SNV30239

SNV30239

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Days


The cottage is bursting at the seams .With people, presents and food. It's been great having all my children back here for Christmas  - the first time we've been all together for four years. And there's been one extra...my daughter's lovely boyfriend.

There's been lots of sitting around the kitchen table and the dining room table, talking ten to the dozen, laughing lots, eating greedily , and drinking our way through quite a few bottle of prosecco and Little Creatures Pale Ale, a beer all the way from Fremantle in Western Australia. Both drinks evoking sunshine and hot days....both nowhere to be seen in our northern hemisphere Christmas.

Instead we've cosied up indoors on sofas and chairs and Boo has entered into the spirit of the season ..but she wasn't sure about the reindeer ears....



Santa's hat was a hit though...it was warm and cosy.....



And it seems as Boo has learnt to pose for the camera......"OK, this is my serious look....."





"Or perhaps you want a side shot? Ok then...is this cute enough?"



But with all the excitement, all the laughs, noise and brouhaha of her first Christmas,  it was all too much for my little doggie diva



I hope you all had a good Christmas too.....

 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Nativity days and plays

There's something about a child with a tea towel wrapped around his head. It gets me every time ...that innocence, that excitement ...as once again the school nativity play is performed.

I watch a nativity, and I have a lump in my throat, remembering my own childhood.....the dizzying heights of playing the Virgin Mary once after paying my my dues for years as a shepherd... remembering my three, playing angels, stars, a chicken.... yes, a chicken and a shepherd . Such wonderful pictures in my mind, such pride as I watched them all every year....and such magic as the age old story is told .

But some parents simply don't get the chance to watch their children perform in the school nativity play. I'm thinking about parents at Edith Weston Primary School in Rutland. Many of them won't be able to watch because they're in the army, stationed as far away as Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands.

I went to the school last week to watch the dress rehearsal...to record some of the play and to hear how the children miss their mums and dads at this important time of year.





Luckily, this year, a bunch of volunteers from the amateur film making group, the Leicester Movie Makers,were there to record the special day, a behind the scenes look at the putting on of the school nativity play.

And there was plenty going on behind the scenes...from little one who literally wet himself with excitement to the teacher who shouted "put some smiles on your faces, and fingers out of noses please!"

A teensy bit of tinsel can make anyone feel like a little angel,....

 
 
whereas playing an elf can make anyone feel a little jolly and mischievous

 
 
But no matter  what part you play, it's hard when your mum or dad can't be there to watch you perform.....and that's why the dvd being made is so important. Copies are being sent out to far flung parts of the world  so that some of  our serving personnel away from home won't miss out on their children's special day, and they 'll be able to talk to them about what happened when they next skype each other.

Click here to hear some of the children...warning ...hanky alert!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p012k8wk

As I said earlier, watching any nativity play brings  a lump to my throat ...but this one, this year , brought tears to my eyes too. Those children won't have their parents at home this Christmas, they're so far away. For now.


Today's track is the beautiful, the emotional "So far away" ...I've always admired Carole King and James Taylor...and this is such a fine version from the 1970s.

....

 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

the missing days

Hello again....after nearly a month of being missing in action ...

So where have I been? Was I sailing the seven seas in the sunshine? On a cruise ship like I used to? No. Unfortunately not.

Was I having a mid life crisis? No.Thankfully not.

Was I overworked and underpaid. Yes, for some of that time.

So where was I?

Well for a good two weeks I was laid low with an infection. I was already feeling unwell  on Children in Need Day, the day of my last post. But, like most women of a certain age, I soldiered on, telling myself it's nothing, just carry on as usual.

Doctors appointments and antibiotics (which I try and avoid like the plague) followed. I was resistant to the first lot and the second lot weren't strong enough, not upto the job. By this time I wasn't upto any job of any sort... work for once, was out of the question.

The doctor said he needed to get the big guns out. He did....and they not only blasted out the infection, they destroyed my energy levels and more besides. Still, I'm back in the land of living, not six feet under - a real bonus ,having read the lists of side effects on each different antibiotic, and experienced a few of them.

