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Monday, 28 December 2015

Days of the visiting dogs at Christmas

The build up, the preparations, the present buying, making the beds, the cooking, the fun....Christmas has come and gone in a flash. We've all had a thoroughly good time - all seven humans and four dogs.

Of course the dogs don't know it's Christmas, but Boo, as top dog in the house, knows when something is going on. She recognised excitement in the air when the postman delivered more cards and parcels  than usual, and the fridge was full of tasty treats.

Then Winnie, my son's dog came to stay while he spent Christmas in Australia. She's the smallest one of all....

And there was unrestrained joy and frenzied excitement when Eric's brother came to stay. Rudi is the  one on  the left, a lovely social chap  just like Eric, but a bit more lively than his more serious brother..

And here they are altogether in this picture taken by my daughter Lucy. She can get them to pose brilliantly....
 Boo, her two sons and little Winnie. Having them all around has reminded me of Christmases past, when my children were small. The rough and tumble, the constant wanting to go outdoors to play,  the jockeying for prime positions on laps in front of the fire or the telly, and the ability of dogs and little children to just fall in a heap and sleep anywhere when they are really tired.

And all children and dogs need a good walk every day, come rain , come shine, to blow the cobwebs away. Mind you, so do the adults.

It has been so good to have them all here...they get on so well together. But this afternoon, Rudi had to go back down to Southsea with Lucy and the hairy husband.

I really didn't want to say goodbye to any of them, but I couldn't help laughing as they posed for on last photo. "Smile" I called out. Even Rudi obliged....

It suddenly seemed awfully quiet after they had gone, so it was an ideal time for the remaining three dogs and I to have a little nap on the sofa. We all needed one but I couldn't help but think how lovely it would be to have four dogs living here permanently.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

In the quiet of the day at Christmas

For the last four mornings I've been getting up early. So many things to think about before 7am but here's my thinking place in the kitchen.

 I sit here with a cup of coffee and the three dogs…Boo, Eric and Winnie ( who has come to stay for Christmas while my elder son spends Christmas in Australia.)
I love the early morning quietness before the rest of the house wakes up. The last few days have been very busy... my last day of work, carol singing around our village , followed by mulled wine , sausage rolls and mince pies , a get together and carols on Christmas Eve at the golf club, that last trip to the farm shop for the vegetables .

Even though its before dawn , I've been cooking or preparing food at this time. On Christmas Eve, I'd made a banana cake , today there's a huge gammon bubbling away in coca cola , in readiness for a big meal tonight.
My darling daughter and her hairy husband are on their way up from Southsea as I write this...their car is packed with presents, and their dog Rudi. It's going to be a full house for a few days adults , four dogs  - just as I love it.  Mama ((my mum) is here, two of my children,  and tonight we shall just celebrate being together, and thinking of those who can't be with us.

 There will be lots of laughter and  bottles of prosecco , and lots of stories to tell around the candle lit table.
 Mama will have us in hysterics just like she did last night at our Christmas dinner. Mama said she was looking forward to watching Downtown Abbey on telly, the last ever episode. "I shall miss it so much" she said "I've really got the hots for Hugh Bonney what's his name"
Mama is 86 next week. I want to be like her when I grow up.
In the meantime, there's time for another cup of coffee in the quietness before the others stir...
I hope you've all had  a Happy Christmas like we have, and Happy Boxing Day!


Friday, 18 December 2015

Days of an award winning garden

There's a garden I walk by, walk through, sit in to chat, to think, to get some fresh air at lunchtime. It's paces away from where I work,  and unlike my favourite gardens which have developed and blossomed over many years, this is a brand spanking new one.

The Leicester Cathedral Gardens were opened last year just in time for this year's re interment of Richard III although plans for the space were already afoot at least five years before.

Before last year the area in front of the cathedral was a closed graveyard. And when I say closed, it was a gloomy space, with tall, dark tombstones, trees casting lots of shade and somewhere where I never wanted to linger. Frequently there was the smell of marijuana from some of the dealers who
loitered around, and I always used to walk quickly through.

And the adjoining space was the concrete car park for the old Leicester Grammar School. But when the school moved, the Diocese of Leicester bought the property, transformed it into St Martins House, and there was the chance to amalgamate the land and transform it into a vibrant public garden.

There's still some gravestones, but there's now lawns, a water feature, trees and flowerbeds.

Here's the walkway to St Martins House, planted with spring tulips, in the summer there's white and blue perennials and lavender...

It's a carefully laid out green space in the centre of the city with plenty of seating on benches, on raised blocks

and when it's dry lots of people sit on the lawn in the sunshine

And there's "Towards Stillness," a piece of art specially commissioned to show the story of Richard III's time in Leicester from he time of his death in 1485 to his discovery in the car park just opposite in 2013.


The statue of Richard III has also been relocated to this garden from its previous location in Castle gardens.....within sight of the new Richard III Visitor Centre.

But this is not just a garden for sitting in and wandering through. It can actually sit 800 people for outdoor acts of worship, for concerts, and it really is coming to life and into its own. It's cost £2.5 million which initially made some splutter and some peoples eyes water . But the project was joint funded by both local money and grants coming from Europe.

