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Monday, 15 August 2016

Sister Act days!

Every time the film Sister Act came on the TV,  my gang of three children would sit on the sofa and sing along with delight as Whoopi Goldberg (Doloris van Cartier) ditched her lowlife, married lover Curtis and the chewing gum for a non voluntary spell in a convent. They sang along to the songs word for word, as within days Whoopi got the sisters singing sensationally and pulling in a full crowd every Sunday into the church.

As a plot it was unbelievable to say the least, but the characterisation, great soundtrack and its warmth pulled the film together. The musical too has been attracting audiences  around the world for years, so something's right. But what could director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood and this new production bring to the Sister Act party?

Thanks to the lovely Linda, who offered me a spare ticket, I was off to see Sister Act on a sweltering  Saturday afternoon for the last matinee  - what was called  "a relaxed  performance" on the last day of the show at Curve in Leicester.

What? No Alexandra Burke as Doloris?  She'd been getting some great reviews. Well no, her place was taken by Joanna Francis who I absolutely adored for her sassiness, her verve and her singing.

Mind you, I knew as soon as the nuns filed on stage singing loudly and excruciatingly out of tune, right at the start, we were in for a treat.

What a hardworking cast, playing multiple roles , playing musical instruments , dancing and acting with real brio and humour - bringing a new meaning to multi tasking.

I particularly liked Jon Robyn's Sweaty Eddie, the policeman who has fallen for Doloris. As he sang "I could be that guy" to the perfectly timed sounds of the down and outs heaving (on stage, not in the audience) , he showed a real tenderness...and got whoops of delight from quite a few ladies in the audience.

What can I say about the nuns? Having being in a convent school myself for a year or two, I have some very interesting memories about nuns. Rosemary Ashe as Sister Mary Lazarus though, the deadpan head of the choir was a joy as she rapped, bumped and grinded her way through several numbers, and Karen Mann as Mother Superior  played her role with poignancy.

Call me shallow, but the scene which stole the show for me was "The Lady in the Long Black Dress" where TJ, Bones and Dinero, Curtis's three henchman, discuss how they're going to take Doloris from the convent .

It's a fantastic Floaters esque parody with lyrics like  "Forget Jehovah, cause the wait is over, come to Casanova for romance". I've seen this number done times before, but this is the funniest and filthiest version yet!

Such a laviscious performance from Ricky Rojas, Samuel Morgan Graham and Sandy Grigelis. Sandy (playing TJ) especially made me howl with laughter - the things he was doing with his guitar...
Craig Revel Horwood, this had your paw prints all over it...and it was fabulous.

The whole show was  -the audience thought so too,  giving a final standing ovation and singing along and clapping to a final, final number.

By now ,the cast and company will be in Monaco, playing  five nights at the Casino de Monte Carlo, before a huge UK tour visiting over 40 towns and cities during the next year.

Book your seats now, and no, I'm not being paid to say this. It's a great show - don't miss it!


Saturday, 13 August 2016

A day at Barnsdale Gardens


Years ago, when my children were tiny, I used to pray that they were all in bed by 8.30pm on a Friday night. I would sink into the sofa with a glass of wine and a notepad and pen to watch Gardeners World on the BBC and for half an hour I would watch Geoff Hamilton at Barnsdale, his home in  Rutland, guiding me through the seasons in the gardens.

I was one of millions who tuned in for good advice, inspiration and  to learn from a master. Yet it's twenty years ago this month that he died at the age of 59, and he's still missed by so many.

His gardens became a nursery owned by his son Nick, who took on his father's legacy and today thousands arrive to see the series of individual gardens created here during the television series and which Nick has lovingly maintained and reworked as time has gone by.


On Tuesday , Carol Klein, who now co presents Gardeners World, was at Barnsdale to open the new Geoff Hamilton winter border which has been redeveloped  and which is made up of plants donated by his friends, gardening colleagues and family.


She gave a very emotional speech about Geoff's influence, not just on her but on millions of other gardeners and then planted something from Glebe Cottage , her own nursery.

What a lovely atmosphere in the sunshine, interviewing Carol and Nick, and watching them being
surrounded by visitors who obviously adored them. Increasingly though,  the clouds came  over, followed by a shocker of a downpour after a buffet lunch.

This was the time Nick Hamilton was taking a few of us on a guided tour of the gardens! Our group included the Associate Editor of Garden Trade News, two gardening lecturers, Jayne and Christine who worked on Gardeners World with Geoff Hamilton ,and of course Carol Klein.

It was fascinating...with anecdotes and insights into how Barnsdale developed, about the dynamics of the relationship between Nick and Geoff , and how Nick and his team are carrying on and enhancing Geoff's legacy.

As we wandered through the individual gardens, there was a sense of deja vu, recognising gardens featured  years ago on the telly. I really admired the beautiful and vigorous above, Madame Gregoire  Staechelin, trailing over the fact, I need one!

Allotment envy also came to the fore as we walked past Barnsdale's allotment, which keeps Nick in vegetables all year round, and I was taken with the hot box.

So many gardens to see, but so little time.All too soon, it was time for our tour to end, but there's no doubt about it, I need to go back, for a more detailed look at some of my favourite gardens, to take notes and more photographs, and to view the gardens we didn't see. There's so many good ideas here.

So, a lovely day ..and Barnsdale , I will be back!

My full interviews with Nick Hamilton and Carol Klein will be broadcast tomorrow on BBC Radio Leicester on Down to Earth from 12 noon til 1pm, but in the meantime, why not listen to a shorter version here, right now....

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The day of history, food, drink and smashing coconuts.