Still, I missed the most wonderful wedding....of Rob and Mel. To say I was annoyed was an understatement. I laid on the sofa under a quilt, feverish and shivering, while they walked down the aisle in what everyone tells me was the most magical wedding on a private country estate in Somerset.

I knew Mel would look beautiful...she could wear a black plastic bag and look stylishly stunning. But look what I missed....she took Mr thinking of the days' breath away



They really are a lovely couple..

Since then, the last few weeks have disappeared in a busy blur of work, and .....drum roll....
 the return of the boy, who's back from Australia! it was so wonderful to be able to hug him close instead of blowing kisses on skype.

I think it's fair to say he's had a fantastic two years out there, especially during the last months, sailing in the Whitsundays, skydiving, scuba diving and generally having a blast. Here he is with his friend Lucy....



 
Since he's been back, he can't get over how cold, how dark and grey Britain is. I wonder how long he'll stay for?

One thing we have got in this country though is a brilliant music scene...and it was great to go together to Lock 42 , a great little venue to see a favourite band whose music is always being played in this cottage.






Of course the other social highlight of the last few weeks was the works Christmas do......and this year was incident and scandal free....which makes a change.

But the amazing Ben Stones...aka my technical bitch who I couldn't do without in the newsroom,  was wearing my intiials on his chest...and I still haven't found out why....




Anyway, normal Thinking of the Days service will be resumed from now on....in the meantime, I'll leave you with this ...from Foals....it's called Blue Blood

 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leicester Market Winter Food & Craft Festival



 
I love Leicester Market....there's an eight hundred year old history and tradition here.....as well as a great atmosphere most days of the week. The market place is bustling, alive with stalls packed full of produce and the sounds of the traders shouting out the prices of the fruit and vegetables from every corner of the world.
 
But everything changes on Sundays when every stall is empty, there's a neglected air about the place...and it seems such a shame.
 
That's why it was such a pleasure to go the Winter Food and Craft Festival there the other Sunday.
It was busy, over a hundred stallholders selling street food, delicacies and drinks to hundreds of visitors.
 
I could smell the market before I turned the corner in the square.....huge vats of food were being cooked...from Chinese, Mexican, Indian and Taiwanese
 

 
 
 
to Italian.....and I have to say the Squisito sausages were delicious......just the right amount of fat and spice. They may be an italian recipe but the pork shoulder is from a farm on the Leicestershire border and they're made at Monks Kirby by Alex Chambers , a charcutier and leader of the Slow Food Movement in Warwickshire.
 
 
 
Sarah is bubbly and enthusiastic....she makes lots of lovely foods including ice cream, and runs a supper club at her home. It was worth going to this event just to meet her and find out what she is doing.


The other find of the day for me was meeting up with  Lucy Heath who, along with her husband and son, make  traditional, artisan, cloth bound Staffordshire and Derby cheese on their farm in Sataffordshire.They've about two hundred and fifty cows on three hundred acres.  I bought some of their Bertelin blue seen in the picture below. What a mistake - I just didn't buy enough....it's so creamy and has a real delicate flavour...I had one sliver but the cheesaholics in the family devoured the rest before I had a chance to eat more. If you come across this cheese, do try and buy!




There were quite a few preserve stalls including this one from Stamford...




Tom Fothergill and his team were there from Entropy, the restaurant from the West End of Leicester which is rightly winning lots of praise, but they were so busy on the stall I didn't get a moment to take a decent photo of them all. These birds on the stall weren't moving though.....and it was good to stand and read what seasonal dishes are on the menu this month.....mouthwatering stuff.


 
 
 
A few stallholders were selling beer.....Long Lane Brewery from Coalville  was one of them.Now this is a small microbrewery owned by Anne and Ian Saunders.... Mondays is when they make their beer...and they've obviously got a loyal following...by 2.30pm there were only a few bottle left....
 
