Reading Abbey, Heritage Open Days 2014

Once a year places of historic interest that wouldn’t normaly be open to the public throw open their doors for Heritage Open Days. I read somewhere that these places are obliged to do so annually as part of the conditions of government/lottery funding, although I can’t find any evidence to back that statement up. Either way it is great as you get to visit places that would otherwise not be accessible.

Reading Abbey is a great example of this. Closed four years ago when it became too dangerous to allow public access this is now the only way you get to visit. Actually this was a lot more than simply a tour of the abbey as this encompassed the whole of the Reading abbey quarter, something that I didn’t even know existed until our guide, Matthew Williams, manager of the Reading Museum, took us round.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at what is left of the abbey but it covered a huge area and cost a fortune when it was built in 1121. Much of it is now under other more modern buildings, such as the prison, also a listed building. It also shaped the layout of the rest of the town too as London Street was built as a new road leading to the abbey with Broad Street and Friar Street being added at the same time.

The tour also touched on the difficulties of managing the upkeep of the ruins and the surrounding area. For example the wall that runs around St Laurence Church has been in a poor state for as long as I can remember. In fact Matthew told us that the scaffolding holding up the wall has been there for forty years and should also be listed! The issue in this case is not simply one of money but of conflicting priorities. The wall is being forced back by trees that are planted close to it but the trees also have a preservation order and in law have the same status as the wall. Simply put you cannot make a change to one that will affect the other. Classic Catch 22.

With Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries Reading abbey was hard hit and much of the stone was sold off leaving only a few buildings intact. Now the abbey is in a poor state and the flint walls that once would have been lined with limestone are now crumbling. With the help of lottery funding the grounds could be reopened to the public in four to five years time, so dig deep! In the interim the intention is to add much more information around the town signposting the areas of significance. This should also tie into the opening of the prison site, the use of which is still being decided. Before that is done I am hoping that we can get to see inside it as is because it is said to be like you see in the TV show Porridge. Maybe that’s a tour for next year’s heritage open days…

Bluebear is the god

Bluebear is the god

Over the years I have spent many hours watching my kids take part in various extra curricular activities. This has included standing on the side of a football pitch on a cold Sunday morning watching a herd of eight year olds chase a ball, seated in an airless theatre as the local amateur dramatic society over acted some play and sat on many a hard church seating while a guitar orchestra played.

Last night we spent several nervous hours watching the finals of the National University eSports League (NUEL) League of Legends (LoL) Summer Championships in which my youngest son and his University of Birmingham team were playing. This, at least, was one I could watch from the comfort of my own sofa!

The final was being live streamed on Twitch and there was commentary too. I couldn’t work out who was the obligatory ex-pro and who was the summariser but given that’s how it is in all other sports I am assuming that this followed the same formula. However, I could work out how our son was doing as he is called MTBluebear in game.

It was for us what it must be like for parents of footballers as they play their first televised match as we squealed “oh that’s Mat that’s just had a double kill!”.

It is always interesting to see your children through the eyes of others and last night was a real eye opener. I’m not sure that I would ever describe Mat as “cocky” but that is how he was described at one point! Reading the Twitch chat session was also interesting. Most of it was unintelligible but there was a long period where the participants were playing “If Bluebear was a X he’d be called Y” which I was quite touched by. Unfortunately you don’t seem to be able to replay the chat logs on Twitch so that’s lost foreverUPDATE they have been retained by a friend of Mat and so they are reproduced below at the bottom of the page. This chat also elicited the comment “Bluebear is the god” which I am taking as being a good thing, although you can’t be too sure these days with the current predilection for reversing meanings of words.

As any parent you want your offspring to have whatever they want so we were really disappointed for Mat when Birmingham were beaten by the bastards at Cambridge. Mat was more sanguine about it vowing to go one better in the main league this season and we’ll be watching when he does.


Balbiin: If Bluebear stuck things together, he'd be Gluebear
Gmanel1t3: if bluebear wore a kippah he'd be jewbear
Tripledan: If he really liked honey he'd be Poohbear
Natoniann: If Bluebear was a ghost, he'd be Boobear.
Gmanel1t3: if he was bronze he would be noobbear
Selfishmexy: and if he was *** he'd be poobear
Tripledan: If he went on your feet he'd be Shoebear
Balbiin: If he was at a sporting event, he'd be Woohbear
Dars02: if he was a cow he'd be bluecow
Sammychowchow: If he played Volleyball, he would be Volibear
Gmanel1t3: if he was a toilet he'd be loobear
Sammychowchow: if you were a bear, you would be YouBear
Gmanel1t3: if he was a cow he'd be moobear

Tracks Added – August 2014


This months selection includes a contribution from an act I saw at this year’s Weyfest.

