directly to your TV, will work with your TV remote control, but still work as a SONOS system component. It’s pricey, but convenient and will replace the last piece of conventional audio equipment in our home, an ageing home cinema sound system.

So, now I have no worries and irritation with antennas, am reasonably future proofed – certainly against the FM switch off, no geographic limitations – we can get Capital FM’s limited looped playlist on repeat, whereas being on the edge of the reception area it was difficult before. But better still, there are so many specialist radio stations around the world, that any taste of music is catered for. R&B, Blues, Classic, any genre you care for, it’s there. SONOS also include a 6 month free subscription to Napster, although I have not tried that. Next to our Nespresso coffee machine, this is one of the most life changing pieces of technology I’ve ever purchased. Highly recommended, and even thought the price might scare you, it’s actually great value.


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