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This recipe is loosely based on the Greek dish "Stifado", which is a beef and onion stew in a rich tomato sauce. It comes courtesy of my sister-in-law, who has lived in Greece for the last 30 years. It's fairly inexpensive and versatile, as you can use any cheap cut of beef (anything labelled in a supermarket as ""stewing steak" or "braising steak") and it works equally well with chicken. It's very easy to prepare.
For 2-3 people you will need:
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, crushed.
½ to 1 stick cinnamon
Generous pinch of dried pimento (allspice), or other pimento-containing herb blend eg Swartz Spicy Italian works well
500g carton passata (sieved tomatoes)
Cut the beef into cubes, and lightly fry in a little oil until just brown on each side. Add to a large non-stick saucepan. Chop the onion, fry until golden and also add to the saucepan. Add the crushed garlic, passata, cinnamon and pimento. Add a small amount of water - about half the passata carton is fine - because the sauce thickens as it cooks. Stir, cover, and cook on a very slow simmer for about 2 ½ hours or until the meat is falling apart.
This makes a wonderful, fragrant, warming meal perfect for autumn. It is best served with small pasta, preferably "pasta rice" if you can find it here in the UK.
I'd never heard of Newgrange before I went there. Which may explain why I was totally blown away.
I first visited in 1999, when I was over in Ireland staying with my husband's family. It was a chilly, damp day in April when they suggested we might like to see an area known as Brú na Bóinne - in English, "the dwelling place of the Boyne". This turned out to be a collection of prehistoric sites in County Meath, located in a wide meander of the River Boyne about an hour's drive north of Dublin. The most famous of these antiquities is Newgrange, a megalithic "passage tomb" richly decorated with ancient works of art. (Although there is much debate over whether Newgrange was more than just a tomb - more about that later.)
We headed for the visitor center, which lies between the towns of Slane and Doghedra, near the village of Donore, and found that it was well signposted from a few miles out - or, being Ireland, I should say a few km out - and easy to find. It was easy to park in the ample car park. (Admittedly it was only shoulder-season but we have returned in the peak of summer and still found a space easily). I understand that there is also a bus to the visitor center from Droghedra, which connects with the Droghedra-Dublin service, but I haven't used it.
The visitor centre is on the south side of the River Boyne, and the gateway to the Brú na Bóinne sites; there is no direct access to the sites and visitor numbers are tightly controlled, so if you are visiting during peak season, you should get there early to avoid missing out. As far as I know, it's not possible to book for a future date (except, in the case of Newgrange, around the winter solstice - more about that later) and it's first come, first served on the day.
On approaching the entrance, we learnt that there are three dominant sites in the area: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. It was not (and still is not as far as I know) possible for the public to visit Dowth, and we discovered that Knowth was only open during the summer months of May to October. Fortunately, Newgrange was open all year round, and we were advised that we should allow around two hours for our visit. Access to the visitor center as well as the tour was included in the very reasonable, pre-Euro, admission price of £4. A cheaper option allowing access to the visitor center only was also available. I have checked current prices and the Newgrange tour is now around 6 Euros per adult.
We were lucky and were informed that a group was leaving for Newgrange imminently. We were directed outside to a suspension bridge across the river and followed the path down to a waiting tour bus. Each tour group comprises a maximum of 24 visitors so that the site does not become overcrowded, and we were relieved to find that our group was actually slightly fewer in number than this.
After a very short drive through the green, gently undulating landscape, we got our first glimpse of Newgrange: a huge grassy mound faced with brilliant white quartz glinting in the low afternoon sun. Another tour group was inside, so we had the opportunity to wander around the monument at our leisure before it would be our turn.
From the outside, Newgrange appears to be just an 11m high grassy mound, faced with quartz stone. It covers over an acre and apparently is constructed from more than 200, 000 tons of stone and earth. Around the edge lie 97 kerbstones, many of which are decorated with carved motifs such as multiple-spirals, concentric circles, and symbols interpreted as the sun and the moon. These huge stones, or "megaliths", are about chest height (I'm nearly 1.8m / 6ft tall) and more than 2m wide.
We walked around the perimeter before coming to a halt again at the front entrance. Newgrange is strategically situated at the top of a raised ridge and we had a clear view all around across miles of patchwork farmland, sparsely punctuated by trees. Other mounds in the distance hinted at archaeological remains yet to be excavated, much like the area surrounding England's most famous megalithic structure, Stonehenge.
At the front of the mound are twelve standing stones, the remnants of what may have been an arc or possibly a complete circle of stones surrounding the mound. The entrance stone itself is very elaborately carved, featuring the well known "tri-spiral" design, which I had always assumed was Celtic in origin, but obviously was actually from this more distant era. Newgrange was built more than 5,000 years ago, during the Neolithic (New Stone) Age - which makes it older than the Egyptian Pyramids.
Finally it was time for us to go inside. We mounted one of the two sets of wooden steps over the kerbstones to the left and right of the entrance stone, and followed a sloping wooden platform on the other side down into the passage entrance. Incidentally, between the wooden steps the white façade of quartz stone has been cut away to allow this access, so if you see any photos of this area, it has a dark background rather than white - which I thought was a bit of a shame, but I imagine that it would be impossible to have any volume of visitors without it.
We had to stoop to enter through the low doorway, but were able to straighten up as we made our way along the narrow passage, lined by now-upright megaliths. As we shuffled along the dirt floor, it was impossible not to brush against the stones, some bearing the by-now familiar carved symbols, visible with the modern addition of low-level electric lighting. The passage extended for about 20m into the mound, before opening into a small chamber branching off in three directions, in a cruciform shape. Here the ceiling height was highest, with a corbelled roof above which has remained watertight for more than 5000 years - hence the title of this review! Each of the short branches contained a large stone basin in which cremated remains and grave goods were found when Newgrange was originally excavated.