This months additions are:

  • Kokomo – Kokomo
  • Kokomo – Rise & Shine
  • All About Eve – Fairy Night Lights
  • Yes – Heaven & Earth
  • Asia – Omega
  • Roddy Woomble & Band – Live at Kings Place (SoS)
  • LSO – Haydn – Symphonies No.9 (SoS)

This month saw the release of the latest offering from Yes. I really enjoyed the last release, Fly from Here, but for a variety of reasons I wasn’t as taken with Heaven and Earth. One change between the two is that the lead vocalist has been changed (again). This doesn’t seem to have made much difference though as they all sound a bit like Jon Anderson! What has changed is the writing team and I am less keen on the direction they are taking.

Weyfest is always a great place for me to discover “new” bands. One of these discoveries this year was Kokomo who are not new at all but simply touring again after a 35 year hiatus. I loved their soulful sound and so picked up these two.

Those above marked (SoS) are from a subscription service called Society of Sound which is curated by Real World Records, Peter Gabriel and the LSO. This provides members with two downloads a month of which you get no choice. This means that some months you get something that you really love and other months not so.


All my music is held in a web-based music streamer called Subsonic, a roll-your-own Spotify if you like. This provides statistics on number of tracks and size of collection, as you can see below.

1,245 artists
2,713 albums
23,726 songs
247.68 GB
1,916 hours


Weyfest 2014

My third time back at Weyfest this year and suddenly the secret seems to be out as it seemed much busier right from the opening act on Friday evening. It’s still a small and friendly festival with four stages spread over a small area making it easy to get about and maximise what you can see and judging by the huge swathes of collapsible chairs plenty of others agree with me. It also has the advantage of being less than an hour from home so I am able to come home to the comfort of my own bed!

This years headliners were 10CC, The Feeling and Squeeze. Kicking off proceedings were King King, back for a second year and making it the third time in a year that I have seen them play. They’re still great and really got the crowd moving. Graham Gouldman is now the only original member of 10CC still with the band but even so they still manage to sound like they did in their heyday. Along with the classics we were treated to a few lesser known album only tracks too.

The thing I love about Weyfest is that you get to see bands that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. This year this included Kokomo and Chas & Dave. Yes that Chas & Dave who I have had to reevaluate a bit. I have in the past, unfairly it seems, lumped them together with others as a novelty band but after watching and listening more closely I can see that not only are they fine musicians but they are inventive too. Not that they should worry what I think given the huge reaction from the audience who were singing along with gusto.

So I enjoyed it this year but probably not as much as last time out. I will probably look to go next year but that will depend on the line up.

Oh and am I the only one who thinks that Chas looks like Jeff Lynne?


The Making of Harry Potter

As a birthday treat we went to the glamorous setting of the outskirts of Watford at the weekend to visit The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios. There was much excitement!

Caution – spoilers if you read on.

The tickets are for a timed entry that ensures that there isn’t an overwhelming flow of people through the exhibits. I was a bit concerned that this would mean that we would be herded through but this wasn’t the case. We were told that we could go through at our own pace and that the record for time spent there was 13 hours, set by a couple of Canadians!

As you queue at the entrance you can see the cupboard under the stairs. I’m going to have to watch the films again as I don’t remember there being so many gas and electric meters under there. Taking a leaf out of Disney this was the first of three holding areas. The next was where we were given instructions on what we could and couldn’t do and then the next room was a short film introduced by Harry, Ron and Hermione. Then, in an unexpected move, the wall shot up and we were in front of the doors to the great hall. The hall itself is enormous and pretty impressive even without the enchanted ceiling! This was the only part of the tour where you were herded through to ensure that it was clear for the next party. That wasn’t an issue as you still got plenty of time walkthrough.

The next area was a huge open space containing loads of sets including the bedroom and common room from Hogwarts, the clock from the entrance to Hogwarts, the rather unsettling centerpiece from the hall at the ministry of magic and much much more. This also included the only interactive piece in the whole place – a change to ride a broomstick or enchanted car on a green screen background followed by the opportunity to purchase a photo of video of your ride. You really could spend hours in this area looking at all the props that have been created – the number and the detail really is mind boggling.

Then you outside with the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and other larger props. Here you can get to take a rest, grab a bite to eat and try out the butter beer.

Next you are back inside for Diagon Alley with all it’s quirky charm and a selection of scale models of some of the major buildings used in the films. The detail in these and the concept artist paintings was amazing, it’s no wonder that these films cost so much to make. The paintings by concept artist Andrew Williamson are good enough to hang in a gallery.

The penultimate treat was coming into a darkened room where the centrepiece was a scale model of the whole of Hogwarts which I assume was used for the overhead and fly-through shots.

Finally (before the obligatory gift shop) was the interior of wandmakers Ollivanders. Here were thousands of wand boxes all individually made and labelled each with the name of a cast or crew member. It was fun wandering through to see how many people you could spot.


A cynical view might be that this was Warner Bros. making back some money by opening up the sets used but it was brilliantly done and for us well worth the ticket price.