Blog views

I’ve been blogging for about a month, and I really enjoy writing and the discipline it takes to sit down to start it. I have also really enjoyed the feedback I’ve received so far from those who have read my blogs. Some very nice things have been said about this blog, and articles reposted by friends with hundreds of Facebook or Twitter contacts, generating lots of activity.

The only problem now is, I’ve become a bit obsessed with the number of views I get! I liked what I saw when I watched the numbers climb, after one friend re-posted Trooping the Colour on an armed forces website!

I was a little bit like this with Facebook and Twitter when I first started using those. It’s not all about the numbers, I keep telling myself, as I wonder how it is that I have 400+ Twitter followers, and my daughter has a thousand! How? What’s different?

Ultimately of course, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. I write because I enjoy doing so, and find it stimulating to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s not tip top quality, although I’d like it to be. For me, if I write something, and someone else comes across it and gets something from it, I’m happy with that.

So whilst I try not to make it about the views or the number of followers my blog has (and I’m grateful to my 10 followers for doing so!), I can’t help but get a slight buzz when I hit ‘Publish‘ as I wait to see what happens next (or not). Here goes…

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I blame WordPress for the amazing analytics tools they provide!

 

© Richard Debonnaire

A Sunny Day Out in London

 

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©Google

I had the pleasure of doing a university visit with my daughter Emily on Saturday. She wants to study Geography and today’s lucky uni, was Kings College London. We only live about 35 minutes train ride from London, so KCL would be a good choice for Emily should she choose to go there, as she would be able to live at home.

None of us in our house are strangers to London and frequently go in, either for work, or perhaps a concert or just to have a wander round. It’s a great walking city! As I often do, I took my camera along for the trip, and thought I would share the pictures that I took.

The KCL campus is spread about the centre of London, and we were headed towards The Strand campus. This is an easy train journey to London Waterloo East, and a walk over Waterloo Bridge to the Strand. The weather was, quite simply, superb.

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To the east, St. Paul’s Cathedral on the left, then Heron Tower, Tower 42, the edge of the Gherkin, the ‘Cheese Grater‘ and the ‘Walkie Talkie‘. The face of City is changing all the time.

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Looking west from Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye on the left, The Houses of Parliament (including ‘Big Ben‘), the hotels of the Strand, and the back of Charing Cross station.

The walk across the bridge is one of the nicest in London for views, and drops you right onto the Strand just a short walk from Covent Garden. However, we turned right and headed along to the KCL building. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the open day information properly and now realised that we had to walk all the way back across Waterloo Bridge to attend the welcome talk. (d’oh!)

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A great view from behind the Royal Festival Hall, of Big Ben (see FAQ here) seen through the London Eye. The sky was so clear and blue during the morning. Not a cloud to be seen.

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To the west of Waterloo Bridge is Hungerford Bridge, which is a rail bridge that brings the trains into London Charing Cross station. That’s another very nice walk. About 10 years ago, Hungerford Bridge was renovated and two pedestrian walkways were added to the bridge, one on either side to mark The Queens Golden Jubilee.

These also make great places from which to view London, and also make for a great walk from Charing Cross over to the Royal Festival Hall and South Bank complex on the other side of the river.

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A British Airways Boeing 747 seen through the ‘eye’

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Big Ben bracketed by the supports for the Hungerford Bridge walkways.

 

 

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A Qantas Airbus A380 seen over the top of the London Eye…

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A Qatar Boeing 777 flies over the London Eye. This one taken from Victoria Embankment underground station, by Hungerford Bridge

London is a fantastic city…there is so much to see and do. It’s not the cheapest place in the world to visit (or live!), but there are many things you can do for free such as walking, visiting the royal parks or the museums and galleries etc. (check a good guide book for details), and it is a city steeped in history.

If you view London on the basis of the Tube map, it’s possible to think it’s larger than it is, but you will find that if you walk, places tend to be easily walkable, although it’s a good idea to have a street map to make sure! It’s useful to know that if you fancied walking from Tower Bridge to say, Kensington Palace; it’s long walk!

But, when the sun is shining (and mostly even when it’s not) there is no better place to be – although all city dwellers in New York, or Paris, or Sydney would say the same about those places I imagine!

