Archive | December 2014

Musical chairs…

After writing that little piece about music choices in 2014 a few days ago, it’s been interesting to hear a lot of music since then which sounds fresh, interesting and had what John Peel used to call the ‘F*** Me!’ Factor (as in ‘F*** Me! What’s that?‘.

The small, but significant problem is that it’s been old stuff, or a new take on an old song. Apart from Pharrell William’s Happy (which sounds good on the radio or as the soundtrack for the Fiat 500 commercials) there’s nothing that’s caught my ear recently.

I’ve not done any downloads from iTunes over the last three years and the last couple of CD’s I bought were compilations by Roxy Music and Al Stewart from a shop in Wimbourne, Dorset.

I listen to the radio in the car and tend to watch the BBC festival coverage of Glastonbury, T In The Park and Reading/Leeds, but I still draw a blank in finding new music that’s interesting or which doesn’t go back over old ground.

I saw an Ed Sheeran acoustic performance from Glastonbury on a 2014 festival round up a couple of days ago and then just happened to catch a BBC compilation about singer/songwriters on Yesterday – which featured James Taylor and Neil Young singing some of their songs from over forty years ago that still sounded fresh to these ears.

That festival round-up also featured Metallica and one Dolly Parton along with Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. The first two worked for me, the last three didn’t. Other than Metallica and Dolly, only Imagine Dragons‘ performance of an old Proclaimers song impressed, proving once more that some songs can work when given a totally different treatment by newer artists.

Unlike a version of XTC’s Making Plans For Nigel that I recently heard in a pub. I like the XTC original, but this version was the same song done as a ballad, and Caroline agreed with me that it just didn’t work. Some interpretations of older songs work – actor Jack Black’s take on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On for example or The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s rendition of Delilah or The Toy Dolls punk take on Nellie The Elephant. Oh, and I nearly forgot about The Mission’s versions of Crazy Horses and Like A Hurricane

Will 2015 bring any new music that sparkles, fizzes and sets the music scene alight once more?

I first started writing about music in the mid-1980’s when I did live reviews for The Northern Echo. Quite a few bands were new, some were on their way up, some were established and some were on their way down. Then there was a lull for a few years until Britpop happened.

When Britpop exploded, it was with a vengeance not seen since the days of punk. Some bands were good, others horrendous, but there were a load of memorable songs.

I happened to be a student at the time so Saturday nights were spent watching bands at Manor Quay in Sunderland or listening to the tracks being played by a couple of guys who, like myself, wrote for the independent student newspaper Universal Post. Some bands and songs were good, some were bad, but various songs played on those nights still shine on.

Will there be a new phase in 2015? That depends upon whether any new talent emerges that can take the UK music industry by the scruff of the neck and give it a damned good shaking up…

I might even update the music on my iPod if that happens and start packing it again whilst on my travels!

A frivolous round-up of 2014!

Most enjoyable films


Mr Turner


Most enjoyable piece of music

Happy by Pharrell Williams – the only song that caught my attention in 2014. Yes, the music scene has changed somewhat since my days of seeing more than 160 bands in a year!

Most enjoyable television programmes (as seen here in the UK – not sure whether they’re available elsewhere!)

Great Continental Railway Journeysis Michael Portillo stepping into Palin’s (Michael, not Sarah!) shoes as our leading travel broadcaster?

Speed with Guy Martin – still crashing (at 90 miles an hour with just a scratch on his crash helmet in the last one of the latest series), but getting various records along the way.

Marshall amplifier documentary on BBC4 – can’t remember the exact title, but it was the story of the UK’s iconic rock amp brand


My Autobiography by Guy Martin

The Moon’s A Balloon by David Niven

The People’s Songs: The Story Of Modern Britain In 50 Records by Stuart Maconie 

UK Destinations (further afield on the agenda for 2015!)

Suffolk – unexpected pleasure that’s going to get at least one return visit. There will be a piece on here in early 2015.