If this wasn't impressive enough, the thing that makes Newgrange really remarkable, though, is its astronomical orientation: it is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise. While we squeezed together at the end of the passage, our tour guide turned out the electric lights, plunging us into pitch darkness; there is a slight bend to the passage and light does not penetrate that far back from the entrance. However, on the morning of the winter solstice, when the sun rises over the horizon, a shaft of light enters through a slit opening, the "roofbox", over the doorway and creeps up the passage to brightly illuminate the chamber for a few minutes, before once again retreating. This effect was recreated using electric light for us, but there are some lucky people who get to see the actual phenomenon for themselves: the custodians of Newgrange hold a lottery each year for 50 pairs of tickets for the four days around the winter solstice when this occurs. You can apply at the Brú na Bóinne visitor center or online. We have had our names down since that first visit, but unfortunately we have never been lucky enough to be drawn.
When we returned to the visitor center, we found that we could have been more prepared if we had spent some time reading the exhibits before taking the tour bus, and I would recommend this to get the most out of your visit. There is a full-scale replica of the Newgrange chamber and an explanation of the archaeological digs including an audio-visual presentation in several languages. Best of all, there is a wide viewing platform where you can look across the river to gain an appreciation of the overall setting. There are also the obligatory toilets and a coffee shop.
It's hard to convey what an amazing experience a visit to Newgrange is. You will forget any pre-conceived ideas you may have about "primitive" stone-age peoples - Newgrange proves that this was a highly evolved society. I wonder how many of our modern day Cathedrals and important monuments will stand the test of aeons of time. Who were these people? Why did they die out and why do we know so little about them? Was Newgrange really only a tomb or does its intricate construction and amazing astronomical alignment hint that it had a more profound significance? Penetration by light so vividly symbolises fertility, the end of winter and the coming of new life that it would be easy to believe that it played a wider part in society. Also, I was intrigued by the cruciform nature of the chamber - that shape so strongly associated nowadays with Christianity. You may find that you leave with more questions than answers and there is a healthy ongoing academic debate as to the true nature of the place. We will probably never know for sure.
More information about the history of Newgrange and up-to-date opening times / admission prices can be found at:
www.knowth.com/ which includes further links for the really keen.
I can't recommend a visit highly enough.
Hugo Boss is a fashion house that has been selling designer men's clothing since the 1920s. They launched the Hugo fragrance back in 1995, and it continues to be a bestseller today. It's my favourite aftershave, which is handy, as it's also my husband's favourite - although it does tend to make Christmas and birthday presents slightly predictable!
Obviously the most important thing about an aftershave is how it smells, but if it came in a very fancy, ornate bottle then I doubt my husband would want to have it sitting on the bathroom shelf. Fortunately, Hugo is self-consciously butch; the clear, slightly blue-tinted, glass bottle is shaped like a military water canteen, complete with a green bendy strap to retain the lid when it's removed. The lid itself is silver with deep grooves around the top, with a light, "army" green plastic ring around the bottom and lining the inside. The front of the bottle carries a discrete square with the distinctive Hugo logo - black writing on a red background - in the top half, and "eau de toilette natural spray vaporisateur" printed on a clear background beneath. The liquid within is clear and colourless.
Onto the all-important smell: I love this stuff. It reminds me of hot, balmy nights on honeymoon, strolling along the beach at twilight. It definitely has the sense of outdoors about it - strong and earthy, warm yet fresh. It's the sort of aftershave that I'd imagine a strong, confident man to wear. It's quite traditional, and masculine. This is not a fragrance for trendy young metrosexuals. Hugo Boss describe it as, "a truly seductive contemporary fragrance... which explores essences of citrus, apples and pine...blended with notes of clove, rum and sandalwood".
When first sprayed on you get a strong hit of citrus and sandalwood, along with an initial strong note of spearmint; the mintiness fades quite quickly though, allowing more mellow, spicy, tones to come through. It seems to last well - I find that I can still detect it on my husband after a full day's wear, although it is very subtle. I'd say that it was suitable for day or evening wear, as it's quite light and not over-powering, but still "there".
My husband has sensitive skin, but has never had any reaction to the aftershave or irritation from it.
Hugo comes in a variety of sizes, and in a "splash" bottle as well as the eau de toilette spray. The last bottle that I bought was a 40ml spray for £14.99 from Savers. This is small enough for my husband to take with him on overnight business trips. The only possible criticism I can think of is that, being a glass bottle, it might break, although he has yet to have this happen. He wears Hugo most days, and a bottle this size lasts around two to three months, so I'd say it was reasonable value for money. It smells more expensive anyway ;-)
One final word about the Hugo Boss range in general: If you decide to try Hugo, you should be aware that Hugo Boss now produce a fairly wide range of aftershaves and ladies perfume. Confusingly, they haven't been the most imaginative in naming these, which mostly have the word "Boss" or "Hugo" in the title - for example, as well as Hugo aftershave, there is Hugo Duo, Hugo Boss Sport, Hugo Energise, Hugo No.6, Hugo Xx, Hugo Xy, not to mention Hugo for Women! Hugo itself comes in a green cardboard outer box, with a yellow label showing a picture of the bottle and the Hugo logo (black writing on a red background). Make sure you get the right one!