 

© Copyright Richard Debonnaire

Rio de Janeiro – for the non-footballist

Rio de Janeiro – for the non-footballist

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©FIFA

Rio de Janiero. Famous for may things; the beaches, Christ the Redeemer, The Girl from Ipanema, and right now, the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With blanket TV coverage it’s hard to miss! I’m not really that much of a sports fan, although I do enjoy watching cricket and I’m not averse to golf, and I’m quite happy watching less common sports (in the UK at least), such as ice hockey, or skiing. But I’ve always struggled with footie as I’m just not that bothered about it. Perhaps this stems from a complete lack of interest in it by my parents, but also I have only unpleasant memories of playing it at school on freezing cold days – the pain of the smack of a ball on cold legs is something I remember clearly! I have tried over the years to get enthusiastic about it, but have come to the conclusion that it’s just not my cup of tea. Actually, I find it quite boring to watch and in a world where 95% of small talk in a business environment starts with a chat about the latest scores, I’m at an immediate disadvantage.

I have, in my life been to 3 football matches. These were:

  • Aston Villa vs. Charlton (1998-ish at The Valley – I don’t recall the score)
  • FC Barcelona vs. Real Majorca (2009 at Camp Nou – 4-2 to FCB)
  • Crystal Palace vs. Watford (2012 at Selhurst Park – 4-0 to Palace)

FCB and Real Majorca players mixing it up.

In honesty, I thoroughly enjoyed each of these games. I was amazed at the speed at which the players run and the sheer effort that is expended in chasing the ball around. These were pretty visceral experiences and I can certainly see the attraction. I particularly enjoyed watching Barca play for even I, as a non-fan can appreciate watching the likes of Messi and Ibrahimović (for example) in action. It was incredible to watch Messi and see his control of the ball, how fast he really is, and to witness his 2 goals! But as good as these experiences were, I didn’t come away any more interested in following football than I was before. That said, I would go to FC Barcelona again to repeat the experience. It’s something everyone should do.

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Camp Nou – FC Barcelona’s enormous stadium. One can’t fail to be impressed by it!

So the World Cup upon us and I’m in that (for me) tricky phase where I feel the need to keep half an eye on the action, just in case I find myself in a conversation about it and occasionally I’ll read some back pages so that I can join in with my mates.

The World Cup is more interesting to me than league games – but I’ll usually only watch it whilst doing something else. If invited – and bless them, my friends still sometimes invite me, I’ll join them to watch a big match, although I may be wearing a fairly nonplussed expression throughout.

However, when I’m with them, I also harbour a sense that if I watch England play, I somehow jinx the whole thing and therefore spoil it for them. It’s probably not true, but it seems to me that England usually lose when I watch them. Alas, at the time of writing, England just lost to Uruguay – perhaps that’s just the way of things! (It wasn’t my fault – I was at the cinema for the first half, then walking the dog!)

A short stay in Rio!

For this World Cup however, I’m a little more interested in the location, rather than the tournament as I had the opportunity to visit Rio for a few days in 2013, so it’s interesting to see it on the telly. In fact, every time I see the sports guys on BBC News, I spend most of the time trying to figure out which hotel roof they’re on (is it the one I stayed in?).

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Copacabana Beach

Rio is an interesting place, if a little disconcerting. I was only there for 4 days (it should have been 5, but it was so rainy I decided to come home – like Brighton, it’s not so much fun in the rain!), but I got a sense of the place even in that short time. It feels quite European to look at and listen to, with a European language, European looking cars with lots of Renault’s, Peugeot’s and Zafira’s (badged as Chevy’s as opposed to Opel or Vauxhall) and Fords.

But looking beyond that, to the favelas, the mountains, the currency or the tropical weather it’s very different. On the taxi ride in from the airport, I remember seeing favela kids on the 3 lane motorway, standing in between the lanes selling cold drinks. The traffic was heavy, and not going that quick, but that’s a bit like primary school children selling drinks between the lanes of the M25 near the Clacket Lane services (traffic always seems to be heavy there). Quite an eyeopener! Rio is disconcerting also because for someone used to living in London, and comfortable visiting and moving around other cities, such as New York or Amsterdam for example, to find a ‘world’ city such as Rio with such a massive list of things not to do is a little off putting.