North Norfolk – the place of many visits now. Relaxing, peaceful and a delight. There will be a piece on here in early 2015 too!

Langdale Valley – two visits in a month. No mobile phone reception and the week in an apartment was nice and quiet – unlike the two campsites visited over the August Bank Holiday weekend. That weekend was a one-off, because I don’t usually head off on a Bank Holiday!


Up the Langdale Valley from above Elterwater Village

The view from Southwold Pier – complete with inland lighthouse

Take your pick of those on the North Norfolk coast…


Flixton Air Museum, Suffolk – wasn’t in the guide books, a poster was spotted on the notice board at a camp site.

National Media Museum, Bradford – first visited in 2000, plenty of other visits since!

Salt’s Mill, Saltaire – galleries, a good book shop, art shop, home shop, outdoor shop and a busy diner too.

Fodder Bailey’s Torte at Treeby’s Gallery Cafe, Keswick

Bacon, sausage and egg bun,  Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale – look for the motorbikes and you’ve found the right place!

Lamb Rogan Josh and Chapatis at The International, Bradford – good choice before or after a film at the nearby National Media Museum or a show at The Alhambra (or a gig by The Mission at Rio’s).

Greetings from a bright, sunny and chilly Yorkshire!

It’s bright, it’s sunny and it’s chilly. Caroline’s out on the bike, I’m on the computer and taking time out to say thanks to everyone who has been looking at this website over the last few months.

Have a good day whatever you up to and wherever you are – wisepacking is picking up readers from all over the globe!



Ten days of gifts – 1

Farpoint 40 Lagoon Blue

The first of two gift ideas for yourself or others – for now or for later!

I’ve mentioned the Osprey Farpoint 40 pack (as seen above) and Rohan’s Cool Silver t-shirts (as seen below) a few times on wisepacking (and on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum too).

I make no apologies for mentioning them again, because both are useful items to have around whilst travelling.

Relevant postings on wisepacking are listed below – read and enjoy!


And that’s the last of the gift ideas – have a good holiday season, whatever you’re up to!


Ten days of gifts – 2


Your starter for Tenn – the Ladies Sprint Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey 

It’s about twenty years since I first started doing reviews of cycling kit for YHA’s membership magazine Triangle and I also had quite a few years reviewing clothing, bags and camping kit on Cycling Plus magazine too.

So when an opportunity arose to review some cycling kit on wisepacking, it was a case of ‘Yes please!’ and time for Caroline to do her stuff given that she’s getting some miles under her wheels thanks to her commute and leisure rides and that she usually packs some cycling kit when we’re away in the UK and there’s a bike hire shop nearby.

The Ladies Sprint Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey (£27.99) by West Sussex based Tenn uses an advanced 100% polyester fabric. This has enhanced wicking and drying properties, while the sun, wind or water helps to release odours. There’s also high UV protection too.

Caroline’s been racking up the miles recently in fine and not so fine weather, so she’s been using the Sprint Short Sleeve on its own and as part of a layering system with a base layer from either Rohan, Helly Hansen or The North Face underneath and her usual Altura fleece and Altura waterproof jacket on top.

Given the miles done and the speeds recorded on Strava, she’s not been hanging about, yet the Sprint Short Sleeve has performed well. It’s got damp with sweat a few times, but it’s been dried and used again over the following days and there’s been no need to chuck it in the washing machine to get rid of any nasty niffs.

The supplied size 10 top fits well, looks good and it’s easy to get some ventilation going on thanks to the zipped neck fastening. The length is fine and the silicone waist grippers work well, ensuring that the top doesn’t ride up when Caroline’s using the drops on the bike.

There’s also a reflective strip on the back of the shirt and a couple of reflective prints too, but one of these is starting to peel off. Washing the shirt has been with either Lifeventure Travel Wash when it’s been hand washed or Sainsbury’s Non-Bio Powder when it’s been in the machine.