Las Vegas, Nevada is a funny ol' place. It is, of course, most famous for gambling, but the second most popular thing to do there is to get married. In fact, weddings are the second largest State industry. This trend started back in the thirties, when Nevada re-legalised gambling and relaxed its marriage and divorce laws, which continue today to be less onerous than in the rest of the country. In most of the USA, there are waiting times and blood tests to be taken before you can marry; however, in Nevada, all you need to do is pay a fee. (Similarly, it is easier to end a marriage, through a "quickie" divorce than elsewhere in the country, although you must reside in the State for six weeks first for this to be granted).
The ease, and relatively low cost, of obtaining a marriage license is one reason why Las Vegas continues to be a popular place for nuptials; another is the choice of ceremony available now, from the traditional to the increasingly wacky and bizarre. As well as actual weddings, most venues offer a "renewal of vows" ceremony. My husband and I were passing through Vegas in July 2003 on the way to a friend's wedding in California, and we decided that it would be romantic to renew our vows while we were in Vegas. This was partly because we thought that it would be a fun thing to experience, but there was also a genuine desire to re-affirm our commitment to each other.
So, how did we choose where to do this?
Back in the thirties, Vegas was still a small town, with a "wild west" image. As the gambling and wedding industries grew, so did the infrastructure to service them. Wedding chapels were built, at first in the downtown area closest to the courthouse, and then down the now-famous "Strip" (Las Vegas Boulevard South) as development spilt out into the desert. Las Vegas was, and still is, constantly changing, and most buildings don't last long; there is always something bigger, better and more obscenely ostentatious to replace it with. We were surprised to learn, then, that nestled between the enormous casinos, some of the old traditional chapels still survive, even though they have been joined by facilities within the resort hotels, ceremonies out in the desert, and even a drive-through window.
One such chapel is the Graceland chapel, built in the early fifties. We chose it after browsing through various websites, mainly because it was one of the prettiest chapels, resembling a New England church, and because it offered a relatively inexpensive package that included being picked up and returned to our hotel by limousine. We also liked the fact that it was a stand-alone chapel, not one attached to one of the newer hotels. It looked small and cute.
We chose the basic traditional wedding/renewal package, which covered the use of the chapel, a buttonhole, a rose for the "bride", music, a few photos, a certificate and the limo. I have checked the latest prices on their website, www.gracelandchapel.com, and this package is currently priced at $199 plus sales tax (about 7%). On top of this, there was a fee to be paid direct to the minister ($50) and a tip for the limo driver. If you were getting married, as opposed to renewing your vows, you would also need to purchase a marriage license from the downtown marriage bureau at a cost of $55. When we were there, it was possible to arrange for the limo to take you to the bureau first and then onto the chapel, but I notice that they now recommend that you visit the bureau in advance, as the waiting time is usually more than an hour, possibly as the bureau is no longer open 24 hours a day.
I wanted to have a small bouquet of flowers, to include my favourite lilies, so we emailed the chapel to see whether that was possible. We received a prompt, polite reply that they were very happy to arrange this for us for a small additional fee. We paid $100 as a deposit.
On the day that we were to renew our vows, we had arranged to meet up with two other friends who were touring the area before also heading to the wedding in California. Unfortunately, they got a little lost on their way and only arrived at the time that we needed to leave for the chapel. We were staying at the Luxor Hotel at the far south end of the Strip, and there was some slight confusion as to exactly where the limo was picking us up, as there are two entrances. A mobile phone that worked in the USA would have been helpful but unfortunately we didn't have one! We were waiting at the wrong entrance but eventually we located both the limo and our errant guests, and piled into the car. Fortunately, this was spacious and air-conditioned, as we also had our 18-month-old son with us, and his pushchair.
The limo headed up the interstate, which runs parallel to the Strip; this was a slight disappointment as we had envisaged cruising down the Strip in our limo, but our driver explained that traffic would be crawling and we would never get there. So we settled for seeing the backs of the hotels.
The exact location of the chapel was also a slight disappointment. The website had described the chapel as being "right on the Strip". It is true that it is on Las Vegas Boulevard, the road running out of downtown Vegas from the original gambling area based around Freemont Street. However, what we hadn't realised was that this road is about four miles long, and there is actually a gap between the downtown and Strip casino areas, with the latter only starting at the Stratosphere hotel at 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South. The chapel is located at 619. Unfortunately, this gap between downtown and the Strip is a bit run down, and seemed to reflect the seedier side of the city. It was very quiet, and there was no one else on the streets at that time in the late afternoon.
When we walked round to the chapel entrance from the car park at the side, we noticed that it was next door to a cheap motel which had seen better days, and which we thought probably rented rooms by the hour. We actually found this hilarious, but I can imagine that some people might not be so amused. The photos on the chapel website are obviously taken from a very carefully chosen angle, or have been photo-shopped, or both.
The entrance door led into a small reception area with a desk immediately to the left and three or four seats on the right. On the wall there were photos of past weddings, which we looked at while hubby did the paperwork at the desk. He showed them our marriage certificate to prove that we were already married, but it turned out that we didn't need this, and in fact it confused them a little as they were expecting to see a marriage license, as they thought we were getting married, not renewing our vows. However, that was no problem and quickly sorted out.
Hubby and our guests were led through into the chapel, and the hostess fetched my bouquet from a room off to the side. This was exactly what I had requested, and in good shape considering that it was extremely hot outside! When I was ready, she opened the double doors into the chapel and I walked self-consciously down the aisle to the strains of the wedding march (from a CD). The chapel was lined with wooden pews that can seat up to 33 guests, and had cream walls and modern stained glass windows. The large stained glass windows at the end depicted a dove and some intertwined red flowers, and were flanked by tall arrangements of white silk flowers. There was also a window on the left hand side that had a blue design.
