Posted by: rogerdane | 5 April 2014

55 Days by Howard Brenton

This evening I was lucky enough to get to see the Lyric Theatre Belfast Drama Studio production of ’55 Days’ by Howard Brenton.

In a spirit of full disclosure I should add that I’m a huge fan of Howard Brenton and this play is another wonderful piece of his writing that neatly encapsulates the legal, political and ethical quandries of the characters and the events leading up to the execution of Charles I.

This production is presented in traverse with simple set elements at each end which evoke the high gothic architecture of parliament and also various simpler homes. The lighting design by James McFetridge combined with wonderful sound design by Chris Warner bring the whole scene to life in a really exciting way.

Philip Crawford’s direction constantly adds interest and uses the traverse staging to great effect and he marshals his young cast so that all the set changes are carried out with a precision that doesn’t slow down the action. All the cast do creditable work but special mention should be given to Micky Kelly’s superbly arrogant King Charles I and David Craig’s devout but conflicted Oliver Cromwell.

There are two performances on Saturday 5th April 2014 and I would advise all lovers of modern theatre to get down to the Lyric and experience this production. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and if your knowledge of the English Civil War is a little hazy you might just learn something as well.

Posted by: rogerdane | 3 September 2013

Doctor Faustus: Dancing in corridors of

Doctor Faustus: Dancing in corridors of hell – 3 days to get your tickets!

Posted by: rogerdane | 3 September 2013

Doctor Faustus: Dancing in corridors of

Doctor Faustus: Dancing in corridors of hell – 3 days to get your tickets!

Posted by: rogerdane | 30 June 2011

07/06/11 PyB Intro to Sea Kayaking – Day 2

Treaddur Bay (Courtesy of Google Earth)

Day 2 of the course dawned beautifully bright and sunny but breezy.

After breakfast we assembled in the lower car park at PyB along with Steve who was joining us again but we had acquired a new instructor, Adam, as Dave had been taken sick overnight and wasn’t up to the day.

The whole breezy thing was a little too extreme for going out on open sea but we headed off to Treaddur Bay on the South West corner of Anglesey.

The photos in the gallery below show how lovely the weather appears but don’t really show the wind, which was blowing  straight into the bay.  The give away indicator is that I managed to take hardly any shots from the water except for a couple of shots from behind the rocks you can see on the satellite image above.  You’ve got to love Google Earth!

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The morning was spent practicing up wind and downwind turns in surf.  This was interesting as it’s slightly counter intuitive to paddle backwards and complete what is effectively a three-point turn.

The Intro to Kayaking course had also chosen Treaddur for the day but after an hour or so decided that the conditions weren’t really suitable for complete novices and so decamped to the Menai Straits.  A number of capsizes probably hastened their decision 😉

We took our lunch on the small rock outcrop on the beach and then set off again.  The afternoon session mainly consisted of more work with the waves followed by a very enjoyable surf session.  I tried to get a couple of videos of the surfing with limited success as you can see below.

Looking back on these videos even a short time later it’s amazing how small the waves look compared to how they felt at the time.  Everything looks bigger when you’re actually on the water and when you’re as inexperienced as I am.  On reflection all my estimates of  conditions should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Altogether it was a very enjoyable day and we returned to PyB in high spirits. Perhaps the good mood was why I agreed to do a pool session that evening. In retrospect that was a mistake as I was knackered the next day but at the time it seemed like a good idea.  It was certainly fun 🙂  Some of the group wanted to get confidence with capsizing and the rest of us were practicing rescues.

Posted by: rogerdane | 23 June 2011

06/06/11 PyB Intro to Sea Kayaking – Day 1

Day 1 of PyB’s Introduction to Sea Kayaking course began bright and early with an opportunity to meet my room-mate who’d already arrived and gone to bed before I got back to the room.  Gerwyn was (probably still is) a Welshman from Brecon and a member of the Brecon Mountain Rescue.

Obviously there’s no smoking in the rooms at PyB and very few areas to escape for a smoke but the balcony outside the bar is one of those areas and this is the sight that greeted me as I sat awaiting breakfast.  Yes, that is Snowdon in the distance.

The view from the PyB balcony.

The view from the PyB balcony.

This view was almost as good as the full English breakfast that awaited us in the dining room 😉

I’m not going to go on about it but the food was uniformly excellent for every meal during the week and we were so hungry that everything got eaten at every meal.  Worth a special mention are the cakes that were served every day with afternoon tea.  PyB cakes are legendary and on a tough day the thought of returning to the centre for a mug of coffee and a big, sticky bun was all the encouragement that was needed to keep going.