Yesterday the Cathedral Garden received an early Christmas present - a big national award from the British Association of Landscape Industries  ....and was named as the overall winner in the category for Restoration and Regeneration Schemes.

I'm pleased that the quality and design of the garden is being recognised. The dark, somewhat sinister spaces of yesterday have been transformed into a light, open garden to be enjoyed by everyone , and I look forward to watching the planting schemes mature as I sit , think and watch there during the coming months.

Friday, 11 December 2015

A few days when it's beginning to feel alot like Christmas

Last year I had lost my Christmas mojo...that inner glow I get every December.
It  wasn't until a day of two Christmas carol services at two very different churches, that the true spirit of Christmas came flooding back.
But this year, the glow has returned earlier than last year I'm pleased to say!
It began two weeks ago, when I went to Anne -Louise's house one evening for a pre Christmas pop in to buy a few little bits and pieces. She is a floral designer and  has her own company, No 10-Flowers. She's so creative.....

Her displays in her kitchen not only looked beautiful, they smelt divine...with the scents of hyacinths, cinnamon and oranges all around

And there's something about mulled wine and mince pies which immediately conjure up Christmas, especially when it's the first mince pie of the season...

I bought some lovely home made gift tags and Christmas bunting and after deliberating about a wreath for the front door, I left there with a smile and a feeling that I had started Christmas.

I wrote most of the cards by the fire last weekend....

In Uppingham to record some interviews this week,  I smiled as I spied this lovely little Christmas display in a tiny wool shop - a woollen interpretation of the song "The twelve days of Christmas. "

And then yesterday I joined the others from our children's book group gang at Debbie's house

And there they are...left to right Alex Gutteridge, who's had 14 books published, Pippa Goodhart with a mighty, whopping total of 100 books published or in production,  Josephine Feeny, with 12 books to her credit, Ros Adam who's written four books and Debbie White who has published 12.

What a bright and clever bunch they are, and we had a super, bring and share lunch, with lots of laughter, books and publishing gossip, a chat about Christmas, exchanging Christmas cards and then plans for our meet ups and workshops in the New Year.


So there you have it, a few days which have made me feel I'm feeling Christmassy! There's my two favourite Carol concerts to go to on Sunday, and I'm even doing fairly well on the Christmas present buying front.That's not to say there won't be any last minute panic though.

As the little ones count how many sleep until Christmas, I'm counting my blessings. I'm spending the days over Christmas with those I love.  There'll be a house full, food and drinks, giggles, noise, long walks with all of the dogs and time spent relaxing.

And that's all I want for I'm in the mood.


Friday, 4 December 2015

A day in a time warp with buttons

A week ago I was having lunch with my book writer friends. We meet twice a month...this time it was at Alex's house. She writes for both children and adults and I love her work - you can find out about her work here..

As I was leaving,  her husband Michael came home and told me how he was clearing the old family firm's premises in the centre of Leicester ready for a move to a smaller site nearby.

I pricked up my ears...Michael's grandfather  started WN Gutteridge  back in 1922 on a busy street alive with factories making knitwear and clothing which was sent worldwide. It was a haberdashery and trimmings firm which imported buttons from all over the world, then dyed them on the premises and sold them to the many textile firms in Leicester.

The old place had been sold, so Michael and his brother and fellow director Chris were having to  downsize - and it's not easy clearing nearly a hundred years of history and thousands of boxes of buttons.

Now this was a story, so on Monday I went down to interview Michael and Chris ...

I was in for a was like going back into a time warp. Four floors of history, where the echoes and ghosts of the past were very evident.

And there were boxes and boxes of buttons everywhere

And down in the basements, there were thousands of boxes of them, all extra stock from years gone by.

Boxes of buttons such as these pink rosebuds from the 50s and 60s....

Thousands of different flower buttons of different colours

Heart shaped buttons

And  many more buttons from the Philippines with a transluscent sheen, each one so individual. They were beautiful, and later in Michael's office he showed me how the buttons were made from the shells....

But there were more buttons to see, blingy buttons to go with the huge shoulder pads of the 80s, toggles, wooden buttons, buttons saying Winnie the Pooh,fabric covered buttons - you name it, they were there.

And then I was taken to the dying room where all the buttons are transformed....and to the button polisher which buffed them all to a shine.

Michael and Chris have a mammoth task on their hands....rattling around this huge, Victorian factory
where their grandfather and father worked too. At one time there were nearly forty employees, and they told me wonderful stories of how they were brought here as children, sneaking into the tiny goods lift and riding up and down for hours, how there were open fires in the offices...where one of the secretaries would make crumpets ....

But back to the buttons, which were no longer needed and needed to be disposed story was broadcast on Tuesday, and by the time I got to the newsroom, there were emails and phone calls from collectors, artists and charities who all wanted some of them.

 Meanwhile I had been given a few as a memento of my visit which I will treasure. Back home,  I put them on a piece of slate to look at, which brought back memories of my childhood When I was a child on a quiet rainy afternoon I'd sit at the table moving the buttons around a tray, making shapes and button pictures.