There’s three decently sized elasticated pockets on the back of the shirt and there’s a zipped mobile phone pocket too on the front – a HTC Desire phone can be stashed away.

If you have a bigger phone, you can always put that in a jacket pocket and use the mobile pocket to store loose change for coffee and cake stops (Caroline’s secret is out!).

It’s the first item that either of us have seen from the Tenn range, but if the comprehensive selection of clothing and other kit that’s on their website is as good as the Ladies Sprint Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey then it may be well worth checking out.

Ten days of gifts – 3

geogrip_gloves (2)

Snugpak GeoGrip Gloves: £19.95  

After a hat or a Buff, another useful accessory is a decent pair of gloves.

If I’m away in what promises to be cold, wet or wintry conditions, then I take a pair and always pack at least one spare pair.

Why? Because I was very glad that I did a few years ago when I took a pair of performance fleece gloves off in order to take one shot on a motor driven compact camera when I was doing some cross-country skiing in the Lillehammer area.

I’d put my gloves over the top of my ski poles and although the time elapsed between taking the gloves off, taking the shot and going to put the gloves back on again was less than 30 seconds, they’d already frozen up. Spare gloves were dug out of my pack and donned before continuing the day out. Yes, it was that cold!

Now I haven’t had the chance to try these Snugpak GeoGrip Gloves out in total anger yet, because the main rainfall has come overnight around here and we haven’t has yet had any snowfall either, so not even the snowball test has been carried out as yet.

When the snow does arrive (and the Met Office think there could be some in January), I’ll dive back on here and let you know. In the meantime, the gloves are going to go in the car in readiness for such eventualities, largely because when we had the last batch of decent snow, there was about six inches of the stuff appeared overnight.

So, what makes these Snugpak gloves worth £19.95?

They’re made from neoprene, so they’re water resistant and offer warmth too. The neoprene allows the user to wear them when wet and helps in the drying time stakes whilst the rubber palm grips allow the user to grip ski or walking poles, cameras, maps, coffee mugs or a medicinal dose from a hip flask at the end of the day out.

There’s an emphasis on the amount of dexterity available on these gloves. I haven’t had any problems with a lack of dexterity on the usage so far in milder conditions, even though I still have some problems with my left hand.

That’s down to the after effects of that stroke I had ten years ago and whilst I’ve almost got full use of my fingers once more, that usage comes and goes from time time as a few supermarket till operators will testify to after I dropped a load of loose change all over the place when paying for purchases!

As far as the right hand goes though, there’s no worries, which is a good job as I am right handed. Gripping tightly and using cameras or fiddling with keys when I get back home isn’t a problems and neither is opening and closing straps or zips when I need to get something from a pocket in my pack or whatever jacket I’m wearing at the time.

The GeoGrips are easily donned and removed thanks to their stretchy cuffs, they can be clipped together and then onto a jacket when necessary and they’re easily washed too (it’s a hand wash though, not a machine wash).

Other gloves are available and on the usage so far, the GeoGrip Gloves are performing favourably. When the snow or the rain really hits home, then they will be taken out and used in anger along with a select few that I’ve been using for a few years now (I’m a bit fussy when it comes to gloves!).

Ten days of gifts – 4

Garmish Beanie

If you want to keep warm – get a hat!

Hats come in all shapes and sizes – mountain caps, wooly numbers with ear flaps, ones that look like they should be getting stroked whilst the owner says something like We’ve been expecting you Mr. Bond… or pure and simple hats like the Eider Garmish Beanie (£20) that’s pictured above.

Yes, it’s bright and noticeable, but that’s something that I’m never going to be worried about. Yes, my usual choice of hat colour owes a lot to a Henry Ford quote, but there are times when something that’s bright and colourful is preferable to having a whole outfit that wouldn’t be out of place at a gig by The Mission, Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephiim (and I have been to gigs by two out for the three bands mentioned there – the middle one is the odd one out!). Not saying that I wear a lot of black, but I just happen to wear a lot of black…

There’s a practicality to wearing a hat. It can be a style statement or a piece that like the Eider Garmish Beanie in that it’s designed to tie in with other Eider clothing. It’s also a practical choice too as around 40% of body heat can be lost through the head. Wear a hat and you should feel warmer in no time.