 
 
 



A small brewery from across the border in Staffordshire were also present....with bottles of beer designed for the Christmas market....and yes I have someone in mind for the two bottles on the right and in the centre of this photo!



But back to the food...this lovely young couple were busy cooking up batches of  fried chicken in the tiniest little fryer....and tasty it was too....was that really cinammon in the chicken coating ?








No market would be complete without the stalwart members who work so hard at the County Markets...traditional cakes, loaves and produce from around Leicestershire and Rutland. The thick pale honey I bought from the stall from Keyham has a great flavour..


 
 
One of the busiest stalls was this one selling jerk chicken, goat curry and a whole range of hot dishes that were tempting many.....
 
 
 
But it was time to leave while I could still carry all my purchases..... but wait, perhaps a quick coffee first?
 


It was so good to see so many different stallholders standing on Leicester Market - especially on a Sunday - bringing warmth,  life and colour to such a historic square.....here's to the next one....




 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Children in Need day

Yesterday was interesting, if not slightly surreal. When I arrived in the newsroom, I could see my friend Jo reading the news. Nothing unusual about that you might say. That's true, but she was wearing pjamas.

So was the breakfast presenter Jonathan, Emily his producer was wearing a pink onesie, and sports journalist Dan wore a bright orange little number. . The News Editor turned up minutes later in a fetching pair of pink pjamas  and in fact most of the staff at BBC Leicester wore their nightwear to work .


Even our faith producer Dr John Florance took part....



They were raising money for Children in Need Day. It's an institution here in the UK, when the BBC led campaign fundraises for children . Six hundred and fifty million pounds has been raised for children whether they're ill, have been abused, or are  carers for their parents for example. Children in Need funds hospice care, playworkers, support workers , helps disadvantaged children have their first holiday, and at night on BBC 1 celebrities, sing, dance and do all sorts of silly stuff to help swell the coffers.

Back to the pjamas first though....I was not wearing any. I  was wrapped up in many layers of clothing because I was off out in the radio car all day,to do lots of interviews at different locations around the county to see what daft or different things people were doing to raise money.


First stop was a bitterly cold Mallory Park, a famous racetrack where superbikes and fast cars are normally screeching around the track accompanied by the smell of fuel and testosterone to the roars of thousands of specatators.

 But there was a completly different vibe ....the place was virtually deserted and quiet. So quiet it was quite eerie under the low grey skies. But I was there to meet Graham Buckingham and his son Lawrence who'd organised a bike ride in which  pedal power took over from motor mania.

When I was there, cyclists were beginning to arrive from everywhere...one called Rob (in the photo) had cycled from Nottingham, was going to do 24 one mile laps around the track, and then cycle off home.A hundred mile trip...and he only began  cycling in earnest  as a result of being inspired by the 2012 London Olympics!















Meanwhile Lawrence Buckingham was going to be doing a night ride with some of his friends around the track in the dark....how spooky....and they're on track to raise three thousand pounds.Marvellous....

If I was cold at Mallory Park , then Louise Moore in Birstall was frozen. She had been persuaded by her bosses to sit in a bath of baked beans for about five hours.


She's a trainee design engineer for a house building company- unfortunately the bath wasn't in a lovely new showhome as I expected...it was in an open fronted  garage. The poor girl was shivering as we did our live interview....but very upbeat about the thousand pounds she'd already raised by lunchtime.

How many tines of baked beans did it take to fill the bath? Three hundred and fifty apparently......and the smell of all those beans was quite pungent.

 Then it was over to East Midlands Airport...to DHL Express. Now this is a company which really goes to town  for Children in Need. Staff at their call centre had devsised lots of activities to get money....there were the obvious ones such as making cakes, paying to wear outrageous costumes as they worked, but then there were a few fiendish plans....Gunk the manager being one of them.



 Each team kept putting money in -if they raised a hundred and twenty pounds, then their manager had to be gunked. And when I say gunked, have a look at this....