The other daily ritual at breakfast was the collecting of the packed lunches.  Strictly two rolls, one packet of biscuits, one cake and one piece of fruit were all you were allowed.  They were, again, excellent and nobody was complaining about not having enough to eat.

After breakfast we had a centre briefing on the various do’s and don’ts and then met our instructor Dave and his assistant Steve in the bar for an initial chat.  Along with Gerwyn and myself there were three others on the course.  Sandy, Rachel and Diana.  Sandy, Gerwyn and me had done some sea kayaking before but Rachel and Diana were novices.

We didn’t spend too much time talking and headed straight down to the stores to pick up our kit.  As I had brought my kit this involved me standing and watching while everybody else got sized for cags, spray decks etc.  Then it was a quick change and down to the boat sheds to select our weapons for the week ahead.  PyB use P&Hplastic boats and have an exclusive deal with the company.  We pulled out various boats including Capellas, Scorpios and Delphins in different sizes and proceeded out on the water to try our selections.  We spent rest of the morning on the river by the boat house while Dave went through the basic strokes teaching some and checking the others ability.  Then we spent some time swapping boats and trying to work out what we would paddle that afternoon.  I’ve paddled plastic Capellas before and so spent most of my time in the Scorpio and Delphin.  With apologies to both P & H and those of my friends who own these kayaks I have to say I’m not a fan.  Both the Scorpio and Capella seem very big and heavy to me.  The Delphin felt a bit more nimble so that’s what I picked.

A relaxing lunch on the grass outside the centre and then we were off again.  We paddled on the lake this time which gave us a chance to stretch our arms and really try the cruising capabilities of our boats.  It was at this point that I realised that the Delphin was not the boat I was going to paddle all week.  For a sea kayak the Delphin is really manoeuvrable and I can see that the design would be good for surfing or playing but I found it was a bugger to acheive any sort of speed paddling in a straight line!  Not good for touring 😦  It was a good afternoon and as you can see from the photos the weather was gorgeous but paddling the different boats had firmed up my resolve to use my boat for the rest of the course.

We finished the afternoon off with a couple of hours in PyB’s rolling pool practicing  capsizes, rescues and recoveries.  I’d never done a paddle float recovery before and had been a little dismissive of the idea of them but having tried it a few times I’m happy to say that I was wrong.  The support the paddle float gives you makes recovery easier and for those that can’t roll is almost certainly the best way of getting back into your boat on your own.  I shall purchase a paddle float forthwith.

Day 1 ended with a briefing over tea and cakes, a good dinner and then a relaxed couple of pints in the bar.  Day 2 would up the ante somewhat!

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It’s here at last!  It seems ages since I booked this course back in January and so much has happened since then but now I finally get to load up and go back to Snowdonia for the first time in twenty odd years.

For readers of short attention spans I’ll warn you now that this would probably have been a novella sized post but I’ve decided to split it up into digestible chunks.  It’s taken me a little while to get down to actually writing it as I had to spend last week doing an Open University assignment but now I’ll try to get it written and to let you sample the experience. Enjoy!

Having been really busy the week before it was great to spend Saturday night with Neesy (my girlfriend) and have her there to send me off on the Sunday morning.  She also took some photographs!

The course literature from Plas y Brenin (PyB) did say that there was no need to bring your own boats but I thought that if I have them why not bring them along and so I loaded up and set off.  The road to Dublin from Belfast has improved out of sight within the last few years and so it was a simple drive south and, being early on a Sunday, almost no traffic.

 Somewhere around Newry was the point that I realised that the cigarette lighter in my car had given up the ghost and so all my electronics (iPhone, SatNav etc.) wouldn’t get recharged but as it turned out it was no great issue as there were plenty of opportunities to recharge on the boat.  ‘The Boat’ turned out to be the HSS Stena Explorer which was very comfortable, the two-hour journey passed very quickly.  Paying the little extra for priority boarding and a premium seat is highly recommended.

Getting to PyB from Holyhead is astonishingly simple.  Get on the A55 from the boat, change on to the A5 25 miles later and that takes you right into the heart of Capel Curig.  Turn left at the sign, drive 1/2 a mile and you’re there.

The last time I visited Snowdonia was with my parents on a summer holiday to Llandudno.  It is an amazing place.  The colour scheme seems almost exclusively the grey of the rocks and the green of the grass on the mountain slopes.  Even the llyns (lakes) in the valley seem green/grey.  The very first valley that I encountered took my breath away, so much so that I had to stop for a couple of photos and a video.