If it’s cold and crisp and even, then the warmth should help matters. If it’s snowing or raining, then a waterproof hat could come in useful or you could simply put your waterproof jacket’s hood up (unless of course you’re the bloke I served about seven or eight years ago who said he wouldn’t be seen dead using his jacket’s hood! There’s always one…).

There are also times when wearing a hat indoors can be useful. The only times that I’ve worn a hat indoors have coincided with heating breakdowns in shops or at home or the one time when I went away for a couple of days and returned home to find that all of the pipes in my rented house had frozen up – time to get a hair dryer out on the pipes as recommended by the plumber who was working on a similar problem a few doors away from me.

There are alternatives to hats though – such as the ubiquitous Buff.

The Buff is one of the most useful pieces of kit in both Caroline’s and my own outdoor or travel wardrobes. We both have a few variations on a theme by Buff and makers of lookalike items with the standard and Polar Buffs proving to be the most useful and long-lived weapons of choice.

They’ve been used as neck gaiters, pulled over the face in cold weather, used as a balaclava in cold weather or worn as a helmet liner in wintry weather. Buffs have also been used as hand towels, packing for small crockery items bought abroad and as handkerchiefs on occasions as well (and washed soon after because only one of the Buffs I have is a green one!).

I’ve used mine whilst walking, cross-country skiing, climbing and whilst travelling. Caroline uses her examples around town, whilst commuting to work on the bike, whilst out on longer rides and also when she’s travelling. Her sons use Buffs on really long bike rides and travelling (the eldest son) whilst her youngest wears his on his Suzuki 650, for climbing or when jumping out of aeroplanes. During one trip to the States, he took off in a plane 34 times in a fortnight and landed in a plane twice – the other 32 landings were ones made with the help of a parachute…

There will be another gift-related post later on today – missed yesterday as there was a food and drink buying session taking place. Ours was the smallest trolley load in each of the supermarkets we visited – anyone would think the shops were closed more more than one day this week!

Ten days of gifts – 5 


Travel towels are one of those items that really are a no-brainer when it comes to travelling. They’re smaller, lighter and dry quicker than regular towels, can be used for drying oneself after a bath, shower, swim or deluge and also as a means of squeezing dampness out of travel clothing to accelerate the drying process when it’s been washed.

Snugpak is a brand which offers a whole range of different products that has been around for years now, and they’re noted because along with everything else they do, Snugpak have come up with some very fine sleeping bags and clothing produced in deepest Yorkshire just a few miles up the road from Wisepacking Towers.

The Antibacterial Travel Towel that I’ve been trying from the Snugpak range comes from somewhere that’s a bit further away – Korea.  

There’s now five sizes of towels available in the Snugpak range and each one is made from microfibre and has a Dr. Bacty antibacterial treatment. This is based around silver ions, a feature that I know is effective from other items that I’ve used in the last five years. Use it, dry it and use it again and again – it doesn’t need washing after every use.

I’ve been using a large size Snugpak towel recently and it’s worked well when it comes to drying off after a shower and has proved that it dries quickly too. Two hours after the shower and it’s dry and ready to pack away (ambient temperature was 19C according to the thermometer on the remote unit for our central heating system that was placed about a metre away from the towel whilst it was drying). No radiator was used in the drying process by the way…

Although I do have a lighter weight large size towel from another brand, the Snugpak take on the theme offers a far superior performance, so I guess that the lightweight one will stay at home now, even though there’s going to be a small weight penalty as a result of making that choice.

Two colours are available in the Snugpak Travel Towel range (olive or blue) and the sizes that’s available ensures that there’s a towel for almost every eventuality.

