The British pianist talks politics, blogs, bowler hats and trying his hand at composition.

Volcanic ash very nearly keeps me away from Stephen Hough.  At the last minute, a telephone operator finds a place on the Eurostar from Brussels, which I reach from Vienna via Munich, Stuttgart and Paris. The journey is less gruelling than many which hit the headlines in that week of travel chaos. One violinist travelled from Istanbul to Vienna via private jet and minibus; a Norwegian brass ensemble chartered a bus from Oslo to Madrid.

In all the excitement, I mix up the time of our interview, and catch a startled Hough in his dressing-gown when I ring the bell of his inner-city London terrace an hour too early.

He is remarkably gracious, waving me in past an improbably long row of RM Williams boots (one of the habits, along with flat whites, which he say help him to feel Australian).  Even my catastrophically impolite reference to Imelda Marcos does not deflect his good humour; many of the pairs, he says, belong to his partner.

Hough leaves me to set up and disappears up a narrow flight of stairs, returning after a comfortable pause...