Once I was at the altar, the middle-aged minister introduced himself as Rev Gayle, and reassured us that he was a real minister, who worked through one of the Anglican churches in the city. I have no reason to doubt that this was the case, although hubby and I did laugh together later about how anyone in the States can call themselves a minister if they have bought membership of the clergy from an internet course. However, Rev Gayle seemed sincere, while also being jolly and fun. We repeated our traditional wedding vows, with the addition of "ONE MORE TIME!" at the end. The ceremony included lighting a unity candle, which was something that we had wanted to include in our original wedding, but had not been offered by the church, so that was special.
The hostess from the chapel took photos during the twenty-minute service and at the end, and we took the film home with us to be developed. I can't remember whether we were offered the choice of digital photos instead, but according to their website, this is now how they take them and the chapel can upload photos for your friends and family to view straight away. You can also, for a fee, have your wedding broadcast through their site, although this is not live. The photos were not brilliant, although they did manage one in front of the stained glass window that my mother in law was particularly fond of. One of our guests made a video, and the chapel made no objection to this.
We also took photos outside - shame about the big sign saying "Jon Bon Jovi married here" at the door, but then I guess we wanted the full tacky experience! The outdoor area is very small, but pretty for photos, with a cobblestone bridge, plus a tiny white gazebo and some potted plants. We had plenty of time to take photos before returning to our limo and didn't feel rushed at all. However, if you were having lots of guests, particularly if you were marrying at a busy time when you might need to wait outside first, then the lack of space might be an issue.
Our friends were embarrassed about turning up in scruffy shorts and trainers, having not had time to change, but the hostess laughed and said, "Hey, this is Vegas". And that sums it up really - anything goes. We chose a traditional service, but you can alternatively choose to have an Elvis (who married Priscilla in Las Vegas in 1967) themed wedding with the King providing entertainment. If you are renewing your vows, he can even perform the ceremony (and you can choose to have special "Elvis vows"). I can imagine that some Elvis fans will choose this particular chapel because of the name, but Elvis never came here; apparently one of the owners knew him though and he gave them permission to use the name Graceland.
So, overall, would I recommend this chapel? Well, it was a lot of fun. The staff at the chapel tried their best to be helpful and accommodate exactly what we wanted, although the limo pick up could have been better and they did come across as being slightly disorganised when we arrived. However, the minister was fantastic, making the experience a lot of fun, while still making the ceremony something meaningful and special. The chapel itself, despite its location, was pretty and intimate, and we had it to ourselves. The photos taken by the hostess ranged from very average to pretty bad, but we had enough with our own camera and our friend's video. So yes, despite the slight disappointments, overall I would recommend it, as an unforgettable experience.
For more information, please see the website, www.gracelandchapel.com.
Croyde lies on the North Devon coast, a few miles from Barnstaple to the South East and Ilfracombe to the North East. Most well known for its beach and stunning bay, its one of those sleepy little time-warp villages that get overrun in the summer by hoards of visitors. Guilty as charged, I have been visiting regularly over the last twenty years.
If you are coming by car, you need to take the A361 off junction 27 of the M5 (about 50 miles). The Barnstaple by pass opened in 2007, easing congestion to make this a much quicker journey than previously perhaps this will increase Croydes popularity, as the last stretch after a long drive used to be a real pain! It is also possible to connect by bus on the hourly service from Barnstaple.
---Who goes there---
Several different types of people visit Croyde, although nearly all of them are drawn by the outdoor activities on offer. I go to climb at nearby Baggy Point, projecting into the sea at the North end of the bay. The stunning scenery along the cliffs draws walkers of all ages and the safe, clean sandy beach attracts families for bucket and spade breaks. It also, increasingly, interests the young surfing crowd.
The village itself is quite attractive, with lots of quaint whitewashed cottages, some with thatched roofs. The oldest properties apparently date back to the fourteenth century. Unsurprisingly, tourism is the main industry in the region (replacing former agriculture) so there is plenty of accommodation on offer to the visitor.
I actually recently considered moving here, having grown up in the South West and wanting to bring my own children up in the region. However, the dependence on tourism means that most employment is highly seasonal; this, coupled with the formerly poor road links to the main employment centres which are still not brilliant meant that the prospect of securing a decent job was small. In addition, the area is a hotspot for second homeowners, pushing house prices up to high earning multiples. All of this meant that we decided to settle in South Devon instead, but of course we can now drop by more often.
Each time that I have visited Croyde, I have stayed under canvas. There are several small campsites around the village, as well as a huge caravan and camping park called Ruda Holiday Park. Entering the village from Barnstaple, you will find yourself on Hobbs Hill, and the village is centred on the junction of this road with St Marys Road (to the right) and Joness Hill (ahead to the left). A short distance up Joness Hill there is a left turn onto Moor Lane; this is the route out to Baggy Point, and where Ruda is situated. I tend to stay on a small site called Myrtle Meadow, which is on the corner of Moor Lane and Joness Hill and therefore only two minutes walk to the pubs and shop in the village centre. The site is only open at weekends from May to September, and its essential to book, as its very popular. As its within the residential confines of the village, surrounded by houses, its also the site favoured by the older end of the outdoor enthusiast spectrum, as the owners are very strict about noise levels after 11pm. If you want sex, drugs and rock and roll with your camping, Id suggest trying one of the sites further out. Myrtles sister site, Mitchums Meadow, is next to the beach, further along Moor Lane past Ruda, and popular with surfers. Ruda itself is aimed at the family market, although it also runs a separate camping section in the sand dunes called, appropriately enough, Surfers Paradise.
There are also plenty of guesthouses and B&Bs available, although I cant comment on the quality or prices, as Ive never used any of them. However, you can find more information on Croydes website, http://www.croydedevon.co.uk.