Arriving a PyB far too early to check in properly I went down to Betws y Coed to have a look round the many (MANY!) outdoor shops.  It’s quite intriguing to find a tourist trap town that rather than selling novelty teaspoons specialises in retailing ice axes and crampons!

Back at the centre I got my laptop hooked up to the centre WiFi in the bar and had dinner and a beer before checking in.  The rooms are functional and not luxurious as the point of them is merely to offer a place to sleep.  Although the ‘wet room’ bathroom was almost the same size as the bedroom.  Ideally designed for an activity centre in a mountain range where almost everybody will be getting wet and/or dirty at some point.

After a quiet pint and a chat with some of the other guests it was off to bed expecting an early start the next day.

Day 1 episode to follow.


Posted by: rogerdane | 21 June 2011

04/06/11 BKC Outdoor Pool Session

One of the purposes of this blog for me is to try to keep an exact record of all the paddling I do.  Consequently, this entry is purely to record that I went to the Belfast Kayak Club Outdoor Pool session at Millisle Lagoon on a bright but blustery Saturday morning.  There are no photos but I had a good session practicing basic skills in my Jefe Grande.

One point of interest was that as this was the first session I’ve been to with BKC I hadn’t realised the wide variety of members of the club.  There were a few families and a high proportion of female paddlers.  It is an acknowledgement of my ignorance but the mental cliché I had of all kayakers being young thrusting athletic chaps and crusty old sea dogs, almost exclusively male, was just plain wrong!  I like it when I’m wrong and the World displays a better state of affairs than that I’d expected 🙂

Posted by: rogerdane | 5 June 2011

BKC Knockinelder Sea Paddle – 03/06/11

“Knockinelder!  Where’s that?”

This would be a very understandable reaction to being told that it was the start point for another Belfast Kayak Club sea kayaking day trip.  I’d certainly never heard of Knockinelder before.  It turns out that Knockinelder is the name of a beach on the south-eastern corner of the Ards peninsular here in Northern Ireland.  Who knew?

Although I had heard about this proposed paddle beforehand I didn’t sign up until after the paddle with Tollymore on the Thursday evening.  Due to the slow-paced nature of our dander around Strangford (see earlier post) I was in better shape than I’d expected and so felt ready to do something a little more energetic a mere 12 hours later.

We met up at the Knockinelder beach car park and all got on to the water as fast as possible.  When I say ‘we’, I mean Alan Parkinson, Ernie Stewart, John Cunningham, Peter Bell and myself.

As you can see from the Runkeeper map ( the run out to South Rock is a three-mile paddle rounding Kearney Point and then following a North Easterly track.  You can see the old lighthouse from all down the south-east side of the Ards peninsular and so it was fascinating to actually get close to it.  I’ve discovered that the Commissioner of Irish Lights website has an exhaustive run down on the history of all the lighthouses around this island and and not repeat it I’ll just point you in that direction where you can learn all there is to know (  If I had read this piece before setting off then I might have had a better idea of what to expect.  Especially notable was the phrase ‘it remains the oldest waveswept rock lighthouse tower still standing’.  Waveswept is the key word here.  As we arrived at the lighthouse about six inches of the flat rock landing area was above water.  Fifteen minutes and one cup of coffee later it was a foot UNDER water!  Cue beating a hasty (but safe and controlled) retreat.

The next leg was a two-mile paddle almost due north to the beacon which marks North Rock.  The water was really smooth, the sun was brilliant and there was just enough breeze to keep us from frying.  I really spent this day trip trying to improve my forward paddling by turning my body into the stroke and using the core muscles and not just the arms.  With the weather and the peacefulness of the seas this became almost hypnotic and I loved the feeling of just propelling the boat through the water as efficiently as possible.  On reaching the beacon we found an enterprising seagull had taken up residence on the bowl type thingy on top, they do seem to get everywhere 🙂

Leg three was a two-mile stretch to the shore to find somewhere to have lunch, finally settling on a beach just south of a large caravan site.  Once again the Trangia came out and Alan cooked us some mean kippers.

In trying to document the ongoing trials and tribulations of tech use in sea kayaking you will notice that the Runkeeper track ends at this point.  In this case the culprit was the charge on my iPhone running out.  Now on this occasion I did start the trip with a full charge and so I can lay the blame purely on the phone.  Just over two hours with the app and GPS running seems to be its maximum which, honestly, is just a bit crap 😦

After lunch we made a slow dander back along the coast back to our starting point with the other guys indulging themselves with a bit of rockhopping.  I had a brief foray into this but every time I saw an underwater rock getting close all I could hear screaming through the back of my head was “MY GEL COAT, MY GEL COAT”!  Not for me I’m afraid until I get a plastic boat.  The trip back down the coast took another hour and so we ended up being on the water for about three and a half hours and covering just over ten miles. 