I flew down over night from a very chilly New York City after spending a couple of days with friends, to find that the temperature had increased (for me at least) by about 35ºC. I arrived to a glorious, hot sunny day, and Rio looked stunning, in a ramshackle sort of way.

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Copacabana Beach – on the one sunny day I had. As hotel views go, a pretty good one!

I met up with my father in law, Dave who had already been there for a night, at the hotel, Porto Bay Rio Internacional, (which I’d recommend) on Avenida Atlântida, which overlooks Copacabana beach. We had a 12th floor room with an amazing view over the bay. After checking in we took the opportunity to wander along the beach for a bit, and visit a couple of the bars and decided that we could get used to that for a few days.

We were advised not to stray too far in from the front, so only 1 block back; Avenida Atlântida is a wide, open street by the beach, but go back a block and it all looks very much less welcoming. Copacabana beach itself is magnificent, but apparently dangerous at all times other than during the main part of the day…

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Christo Redentor (Christ The Redeemer)

Clearly no trip to Rio would be complete without a trip to Christ The Redeemer. We didn’t really want to be ‘poverty tourists’ so decided against visiting a favela. The tour we did covered the main sights all in one go. We booked it via the hotel reception on the day I arrived and it was to take in that famous statue, a city tour and finish off with a visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain. We were picked up the following morning, although the weather was no longer what I expected of Rio, with cloud and a hint of rain, but still very warm.

 

First stop, Corcovado, and a drive up the winding road to the transfer area where you are moved onto National Park minibuses which take you to the top. Well nearly; there are then some escalators to ride which take you to the statue and look out it self. It’s hard to put into words quite how impressive Christo Redentor is up close; on its own, it’s pretty much worth the cost of the air fare just to see it! The statue itself is enormous when one stands at it’s foot; on the day we were there, Jesus’ head was in the clouds at times. Once up the mountain, as well as the amazing statue, there is a spectacular view to be had, looking out over all of Rio.

You get very nearly the full 360º view and the panorama stretches from Maracana Stadium and beyond, on the left right round, taking in Sugar Loaf Mountain, Ipanema and round to the race course and beyond.  As you can see, we had a low cloud base on the day we were there, but over the following days, the mountain was completely shrouded in cloud, so our timing was pretty good.

Panoramic view of Rio from the foot of "Cristo Redentor" at the summit of Corcovado.

Panoramic view of Rio from the foot of “Cristo Redentor” at the summit of Corcovado.

Once we’d spent a good deal of time on the mountain taking in the view, it was time to move on. The next part of the tour took us through the edge of one of the favelas, which was so established that it looked pretty much like any other street and then down into the city it self. The route took us past the famous Maracanã stadium, venue for many of the 2014 World Cup matches, as well as being a main venue for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Having been to Camp Nou, I was rather hoping we would be able to go into the Maracanã, but because of the preparations for the world cup (I think a fair bit of renovation was taking place) we couldn’t go in. Seeing it up close had to do.

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Maracanã from Corcorvado

From there the tour took us into the heart of the business district, where we were to stop off and see the cathedral. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian (Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião) is a monstrosity of a concrete pyramid, or so I thought until we went inside. It was magnificent! Hard to capture in the pictures although I’ve tried to do so here. It’s a vast space! Some detail, borrowed from Wikipedia:

The New Cathedral, as it is sometimes called, is located in the center of the city. Conical in form and with a 96 metres (315 ft) internal diameter — 106 metres of external diameter — and an overall height of 75 metres (246 ft), it has a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people.

The cathedral’s four rectilinear stained glass windows soar 64 metres (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian

From there, we headed over to the final destination of the trip, Sugarloaf Mountain. I’d been looking forward to this, because as a kid I remember seeing the James Bond film, Moonraker, (which wasn’t a patch on The Spy Who Loved Me), and the fight between James Bond (Roger Moore) and Jaws (Richard Kiel) on the Sugarloaf cable car always stayed with me, so I was looking forward to riding on it (although I would be staying inside and not climbing onto the roof for a scrap!).

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Sugar Loaf Mountain seen from Corcorvdo

Sugarloaf  gets its name because at the height of the sugar cane trade in Brazil, blocks of sugar were placed in conical clay molds to be transported on ships, and the shape created by these molds was similar to the shape of the peak, hence the name! The peak reaches 1,299 feet (396m) and has an amazing view of the city and the harbour.