Poor Lynn....the gunk was a revolting concoction of custard, , rice pudding, tomato sauce and a few other ingredients.

While she was getting showered and changed afterwards, three of the managers were being paid to do gangnam style dancing, and some other managers were having bits of their anaatomy being spray tanned if their workers paid enough. One guy had been done three times and had the most flurescent orange legs I've ever seen...that's one fake tan which will last until next summer I reckon.

The staff there weren't just doing the day job though. At 7pm they started in earnest taking all the calls promising pledges of money as Children in Need Night began on television.....others were coming from DHL centres all over the country to help do long shifts.....everyone volunteering to do it free of charge. That's what I call commitment to a good cause........

I was at Conkers in the heart of the National Forest for the last three interviews....this is where a major outside broadcast was taking place later in the evening. There's one hundred and twenty acres to explore there....but it was so dank and gloomy outside by 3.30pm, I was  grateful that all my interviews were to be done inside at the visitor centre.

A ninety strong choir of eight to ten year olds from three different schools in three different counties  were going to be singing Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Waters as well as lots more. I'd already interviewed members of the Donisthorpe Primary School Choir so it was lovely to talk to them again.





They sang beautifully at the technical rehearsal....and looked little angels...some of us were smiling and choking back tears....then it was teatime, and the noise as they tucked in was immense...




Meanwhile I was interviewing Anne Davies, a presenter on East Midlands Today, who was hosting the evening. She's such a pro...was lovely with the children..really enthusiastic...one minute she was sat in a corner, hair in rollers, doing another live interview with Radio 2's Simon Mayo, the next minute looking impossibly glam in her dressing area......whereas I was not!




Anyway, it was so good to meet so many lovely people....all doing incredible things to help others....raising  over twenty six million pounds in one day, with more to come. Think how much much hope and support that will give  to thousands of children around the country. A beautiful day....

Today's track is called just that  -"A beautiful day" by India Arie....a wonderful singer songwriter ...one day I'll tell you why another of her songs is forever etched in my memory.....,



 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

a day of cooking the books...

 
Cooking the books? Who me? No, I've not been doing any creative accounting......I've been to London this week to visit my favourite  bookshop (apart from the Kibworth Bookshop mentioned here  http://thinkingofthedays.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/days-of-mooching-about-in-bookshops.html)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is the bookshop that really  does cook the  books...every day in a test kitchen at the back of the shop.....and each time I visit I feel like one of Pavlov's dogs.  He was the behaviour theorist who realised that dogs could be trained to recognise that food was coming. A ring of the bell and they started salivating.
 
I'm like that, I start drooling as soon as I walk into Books for Cooks...always. The sight and smell  of over eight thousand brand new books about food....culinary memoirs, recipe books , the history of food....I'm in heaven.
 
 




 
 
Mind you there's enticing aromas coming from the back of the shop too..... wafting their way along the bookshelves.....
 
 
 
 
There's nothing more exciting than finding a really nice new recipe.....especially if someone has already tested it for you....and that's what happens here...every day, dishes from some of the thousands of books in stock are created. This time, they are...



 
 
 
 
 
Lunch service starts promptly at 12 noon..we are already sitting down. The laksa arrives...fragrant, with a freshness and zing about it, and we decide to order a glass of wine . Eric Treuille the joint owner arrives with a bottle of Cahors from his own biodynamic vineyard in France.
 
 

 
 
 
"It is cheaper this way"he says in an oh so sexy French accent and puts the bottle on the table. We look at each other....it's still very early...a bottle? But he's so charming, and we have the collective willpower of a band of vampires at a local blood bank. The bottle is polished off pronto.
We're enjoying ourselves , especially when bowls of the slow roasted pork with plum sauce and rice are put on the table.
 
Noisy "Oohs, aahs "and gasps of pleasure puncture the air -moist  pieces of pork with spicy rich plummy sauce are hitting the spot. It sounds as if we're auditioning to do voiceovers for a porn film.
 