I have to say the company was excellent as ever and with the bonus of beautiful weather and conditions it’s been my favourite trip so far 🙂 

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Posted by: rogerdane | 3 June 2011

Tollymore Strangford Lough Paddle – 02/06/11

Back in January when I had decided that the time had come to really take up kayaking again I had a day free midweek and took a run down to Tollymore National Outdoor Centre (  At that time I hadn’t managed to hook up with Belfast Kayak Club ( and wasn’t sure who I was going to be paddling with.  When I heard that Tollymore ran evening sea kayaking trips during the summer I signed up for a series of four.  Now originally these were meant to fall in May but due to the pressure of rehearsals and performances for two separate theatrical productions it just wasn’t happening so I put them off until June.

Yesterday was the day that I finally managed to get out and after meeting up at Balloo House in Killinchy at seven o’clock we drove down to Whiterocks.  The paddle was led by Oisin from Tollymore ably assisted by Johnny and after issuing kit to those who needed it and a briefing it was off onto the water.

The weather had been beautiful all day and thankfully it carried on throughout the evening.  Evening sunshine and a flat calm lough meant the conditions were idyllic and led to a wonderful paddle.  You can see this from the pictures that we had plenty of time to stop and look at the wildlife but unfortunately the one seal that we met decided to bugger off just as I was ready to take a picture.  Altogether it was a lovely trip with great leaders and friendly company and I’m looking forward to two weeks time when I can do it again.

For those who’ve read the rest of this blog you’ll know that I get so excited about getting going that I often forget to use some of the tech that I bring with me.  This evening was no exception.  Doh!  I did however manage to remember to set up my iPhone so that I have a Runkeeper track of the paddle home from our mid-trip break which can be found at

This evening because of the benign conditions I decided to use my Werner Kalliste paddle (  The one time I’ve used this paddle before was on one of my sorties around the bay and I hadn’t liked it very much.  However with the gentle conditions I decided to give it another longer try.  This time I found it very comfortable to paddle with.  Oisin picked me up on my stroke technique and after moving to a stroke with the proper body rotation it became even easier and seemed to produce much more power.  Although I’ve yet to try it out for this purpose I would imagine that this would be a very good paddle for covering long distances comfortably.  My one minor quibble is that I still haven’t as much confidence in it for bracing as I have with my Werner Ikelos (  However, I think this is down to me and my level of ability and not the paddle itself.  We’ll see.

Next up is a sea paddle tomorrow morning with BKC leaving Knockinelder at 09:30 so I’d better get to bed.

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Posted by: rogerdane | 31 May 2011

BKC 1* Kayaking Course – 30/05/11

As I’ve mentioned before almost all my technical ability in a kayak has been washed away by the passage of time and so when Belfast Kayak Club announced a six-week 1* kayak course I thought it would be a good idea to take part.

The first session happened last night at Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast.  Being me I didn’t read the, admittedly confusing, forum post correctly and managed to turn up at 5 o’clock and not 7!  Luckily some of the BKC folks were out doing a 2* canoe course and rather than leave me standing on the bank they (very) kindly gave me a boat and some rudimentary instruction in getting the thing to go in a straight line.  Thanks very much guys I enjoyed it immensely 🙂

Eventually 7 o’clock came round and the kayak course itself started.  With 7 or 8 students and 2 instructors we had a nice group and were taken through the basics of starting, stopping, going in a straight line (forwards and backwards), low braces and  low brace turns.  I have to say I enjoyed the session a great deal as the guys on the course were friendly and both instructors were very good.  Unfortunately I’m going to miss next weeks session as I’ll be in Plas-y-brenin ( on a sea kayaking course but I’m really looking forward to getting back to this the week after.

This was the first time that I had used my Liquid Logic Jefe Grande ( creek boat.  In terms of size and comfort it is brilliant.  The handling is unlike any other kayak I’ve ever been in as due the flat rocker it turns very flat and very fast.  It doesn’t seem to want to carve into turns but it’s entirely possible that I’ve yet to have enough confidence to edge into them properly.

Next up is a sea kayaking evening trip with Tollymore mountain centre ( on Strangford Lough.

For the record I didn’t take any photographs of this session as I was too busy enjoying myself 🙂

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