To get to the top we took cable car, which is in two stages. The first ascends to Morro da Urca, and the second car takes you to the top – Pão de Açúcar. The ride up is smooth and the car’s (which are huge) are very stable. It does’t take long and you’re up to the first stage, where there are some marvellous views to be seen. The city looks great, the sea calm and serene, the beaches white against the blue sea.

And helicopters! There is a helipad on Morro da Urca for the tourist flights that are available. In the last couple of years, the authorities have replaced the cable cars, and they keep one of the old ones here to see, and yep, there it is…the one from Moonraker!

After a look at the view, it’s onto the cable car for the next stage, and we’re quickly rising to the peak. If the view from Morro da Urca was great, the views from the top of Sugarloaf exceed them in pretty much every way. Superb views are on offer for more or less the whole 360º. Really fantastic. There is also a cafe there where you can get a drink and snack. Not top quality, but decent enough.

We spent an hour or so up there watching the boats, watching the aeroplanes take off and land at the domestic airport, Santos Dumont, helicopters coming and going. You can also see the Rio-Niteroi bridge (the longest prestressed concrete bridge in the Southern Hemisphere – I have a thing for bridges! Don’t get me started on the Millau Viaduct!). Sugarloaf is a fantastic place to spend time watching the world go by.

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The ride down was as uneventful as the ride up (a good thing on a cable car) and the views sensational and once back down, the minibus returned us all to our hotels. A great day out and well worth the money. If you’re ever in Rio…

After that one day, it rained steadily for the next few days, and the weather forecast was for more of the same. Dave was due to fly home the day before me, but with the weather so dreadful I took the decision to head home a day early. I was heading back via JFK unlike Dave who was flying direct to Heathrow.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the food. The Brazilians love their meat, which is good because so do I! It was recommended to me by my friends in New York, to visit a churrascaria restaurant, and I’m so glad I did! We went twice! All you can eat, perfectly grilled and amazingly succulent meats, plus loads of fantastic salads, seafood, cold cuts, chips/french fries (obviously). I could hardly walk after it, but wow! it was worth it!

All good things come to an end and I’ve gone on long enough…Despite the soggy end to the trip, it was a great experience and I’d love to go again someday – if I can ever coax my wife onto the requisite long-haul flights!

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Copacabana Beach from Sugarloaf cable car station

 

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Corcorvado and ‘Christ the Redeemer’ seen from Sugarloaf Mountain

 

All photographs taken by me, unless otherwise stated. © Richard Debonnaire

Trooping the Colour

I really do love living in London…I never tire of it, and this weekend was quite a big one in London, for monarch and aircraft spotting.

June 14th 2014 was the date of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which is held each year on Horse Guards Parade ground in London.  For those not in the know, this is (to quote from Wikipedia):

a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although the roots go back much earlier. On battlefields, a regiment’s colour’s, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the soldiers’ ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their regiments’ colours.

The ceremony is held to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Official Birthday, and a great deal of pomp is involved. The British military, apart from being a very efficient fighting force, also know how to put on a show!

It’s a terrific day for tourists and locals alike to be in London, as the opportunity for seeing the Royal Family in the flesh is more or less guaranteed. Debs and I went into London on Wednesday evening to see a jazz gig, and grabbed a bite beforehand. We ended up chatting to a newly arrived American family from Arizona, on their first trip to Europe. They had their 4 days in the UK planned out, but by the time we finished talking to them, I think Stonehenge was shelved in favour of the ‘Trooping’ (you can imagine the reactions of 2 teenage American girls at the prospect of seeing the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge  -William and Kate in real life, not to mention Prince Harry. Stonehenge didn’t stand a chance! I think the London Eye might also have been added to their itinerary!).

Unless you have tickets, access to the actual ceremony in the parade ground is not possible (although it is shown on television), but you can get a great view of the participants from anywhere along The Mall. If you get there by about 9.00am, you can pick a great spot and guarantee a great view. Which is what we did.

From about 10.20 the bands of Her Majesty’s Household Division, comprised of the Foot Guards (Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards) and the cavalry (Life Guards and the Blues and Royals) set off from the Buckingham Palace end of  The Mall and march towards Admiralty Arch, playing marches as they go. First off are the foot guards bands! What a sound! As a trombone player I am always thrilled to hear the trombones at the front of each band, ably accompanied by the rest of the band. (I know a few of the players, and it’s usually quite a challenge to spot them under their bearskin hats!)