Small is 62 x 60cm, medium is 60 x 80 cm, large as tried is 80 x 124cm, extra-large is 100 x 124 cm and giant is 120 x 124 cm. Packed size of the large towel is 21 x 14cm

Prices start at £9.95 and top out at £29.95 (the large is £19.95) . Each towel comes with its own wet and dry stuff sack.

Ten days of gifts – number 6

Calendar Cover – look at and you will go ‘AAAH!’

Yes, it’s a case of man v machine again so you will have to click on that link to see what I’m talking about!

It’s a great shot and one that’s an excellent choice for the cover of the Wild Nature Calendar 2015 that’s been commissioned by the John Muir Trust, the UK’s leading wild land conservation charity.

The calendar and the 2015 Wild Nature Diary are the result of a fair amount of work by editor and publisher of the calendar and diary, John Beatty, one of the UK’s leading travel, wildlife and adventure photographers.

As John himself puts it “This year’s editions have outstanding and spectacular covers, representing the ‘personality and emotion’ of the natural world. They are eye-catching and inspiring visions that hopefully, will carry the message of conservation far afield.

Hundreds of images were submitted online for potential inclusion in the calendar and John whittled these submissions down to 60 images used over both works. The foreword to the diary is by HRH The Prince Of Wales.

And just in case you haven’t heard of John Muir, here goes…

John Muir (1838-1914) was a naturalist, conservationist and visionary who was inspired by the works of nature both in Scotland and the Sierra Mountains of California, where he made his lifelong home.

His nature writings and essays became very popular to the extent that governments reconsidered the values of land use and created the first National Parks in the world. Muir founded the Sierra Club of San Francisco and inspired the formation of the John Muir Trust in Scotland.  (

With over 10,000 members the John Muir Trust is the UK‘s leading wild land conservation charity, who believe wild places are essential, and are dedicated to protecting and enhancing them for people and wildlife.

The calendar and diary are available from  The calendar is £11.99,  the desk diary is £14.99 or you can buy both for £25.

John Beatty is also on the lookout for new nature and landscape photographs of Britain’s wild places. If you are interested, send thumbnail sized images (or reference to your website) by email to and title the email SUBMIT DIARY.

Copies of John‘s book ‘Wild Vision – In Celebration of the Natural World‘ are available from

Ten days of gifts – number 7

As there were a couple of references to DVDs in yesterdays posting on books, it’s only fair that I continue the DVD theme by presenting a few ideas on that theme. Especially as there’s a big public holiday looming and the seasonal television choices are as safe and predictable as ever…

The first suggestions are based around history. Yes, I’ve got an O level in history, but it’s Caroline that’s more interested in such matters (I’m more of a Horrible Histories buff myself).

That could be because I’m more interested in modern history, the stuff that wasn’t really taught when I was a lad in the early to mid 1970s. I can still remember some bits from my O level days, but that’s about it.

Andrew Marr’s The Making Of Modern Britain and History Of Modern Britain have just been repeated on BBC2 over the last fortnight – in a mid-afternoon slot. As there’s been little of note on over that time, I’ve fed the DVD machine with both series when Caroline’s been working late shifts (there are only so many times you can watch the same episodes of NCIS…).

Yes, there’s some memorable events missing from later programmes (the climbing of The Old Man Of Hoy, the Torrey Canyon and Braer oil tanker problems, The Herald Of Free Enterprise and the first flight of Concord/Concorde), but both series are still very watchable a few years down the line from their original broadcast dates.

Oh, and there’s also Andrew Marr’s History Of The World too. I’ve started, so I’ll finish, but I’ll also have to remember to turn the audio description track off when the DVD is put into the player. It took a while to realise what was going on when I first played Disc One, but now that I know, I hit the set-up menu before starting to watch the programmes.

As I’d enjoyed the Andrew Marr programmes so much, I put Simon Schama’s A History Of Britain on a wish list a couple of years ago and it turned up as a present a month or so later.