---Eating and drinking---
Within the village there are three pubs, all serving standard pub fare at a reasonable to good standard, although the prices are high and they are always very busy. Theres also a couple of restaurants, plus a bakery and a village shop for supplies.
The beach at Croyde sits in its own glorious, sweeping bay about half a mile wide. It is sandy, with proper dunes, and shallow, sloping very gently into the sea; this makes it relatively safe for children, and is enhanced by the presence of lifeguards on the beach. Its also very clean and has won the following awards:
GOLD David Bellamy Award
ENCAMS Seaside Award
BLUE FLAG CAMPAIGN Award
All of this makes it an ideal spot for a family holiday. The beach also attracts surfers due to the good surf once you make it all the long way out into the sea! There is a surf school situated on the beach as well as several wetsuit/board hire shops in Croyde.
If you should get bored of Croyde beach, two other good beaches are also very close: Putsborough Sands to the North, towards Woolacombe, and Saunton Beach to the South. Both are long and sandy, and have dedicated car parks. Unfortunately, the car parks are expensive.
---Climbing and walking---
However, as I mentioned, the main reason that I visit is Baggy Point. This is the headland at the North end of Croyde Bay. The climbing area is about a twenty-minute walk from the National Trust car park at the end of Moor Lane. Im a member of the National Trust, so parking is free, but if I remember correctly the charge for non-members is about £3. The car park is manned and usually busy so get there early to guarantee a space.
As you walk up to the crag you pass a couple of houses including the well-known and architecturally renowned Baggy House, built in 1994 by Hudson architects. Its well worth pausing and giving this Modernist place your attention. Full of quirky angles, the living area includes two glass walls that can be sunk into the floor to open the house to the outdoors. As you can probably tell, I covet this house! One day I will make an offer for it.
Baggy has several big slabs jutting out into the sea, with steeper areas of cliff between them. There is some confusion as to the names of the various slabs, as several guidebooks have got it wrong in the past. This is not useful if you get into difficulty and call the slab a different name to the one that the coastguard uses, so for this reason I recommend you check the latest Climbing Club guide, which has the correct names.
The first big slab you reach is called the Promontory, which is also the most popular as the areas further north are subject to peregrine nesting restrictions during the breeding season. You can walk down from the coastal path along the top of this slab relatively easily, although the trails down to some of the others are more treacherous, and given the big drop either side, you may want to consider taking an extra abseil rope with you. The tops are all grassed, loose and slippery. There are stakes immediately below the cliff path to use.
The climbing itself is great. The rock is a mix of hard sandstone (good friction) with layers of shale (loose horrible stuff that only masochists truly love). Remember to place plenty of gear before the rock peters out to loose soil and grass, and wear a helmet!
The Promontory is split in two by a narrow zawn towards the furthest end, and the routes at that end can be accessed at any time. The starts of the routes further in are tidal, and accessible for about two hours either side of high tide by scrambling down the left hand side (looking out to sea). If you are a mid-range climber you will enjoy this slab. I have to recommend Kinky Boots (VS 4c) which starts on a ledge next to the zawn and has a unique start: raise your arms and fall forward! You should catch the other side and try to ignore the waves crashing in and out of the inlet below you! Scary stuff, and committing, but great fun. You might want to note, that some guide books continue to mention in situ pegs on this route but they are no longer there, so take plenty of small nuts.
For the walkers among you, Baggy Point has various paths with scenic views on both sides and on a clear day you can see across to Wales. The South West coastal path runs round the peninsula and there is an extensive network of paths covering the surrounding area. You can get a local guide from the hut in the NT car park. Birdwatchers should enjoy the peregrine colony too.
One weekend when it was too wet to climb, I discovered that horse riding is available in Croyde, which was very enjoyable. Croyde is also well placed to tour the surrounding area from: pretty Woolacombe, Ilfracombe and Combe Martin are all within easy reach, and the attractions of Exmoor just a little further. From Ilfracombe you can get a boat across to Lundy Island, which lies just offshore and is well worth a visit, especially for climbers (about half an hour crossing).
Overall, I think Croyde has a lot to offer to a diverse range of visitors. Unfortunately, because of this, it does get very crowded. However, the village has managed to resist the tackier side of development (no seaside arcades, for example) and retain its charm. I would recommend you visit to see for yourself.
Over the Christmas period our fridge freezer broke down. Against our better judgement, and only because we felt we really needed refrigeration with 2 babies in the house, we ventured out into the post-Christmas sales. We found the perfect model in Comet. I will say, it was a great price, at only £499 for an LG all-singing-all-dancing USA-style unit. But, actually buying the thing was not easy as the store was heaving. Eventually my husband and myself managed to tackle a passing assistant and pin him in a corner where he couldn't escape!
The assistant SEEMED very helpful. We pointed out the model we wanted and he looked on the computer system to see when it could be delivered, and most importantly, plumbed in, since it had an ice-maker/dispenser. We pointed out that (a) we had never had a plumbed-in model before so didn't think that we had the necessary connections and (b) did they need to see our kitchen first, because the fridge freezer would be positioned some distance from the sink, so presumably the pipe(s) would need to be routed round the back of the kitchen cupboards. We were assured that Comet would install and connect the unit, at a cost of £69.99. This seemed reasonable. We were assured that delivery was free, and a delivery date was set for two weeks time.
When we got home, we rang Comet customer services, and explained the situation. We wanted to double-check that Comet really would plumb this thing in! We were once again told that, yes, they had workmen who did this all day, every day and it was no problem.
Delivery could be any time between 8am and 6pm, but our purchase arrived at around 10am. We had removed the old broken fridge freezer, and cleared the cupboards between the vacant space and the sink. The deliverymen had to remove the doors from the fridge freezer to get it in through the front door but were pleasant about it - apparently this is fairly common. They did scuff up the laminate floor getting it into the kitchen however.