Leicester's such an interesting place to work in these days. So many positive stories (think Richard III and Leicester City Football Club for starters) , and there's a real buzz about this city.
The area where I work, around the Cathedral, has been changing over the last few years, with a pride in our heritage. Likewise, new cafes and bars are springing up everywhere.
Which brings me to this building below, which is the Bank of Ireland Savings Bank, built in 1873. It's a historic listed building , but it's lain empty, unloved and decaying for the last ten years.
Dry rot, water damage, a glass dome, still dirty and opaque from the black out paint put on World War II, this building was becoming a problem, in an otherwise really vibrant area.
Until now that is. It has become a deli after the new owners were given a grant by Leicester City Council from a fund called the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative, which is looking to restore at least twenty historically important buildings dotted around the city..
Well, the old bank turned deli (called Delilah) was officially opened last week by the City Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby . In addition to the usual speeches and a Hindu tradition which involved smashing coconuts with owners Richard and Sangita Trynor.
Inside, the roof has been completely restored and refurbished


What a transformation inside....

It was a busy evening...with champagne, wine, locally produced gin and artisan beers to well as lashings of ginger beer and other refreshing soft drinks such as Cloudy Apple and Rhubarb from Franklins and Son.

Many of the artisan producers were there to showcase their was good to meet Emma, the Managing Director of the Welbeck Bakehouse in Nottinghamshire. Such a tasty array of breads and pastries - no wonder their four seeded sourdough loaf and Christmas pudding have recently been awarded  Great Taste awards..
From bread to cheese, and there was a lot on offer to taste. The creamy, oh so moreish gorgonzola was excellent, and I may have helped myself to more than a tasting stick of it. Well yes of course I did.. I felt like cutting the whole cheese in two, and  walking away with it , it was that delicious.

But I can't just single one cheese out ...Jane Hewson was there from the Belvoir Ridge Creamery out at Eastwell. She and her husband make the most fine cheese...Slipcote is an absolute winner, which slips down your throat, leaving a creamy aftertaste from the raw milk it's made of.
There were pates, cold meats , olive oils infused with hazelnuts, balsamic vinegars with figs and pomegranates (I bought some) ..and the hot bites kept a coming from the kitchen. Bruschettas, jamon Iberico de bellotta, honey glazed chorizo....I'm salivating just recalling them all.
 Now, I will always prefer savoury treats rather than sweet ones, but I was so taken by the lemony treacle tart, I had to have two bites.

A good launch, but the deli is already doing well serving breakfasts and lunches, based on the tried and trusted methods of their other Deliah deli in Nottingham. I left a crowd sitting outside enjoying the buzz, and wandered back through Cathedral Gardens  to what was next on my Friday night agenda....


Monday, 1 August 2016

Days of admiring and eating artichokes

Yes, I know I should have harvested my globe artichokes back in early July. I didn't, and although I've never let an artichoke plant flower before, the result is stunning.

I've been mesmerised on the allotment this week by the sheer beauty of watching these artichokes flower.

They really do make a statement don't they? Standing upright, aloof almost , ignoring their more humble thistle cousins which are also on the lottie, and posing saying "look at me" 

I 've been doing exactly that - from all angles, at different times of the day, marvelling at how they look in different lights.

Artichokes are so good natured too, not being fussy about the soil so long as it doesn't get waterlogged. I confess that I haven't mulched them with well rotted manure as you're supposed to and I've left the watering to the heavens above, but still they stand and produce.

I'm going to divide them next year....and not let them flower. After all, they're now a superfood, brimming with much so, I'm told they're better than blueberries and broccoli.

If they're easy to grow, they're so easy to cook too...I just bung them in my large stockpot filled with boiling water until they're tender...about 45 minutes or so for the larger ones, and serve with a vinaigrette dressing or melted butter.

That's where Uncle Barry comes into the story. I cannot eat an artichoke without thinking of him.

It was the year of my friend Jenny's fiftieth birthday in France. She threw a beautiful and civilised  lunch party  in a chateau in the Charente Maritme  which was followed by a riotous barbecue at her family cottage, which Iachieved legendary status for many reasons.

We took our two youngest with us, and afterwards motored over to near Limoges to stay with my husband's Uncle Barry. When I first met him, he must have been in his forties, he'd flown over for his mother's funeral...looking oh so Left Bank Professor, a velvet jacket, a cravat, Cuban heels and windswept longish dark hair tinged with grey. I adored him.

By the time he was living in Limoges, he was in his sixties, such a gently spoken man, who hesitated occasionally when speaking in English, to catch the right  word. He'd been living in France since his twenties after a stint with the Special Boat Service. Two lovely French wives and two gorgeous daughters later, he'd come to Limoges for a quiet life, to fish, to enjoy life.

And that was the night I remember....after arriving late afternoon, wine thrown into our hands , a walk and then a meal. But everything took a long time....and when he brought out the first course about 10 pm, we were all ravenous.

He placed the artichokes on the table, with a bowl of melted butter and one of vinaigrette. My boys looked  at their plates...I'd never served them artichokes before.

Barry taught them how to eat them...."carefully take off each leaf scale, one by one yes that's can't rush this. Dip each one in the dressing...., slowly now..."

All I can say is they tried, but didn't like the artichokes. Barry was sorrowful...."they're English" as if that explained everything.

And I suppose it did, for the next course there was a huge vat of curry, which, being English , we love and adore and which we devoured. By now it was midnight, and the boys drifted off to bed.

I got up too, to take the plates back into the kitchen before toddling off to bed, but then Barry appeared with a tray .Three iced glasses and a bottle of  frozen vodka , a nightcap to toast our visit.

At 2am, we were still sitting out under the stars....somewhat worse for wear, but chatting and laughing about everything and anything, including a gentle reminder, that artichokes are good for you, and the boys should really learn to like them.

The following night, artichokes didn't appear on the menu, but another huge vat of curry did.........