I missed this completely when it was first shown on TV, but it’s proved that I wasn’t as much of a historical heathen as I thought I was, because I did remember a few things from my teenage years history lessons. The stories told, the locations and the quality of the location camera work all sank in and this, like Andrew Marr’s History Of The World could be getting another viewing next week.

Along with London The Modern Babylon, Julien Temple’s take on London since the dawn of the 20th century. The story is told using film and television footage from the archives along with specially shot interviews from those who were there (famous and not-so-famous names) and a soundtrack of familiar and unfamiliar songs that helps bind the tale together.

There’s also a great bit of sound editing too in a political story that always raises a smile – watch it and see if you can spot it!

The last of the history related DVDs is The Story Of India with Michael Wood. It’s a two disc set with all six programmes plus some bonus material. Yes, it’s been shown recently on Yesterday, but the story works best when it’s not interrupted by adverts or programme trailers. It’s also a good excuse to get a couple of curries in whilst watching it over two nights!

On a completely different note is The Illusionist, a wonderfully made animation from the director behind Belleville Rendez-vous. Yes, there’s an Edward Norton film with the same title, but this is from a screenplay by Jaques Tati which tells the story of an old-school entertainer who travels to Edinburgh.

Those who know Edinburgh well may recognise quite a few places that are onscreen. I certainly did in both this and the more recent telling of the story of Burke & Hare.

The Illusionist though is the one I ended up talking about when The Independent On Sunday stopped me one afternoon outside the BFI to ask whether I’d seen any movies that had captured the look and feel of a city. The first and only time I’ve been in the Sunday papers – which is more than could be said about a few politicians or celebrities!

When it comes to travelogues though, there’s one master of the art – Michael Palin. Most will be aware of his multi-part series shown on the BBC and The Travel Channel, but he also contributed to two programmes shown on the BBC in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Michael Palin’s Great Railway Journeys covers his 1980 trip from London to Kyle of Lochalsh and his 1994 trip from Derry/Londonderry to Dingle Bay in Kerry. Palin is as amiable as ever and both trips are worth watching when it’s a cold, wet and miserable night with either a glass of Drambuie or a glass of Jameson’s in hand.

If memory serves me right that 1994 series of Great Railway Journeys also featured a trip made on Chinese trains by Clive Anderson. I only saw it the once and haven’t seen it repeated or made available on DVD. Which is a shame really, because it was a pretty good programme!

If trains are your thing, there’s also a fine story available about the making of the steam locomotive Tornado. There’s two versions of the DVD out there, but the one I have is the longer one of the two at 103 minutes duration.

I’ve not been on Tornado yet, but I’ve seen it at both Corfe Castle and Swanage stations and yes, I’m going to save up my pennies in order to make a train journey on Tornado when I can. There is a certain irony though – Tornado was built a couple of minutes away from where I used to live in Darlington and I didn’t know what was going on, even though I passed the works around twice a day at one point!

There are also plans to head off to the Isle Of Man. As the famed Laxey Wheel is being worked on at the moment, I suspect that it may not be in 2015. Unless of course everything is being done to get the work done before the start of the tourist season and the famous TT Races.

TT Closer To The Edge is the last DVD that I’ll write about here. I knew next to nothing about bike racing or much about the Isle Of Man before buying this DVD, but there’s part of me now that wants to get over there to explore the island. Caroline’s been before and wants to return there, so she may well be my guide on that visit!

From what I’ve seen of the island, it is a place I want to go. I don’t have a bike licence so it will be exploring by bus, car or rail and it definitely won’t be at the same speed as some of the riders featured on TT Closer To The Edge.

Guy Martin and Conor Cummins survived their crashes in 2010 and have raced the Mountain Course since, but others haven’t been so lucky. Will Guy Martin win at least one TT next year? Here’s hoping, especially after it was confirmed yesterday that he’ll be riding BMW bikes in 2015!