Why not listen to a clip from my story about the buttons'll be able to find out what buttons were originally made from...items that I would never have thought of! Not in a million years.....

Click below

Friday, 27 November 2015

A day at the BBC Good Food Show Winter 2015

Well, what a day at the BBC Good Food Show Winter 2015 at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday... a day of food, glorious food. A day of watching the celebrity chefs, a day of fervent food tasting, people watching, present buying...all human life and foodie temptations are there.
There's hundreds of stalls - some large, some small and some quite beautifully staged and arranged that draw you there....
For example The Port of Lancaster Smokehouse

and The Garlic Farm from the Isle of Wight. I just had to buy some garlic to plant in January. I did taste a few garlicky sauces too...which were lovely but thank goodness, I was prepared . I had a tube of my mints in my bag.


Some stands attracted me because of the sheer beauty of their Merangz.

And this one, Patchwork Cutters...where a woman was decorating the most beautiful cakes
Whereas other stands caught my eye because of their name.

No, I didn't have a slug of  the sloe gin, it was before midday....but many others were knocking back the gin, prosecco, wines, cocktails, and other fairly lethal looking concoctions with gusto all day.

It's always good fun to people watch at the Good Food see those whose eyes dart here and there, their antennae on full alert as they spy free samples. In they dive, elbowing others out of the way...before moving on to the next stand.

In one hall, the World Of Cheese Awards were taking place , and I spent a fascinating ten minutes watching the judges deliberations. With around 2,500 cheese to taste, it was a slow process. Everything was tasted in a very considered manner, with nods if liked, slight shakes of the head if not, and of course there was some conferring.

The general public wasn't allowed into the area during the judging, but if I'd have stayed there any longer I would have jumped the safety barrier , fought my way in and grabbed a few of the cheeses myself. And I would have had to question the judges.

 This weekend though, you can book a cheese tour  around the judging tables and there are lots of cheese talks too.

Luckily there were plenty of cheese stands to buy from yesterday
It's so encouraging to see so many local producers of fine foods there, to see someone new, and to find new tastes and flavours.

But back to people watching, and there were plenty of opportunities to sit down and watch the celebrity chefs .The more I see of Michel Roux Junior, the more I like him. He talked openly and honestly on the Lakeland Interview Stage about his life, his favourite meals ..the relish in his voice and his smile as he said his favourite food is chocolate , was quite charming. And he's so good demonstrating different dishes....

And another chef who amused her audiences was Lorraine Pascale. I like her recipes because they really work. She impressed me with her relaxed cooking demo with life stories in between. I knew she had been a model. but didn't realise she had trained to become a car mechanic, (too cold in the garage), a hypotherapist (too boring) before she finally trained to be a chef and found her forte.

I also saw the ever reliable, ever lovely Phil Vickery too...but  one thing struck me  about all three...Lorraine, Michel and Phil...they're all quite skinny, which I think is decidedly unfair.

This weekend at the show, you'll be able to watch Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry. Tom Kerridge, James Martin, Brian Turner and so many more all strutting their stuff, and tempting everyone with their recipes, and their books.

And talking of being tempted, there were so many lovely gadgets and appliances on show...some which I didn't even know I needed, but it's a given  that I shall be back to buy a couple at the next show!

What's also inevitable as  I walked back to the car park, is watching others wandering around  the car parks  having "mislaid" their cars. Feeling smug, I walked straight to mine, but then disgraced myself by getting lost as soon as soon as I left the NEC exit. Again....

Friday, 20 November 2015

A frivolous, happy Friday until....

For the last three years or so, Laura, Susie, Fiona and I have met up for a Friday fizz night, We meet most weeks's a lovely start to the weekend with nibbles, ice cold bubbly prosecco or sometimes champagne. We laugh a lot, we support each other if something goes wrong, and what 's talked about in our Friday night fizz gang stays with the gang.

Last Friday was different, we were saying goodbye to Laura before she flew off  to live in the States, and as we wouldn't be seeing her at Christmas, we would exchange presents.

So I turned up at Susie's ....and found Laura sitting beside a Christmas tree. In November - an old naff Christmas tree which Susie's Mum was throwing out. Susie shrugged..."Well, I haven't bought one yet, and needs must", or words to that effect.

And in addition to the usual nibbles such as olives, pate, crackers, cheese, bread etc, there was a Christmas cake.

There were even crackers

 We  gossiped all evening, while Laura made impromptu decorations  with the corks from the bottles of prosecco and ribbons from the crackers

And we giggled and laughed, making the most of what would be the last time we would see Laura for months.

And then Susie's husband came home, saying "Had we heard the news about Paris?" We hadn't, but switched on the television and couldn't believe what we were watching. The murders of so many who were innocently enjoying a night out.

I thought of my cousins who have both left Paris in recent years. Alexandra, husband Leo and their children were safe in Lyon, and Claire was back down in the South of France. Thank goodness....

Of course, the impromptu Christmas party in November ended shortly afterwards could we carry on laughing and being frivolous ? We kissed Laura goodbye and wished her well ...

 On Saturday morning, I woke to the news that the death toll had risen to 129.

 I began to cry, for those who never got to say goodbye to their loved ones, and who will never see them again.