Then came the big crunch. They stared blankly at us when we pointed out the water supply to them. We explained that we had paid for connection. Oh no, we don't do that, came the reply. They argued that the £69.99 was a delivery charge. We then all rang customer services, who confirmed that we had been misinformed by both the store assistant and customer services previously! But they did agree to refund the £69.99.
That still left us with one very large silver object sitting in the middle of our kitchen (and looking much larger than it did in the shop!)
It actually turned out to be relatively simple to install, with the aid of a drill, some push-and-fit bendy plumbing and a quick trip to B&Q to purchase an adaptor to screw onto the cold water feed. HOWEVER - to add insult to injury, when we pulled the unit forward to connect up the pipe, we discovered that the back panel had two large dents in it. "On Sale" or not, I wanted a perfect one for £499! So, yet more phone calls, this time to the complaints department, to demand a replacement. Comet were unable to supply another one for - you guessed it - another 2 weeks, so in the meantime we are using the dented one. However, we did get them to email us to confirm that this would not affect our rights to a replacement (and you wouldn't believe the difficulty THAT caused as Comet are apparently not in the computer age yet). I will confirm whether the replacement actually arrives when it happens!
Overall, I have not been very happy with Comet. It's a good job that we were able to manage a little DIY or they would have been taking the fridge freezer away again with a few choice words thrown in for free.
The dented fridge freezer WAS replaced 2 weeks later. Unfortunately the deliverymen who brought it seemed unable to work out how the wheels worked, and scraped it sideways across the laminate floor in the hall. Talk about adding insult to injury. We knew without looking what we would find. So did the chief deliveryman. He immediately called customer services to confirm that Comet would pay to replace the floor. Overall, this turned out to be an expensive "sale" for them!
We had to get two quotes for replacing the floor (which was not an easy job, as it needed to exactly match the rest of the downstairs flooring) and then Comet sent ANOTHER man to come and take pictures of the damage but eventually Comet did send us a cheque to cover the cost of the work. This was some four months after the original purchase and strangely enough, I haven't been tempted by any of their summer sales!
I am generally a big fan of products made by The Sanctuary, a wonderful day spa in Covent Garden in London (ladies only). Their products are usually good quality, and are available from the spa and Boots The Chemist. Last Christmas Boots ran a BOGOF offer, so it was no surprise that I received a number of Sanctuary gifts.
Among them was a bottle of Foaming Bath Soak, which I think was only recently introduced to the Sanctuary range. It comes in a bottle of 250ml for £4.50 (although as I mentioned, I was given it). You can also buy it as part of many different gift packs of Sanctuary products. The bottle is clear, squeezy plastic, with the characteristic fish logo of the Sanctuary on the front (a downwards pointing fish in an orange-washed circle). To dispense the bath soak, you press down on one side of the orange bottle top, which pops up a spout on the other side. The content is pale orangey-yellow and has a creamy, silky texture, which I found easy to squeeze out of a full bottle; however, with subsequent use I have found that it's a bit thick, and needs shaking down / multiple squeezing (or alternatively, for impatient people like me, unscrew the top and stick the bottle under the tap).
The blurb on the front of the bottle states, "relax and indulge your body with Wheat Protein, Aloe Vera and Patchouli Oil to unwind, moisturise and condition your skin". I would say that you could smell that it contains wheat protein, although to be honest, it smells pretty much like most of the Sanctuary products do, a fairly distinctive fresh, yet subtle, smell. There is a slight note of fruit, which I assume is the Patchouli oil. Unlike most Sanctuary products though, I found that I had to use quite a lot to get the amount of foam I wanted and the "feel" of the product in the water. For those familiar with these products, it's definitely a less luxurious feel than, say, Mande Susu (which, at £7.95 for 475ml is also cheaper). If you use quite a lot, then the foam produced is adequate, although it doesn't last for an entire "soak". The bottle contains enough for around 5 decent baths.
Afterwards, I found my skin didn't feel dry (so better than using soap, for example), but it also didn't exactly feel moisturised either. To be fair though, the back of the bottle does state, "For best results, follow with The Sanctuary Body Lotion". My husband did comment that I smelt nice though, and the smell lingered for hours.
Overall, I must admit to being slightly disappointed with this product. It does give a pleasant bathing experience, with a lovely smell, but it almost feels like they have "spoilt" it by making it foam - but maybe that's just my personal preference. It doesn't "feel" as luxurious as a typical Sanctuary product and seems a little expensive as a result. Also, to make it foam, it contains sodium laureth sulphate, which will concern some consumers since this has been investigated as a potential carcinogen. I also notice on the list of ingredients that it contains the colours "Yellow 5" and "Yellow 6" and several stabilisers and preservatives - which seems a little odd for a product promoting itself on it's "natural" ingredients. I don't dislike it, but I probably won't be rushing out to buy it either.
Continuing my quest to rid my face of troublesome blackheads, I have recently been using Boots Tea Tree & Witch Hazel peel off face mask. The main reason that I bought it, to be honest, was that I am currently on a tight budget, and at £2.99 for 50ml, it seemed good value. I spotted it on the shelf in a no-nonsense but attractive clear plastic tube with a light green and blue motif, with tea tree and witch hazel written clearly down one side.
I was familiar with both of these ingredients. Tea tree oil is well known for its anti-microbial properties, having been used for centuries in traditional medicines. Likewise, witch hazel, an extract of the shrub, is an old-fashioned astringent. On inspecting the back of the tube, I discovered that the mask contained 0.2% tea tree oil and 10% distilled witch hazel, so I expected it to be quite astringent maybe too much - but decided that it still seemed promising. The tube stated that it deep cleans and tightens pores, and helps remove blackheads exactly what I was looking for.