Guards Trombones

A little behind them comes the Household Cavalry and the mounted band. As trombone player (I know I just used that line) I am always enormously impressed with how the trombones, or indeed any of the mounted musicians, manage to ride a horse and play an instrument simultaneously! I struggle with just the trombone to be honest, forget about the horse!

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It’s a fantastic way to spend a Saturday morning, as we did with friends, two of whom are Canadian, so we had the fun of explaining it all to them too! Once the procession has passed, if you wait around for an hour or so, you can see the Royal Household return to Buckingham Palace along The Mall, and this time, when the bands come back, they are formed up as a massed band, which is a sight to see!

Once everyone is back in the palace and the bands have returned to Wellington Barracks, the crowds are then allowed to move onto the The Mall itself, and everyone moves down towards the palace to see the Royal Family appear on the balcony of the palace. We didn’t see this as we were enjoying coffee and cake in Cafe in the Crypt!

I love all things aviation – more of which in some future blog! I’m not quite a full on geek (although my family may disagree), but I love to watch aircraft, so I wasn’t about to miss out on the fly past that completes the Trooping celebrations, which we watched from Trafalgar Square. With 28 RAF aircraft taking part, it makes for an impressive site, but all over so quickly!

Fly Past

If you find yourself in London around this time of the year, make a point of including Trooping The Colour in your plans! Its a great event, and FREE!!

 

© Richard Debonnaire

The Wedding Band – Music for a Joyful Occasion!

Today is a very happy day; the wedding of a couple from our church, Jess and Cam. A joyful occasion it is going to be! My family are beside themselves with excitement, and my daughters, who have not really had the chance yet to glam up for a wedding look unbelievably beautiful, so much so, that I wonder how they can be mine? Their mothers genes I guess…

Today, my role is as a member of the Wedding Band. I’ve done a few of these over the years, and always love the opportunity to play in a smaller than usual group, either as a brass ensemble, or just a small band. Always fun.

Todays challenge then, is to try and get bass trombone chops, to work on a tenor trombone. We had a rehearsal last night, which was great, but I learned two things:

  1. Sitting to the left of the bass trombone is loud! Sorry to those who normally sit next to me, but in the nicest possible way, tough! I Love it!
  2. As a bass trombone player, picking up a tenor trombone only 3 days before the wedding band gig, is not a good idea, certainly on only 2 or 3 minutes blowing a day!

Still, having done some warm ups earlier and re-lubed the slide, I might get away with it!

So, we’re really looking forward to a great day celebrating Jess and Cam’s special day, enjoying the fun and festivities of the occasion, and finishing off, no doubt with tired legs and tired ‘trombone’ chops!

Most of all though, wishing Jess & Cameron a fantastic day today, and a long, happy and blessed life together!

 

Best wishes and love from all of us!

RDC&E

 

Update 12.20am: A really lovely day today…the band was great to play in so thought I’d add a picture of us.

 

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Geek corner:

Trombones mentioned are, Rath R9 bass trombone, and Conn 8H tenor.

© Richard Debonnaire

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple’s New iOS 8

This will be of interest to Apple iPhone (and Mac) fans. Want to know a bit more about iOS 8? Read all about it…

TIME

Get ready, Apple fans: The next mobile operating system upgrade, iOS 8, is coming to iPhones and iPads this fall. It’s got a couple big new features: HealthKit, for tracking your personal fitness data, and HomeKit, for integrating “smart home” apps more directly into iOS (including Siri support—eat your heart out, Clapper).

But iOS 8 promises lots of little new improvements, too. To boot:

1. Interactive Notifications

Giving up Android’s far-superior notification center feature was my biggest sacrifice when I converted from Android to iOS for the iPhone 5. Apple’s now promising a notification center that’s far more customizable, with third-party widgets ranging from ESPN for sports scores to eBay for staying on top of your bidding game. These widgets will let you perform certain tasks right from iOS’s “Today” screen. Finally.

2. Better Keyboards

Apple, the company oh-so-famous for its walled gardens, has also for the first time…

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