 Then Laura and I watch in amusement as Suzie determinedly attacks the chocolate and sour cream peanut cake. She's concentrating, hardly speaking until the last mouthful. "That's really good" she says...high praise indeed from a laconic northerner.
 
 
 
 
 
By now there's quite a queue of people waiting to eat...Eric is expertly weaving his way around the tables, the queue, chatting away with everyone. It's buzzy and the place is packed so we make our way over to the till to pay for lunch and the books we've bought. Rachel takes our money...she's an American who arrived in London with her partner eight months ago. She came into the shop within days of being here and promptly asked for a job.
 

 

 

But that happens a lot at Books for Cooks apparently. Years ago Rosie Kindersley walked in, and Heidi the then owner offered her a job on the spot. Then Eric walked in one day and ...well, let's just say he didn't only get the job! He and Rosie hooked up, they bought the bookshsop and the rest is history.
 
Books for Cooks isn't just a bookshop..for me it's a foodie heaven. There's a passion, a warm welcome....there's cookery workshops upstairs..( I'd love to get to one of those soon) plus a series of adorable paperbacks containing all the favourite recipes tested in the kitchens....recipes that work and that are firm favourites of mine.
 
 
 
 
I can't wait to return......more details from here....http://www.booksforcooks.com/
 
To my other passion now, music. Today's track is nothing to with food, meals, or bookshops....it's what I'm listening to at this very moment ...such an under rated band,...Minus the Bear with Throwing shapes....
 
I love this song....reminding me of sunny days and sultry nights in Cottesloe, Western Australia.....a soundtrack to a magical time.....
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Flashmob days.....


I'm walking through Castle Gardens, a little park in the heart of the city.It's lunchtime, and as I make my way towards the banks of the River Soar, I can hear the distant sounds  of a song dragging me  screaming back to the eighties.

Turning a corner , I'm confronted by a thousand people in front of a stage.




Many are wearing blonde wigs....some of the men look like the tartiest transvestites around. Think Sean Bean in his latest television appearance.

There are cheerleaders with impossibly long ,fake tanned legs, in very short shorts.



 There are big butch security men ,




lots of students, and they're all dancing.




And here's more on stage with blond wigs.....these are the top bods at the university...




And there's more and more of them....





all lip synching and performing moves like the Mobot to Bonnie Tyler blasting  out...."Holding out for a hero". I hated that song back then and I haven't changed my mind all these years later.

But let's not be churlish. The wig wearers and hyperactive dancers are all there for a very good cause.It's a lip synching flashmob, all there to raise money for two exceptionally good causes -. LOROS, the wonderful hospice in Leicester where my mother in law died, and PROSTAID, which raises funds for research and treatment for men with prostate cancer.

The flashmob is the brainchild of the charismatic Dominic Shellard, who's Vice Chancellor of De Montfort University. He throws himself into his role with gusto.......


 
 
 
 
But it's not just a flashmob...there's a film being made with a back story and some sort of a plot....which involves my mate Jonathan Lampon from work, some Leicester Tigers players (well, hello...), Leicestershire cricketers  and Alan Birchenall, all round good egg, and local footballing leg end .


Why is Jonathan hiding...and not in the limelight for once?? Oh...it 's all part of the act...? Mind you,  with a blond wig like that, I'd be holding it and in hiding too....



 
 
 
The atmosphere is great... seeing so many people lip synching, dancing together ,and having such bloody fun on a Wednesday lunchtime and raising thousands of pounds for charity is heartwarming, life affirming. I can't wait to see the video ....






But after an hour of dear old Bonnie belting  out  from the speakers, just don't, and I repeat don't   .... sing, whistle, or even hum the tune to "Holding out for a hero "near me in the next few weeks. I may not be responsible for my actions.

Today's track is NOT a Bonnie Tyler one. Appropriate as it would be....I don't think so....

Instead...what about "Heroes" by the Wallflowers? I really like their version of the Bowie classic.....