As with most facemasks, you apply this to freshly washed, dry skin. The tube has a flat, flip top lid and it is easy to squeeze out the pale green liquid inside. The liquid is very thick, and very, very sticky. It smells very fresh and clean, predominantly of sweet tea tree oil. Surprisingly, it doesnt smell of solvents, even though I had noticed a few alcohols listed on the back of the tube. It spreads easily across the face, with a little going a fairly long way, but it is thick enough to give a good coverage without spreading too thinly. Immediately the mask starts to dry it gives a pleasant, cooling sensation.
The instructions on the tube state that the mask takes around 10-15 minutes to dry, but I always leave it at least 15, or nearer 20 minutes, because if its not completely dry it wont peel off properly; you just get a smeared sticky residue instead. I have used other peel off masks that dry to a very crispy, brittle finish which are annoying to pick off in small pieces; fortunately, this one forms more of a plastic. It doesnt (as the instructions warn) dry if you use it in the bath, due to the steam. As it dries, I can feel a slight tightening of my face, but nothing too drastic.
After the required 15 minute wait and trying not to be impatient its time to remove the mask. If you smile and wrinkle your nose, this stretches the dried mask, cracking it and turning it white and it comes away quite easily, in a stringy, plastic sheet. * Gross warning * There is not much evidence of blackheads present on the removed mask (unlike those fabric nose-strips which can be so satisfying!) but my skin does feel cleaner and tighter, and those pesky clogged pores definitely improved. A quick rinse with warm water is required to get rid of the last traces of residue, and an application of moisturiser to sooth the slight dryness.
As with most cleansing masks, it does draw up all those nasty impurities from deep down in your pores, so the next day you can actually gain a few spots, but over the long term, I think it is a beneficial product.
I would say that this mask does largely deliver what it promises to deep clean your skin and remove blackheads although it is slightly drying and I would imagine the alcohol content would make it unsuitable for some people with sensitive skin. However, its very good value at only £2.99 as you will get several uses from it at least five to ten, depending on how generously you apply it. Four out of five from me.
Sweet things? If you like sweet things, then you cant get much sweeter than Baklava, which is a traditional Greek snack. My husband is completely addicted to it, but I have to ration him because, as you will see, its not the healthiest option. But its a lovely occasional treat. I have to admit that I cheat slightly by using ready-made filo pastry from Tesco, but if you are a great cook then I expect you could make some from scratch beforehand.
500g filo pastry
200g unsalted butter
400g pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped (can be substituted with walnuts or pecans)
1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons honey
Juice of half a lemon
1. Preheat oven to 180 C / gas mark 4.
2. Mix the nuts and cinnamon together in a bowl to coat the nuts.
3. Melt the butter the easiest way to do this is in a bowl in the microwave.
4. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish (25 x 30cm is a good size). Place one sheet of filo pastry in the bottom of the dish and brush with melted butter. Repeat with four or five layers. Dont worry if the pastry slightly overlaps the dish, as the pastry will shrink when it cooks.
5. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts.
6. Continue adding layers of filo pastry, brushing each one with melted butter, and sprinkling with filling every five or six layers. Finish with the last few layers of pastry.
7. Brush the top with butter to get it really crisp and golden when it cooks. Score the top layers into diamond shapes to make it easier to cut and lift once cooked, but be careful not to cut all the way through. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Take out and leave to cool.
8. Add the sugar, lemon juice and honey to the water and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for ten minutes (you will see the colour of the syrup lighten).
9. Pour the hot syrup over the baklava.
10. Resist the temptation to eat the baklava straight away, but let it cool and absorb the syrup. Then cut out a sticky slice and enjoy.
You have no danger of not being able to find Stanage Edge. I actually laughed the first time that I got out of the car at the absurdity of worrying that we might somehow miss it. Stanage is the most northern of the eastern edges in Derbyshire, a series of dark millstone cliffs that run across the moors in a roughly north-south line. Its not the tallest of the group, but boy, it sure is the biggest, running for approximately four miles. Standing in an exposed, high spot, the Edge is visible for miles around, a dark, faintly foreboding omnipresence on the horizon.
Stanage lies immediately west of Sheffield, and overlooks the small town of Hathersage to the Southwest. It stretches from Crow Chin in the north to the Cowper Stone at its southern end. Its proximity to Sheffield and the fact that it is possible to drive to within 20 minutes walk of any part of the crag makes it a very popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, whether they be walkers, climbers, parascenders or just people who want to park up and admire the view. I can hardly complain about the crowds though, having visited it myself at least twice a year for the last 17 years since I was a student, and keen climber, in the Midlands.
Here are my observations of this holy Mecca of British climbing from my numerous visits:
*** The good things: ***
1. The accessibility.
I am going to list this as both a good and a bad thing. Its certainly an easy place to visit. Most visitors seem to approach from Bamford and Hathersage to the west and park on the road below the edge, although at weekends its advisable to get there early to guarantee a space. (The alternative approaches are from the A57 at Moscar Lodge, for the northern end of the Edge, or across the Hallam Moors from the East). From here it is an easy scramble up through the bracken on well-worn trails to the bottom of the crag. If you intend to walk the top, there is a proper path leading up at either end and along the crest. This is laid with loose stones and a bit uneven (stout boots advised), but is an easy gentle walk that is basically level once you have conquered the initial incline. You can also get up on the top using part of an old Roman Road from Brough to Doncaster that ascends about half way along.
I would assume these paths are not easily accessible for the physically disabled but Im not really qualified to comment.
2. The community (aka crowds).
This is related to point 1, and again both a good and a bad thing. You are never alone at Stanage, certainly not if you visit the more popular southern end. On the plus side, if you walk the top, you will almost certainly meet someone to pass the time of day with, from serious walkers to families on an afternoon out. If you are climbing there, you will almost certainly be surrounded by others more familiar with the crag than you are, and (in my case anyway) much better climbers than yourself, doing routes that you would need brown Teflon pants for.
3. The view.
This is spectacular, and unimpeded. On a clear day you can see for miles, with rolling hills and valleys toward Hathersage and bleak moorland behind you to the East. The highest point on the Edge, High Neb, stands at 458m.
4. The historical interest.
There are several abandoned millstones lying around at Stanage, which were used for grinding grain in the local mills in the 19th Century. However, these gave the flour an unappetising colour and fell out of favour even before the mills themselves shut.
Another man-made feature is the presence of small, rounded hollows in the top of the Edge. Public access today is taken for granted, but the area used to be a private grouse moor and these were created to provide drinking water for the birds.
There is also the Roman Road.
5. The rock.
The rock at Stanage is gritstone, often called millstone grit due to its past use. This is a sedimentary rock. The Peak District used to be a great river delta, which gradually filled up with layers of mud and sand; these compacted over millions of years to form strata of shale (from the mud) and gritstone (from the sand). Some layers of grit were laid down in ways that left absolutely uniform rock, free from lines of weakness, and this is what is found at Stanage. The quartz (sand) grains in the rock provide a sharp surface to tear open grains, perfect for milling and for climbing on. The friction is amazing, and the rock eminently sound what more could a climber ask for!
The cliffs came about, by the way, because of the layers and because gritstone is strong; where an underlying weak layer eroded, the gritstone on top snapped off leaving a cliff.
6. The variety of climbing routes.
With over a thousand routes to choose from, there is something for everyone. There are three star* routes right along Stanage, and the more popular southern end of the crag is absolutely littered with them. Most are single pitch, with the longest routes only around 80ft/25m, and most between 40 and 60ft. Most climbers early in their careers will want to climb the famous VD Flying Buttress. At least its easy to find ;-) Sooner or later everyone also feels the urge to try climbing those overhangs direct! And of course, Stanage is the home of Right Unconquerable, which Joe Brown made look easy in a momentous leap-forward in British climbing in 1949.
7. The southwest orientation.
Stanage is a suntrap and on a fine summers day you can climb late into the evening. If the midges dont eat you - see below. The rock dries out quickly after rain.
*** The bad things ***
1. The community (aka crowds).
I am not going to labour this point; after all, I am part of the problem. But in general, my favourite climbing is that which gives a feeling of splendid isolation. Ive never experienced that at Stanage, although to be fair, there are some areas that have less traffic than others. Expect to queue for most of the three star trade routes on a summer weekend though.
I have also experienced a hint of climbing snobbery at Stanage that I havent elsewhere. Fortunately I know my place as definitely-not-a-rock-god so its never bothered me but its disappointing to see.
2. Going to the toilet.
There is nowhere, I repeat, nowhere where you can discretely have a pee at Stanage, at least not at the more popular, southern end. Bracken does not provide cover, especially when you have crowds on a cliff top 25m above you. This provides a dilemma for the climber: you need to keep adequately hydrated but without overdoing it. At the very least, go before you arrive! I unfortunately always seem to leave Stanage dehydrated, due to the exposure of the place and my lack of exhibitionism. I am seriously considering buying a she wee for my next visit.
3. The wind.
Stanage is high up, and often windy. This can be a blessing on summer days, as the crag faces southwest and becomes quite hot, although you can then not notice yourself burning! Most of the time though, I am very glad of a hat.
4. The dust.
Which brings me to my next point: dust. Stanage is suffering from its popularity, and eroding at an alarming rate. The sand is blown around by the wind, and its fair to say that after a days climbing here you will be picking black stuff out of your nostrils for a week.
The most popular routes are also sadly becoming extremely polished to a smooth finish.
5. The midges.
Unfortunately, Stanage suffers from swarms of these little blood-suckers. Strong repellent is needed.
6. The southwest orientation.
Although really a blessing, this can mean that it gets really hot at the crag, too hot for anything too strenuous and there is little shade.
7. The grading of climbing routes.
Best summed up as, Northern grades are hard. Stanage is hardest of all. The grading across the crag is consistent but be aware that some of the Severe routes here would be described as Hard Severe or even Very Severe in other parts of the country. In addition, climbing on gritstone can come as a surprise to the uninitiated a pleasant one when you find that your foot really will stick to nothing, but a scary one when you are looking for a foothold in the first place and decide that nothing will have to do. Gritstone tests your balance as its full of rounded edges and nothing definite.
I have to admit that Stanage is not my favourite crag. I will even admit - sacrilege! grit is not my favourite rock.
Overall, then, Stanages advantages outweigh its disadvantages and it offers an enjoyable day out for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. And if you climb then you will visit many times, its as simple as that.
*** Other useful information ***
There is limited cheap and cheerful accommodation near Stanage but the most popular place to camp when climbing is North Lees campsite, tel 01433 650 838. This gets very busy and its advisable to book. The National Trust owns most of the surrounding land and camping is understandably forbidden.
If the weathers wet or youve been driven away by a swarm of midges, then you can always spend some time browsing around the excellent Outdoors shop in Hathersage, where there is also the obligatory collection of tearooms and greasy spoons.
*the highest rating under the star rating system, denoting an excellent route
The BBC programme "Horizon" has a lot to answer for. Earlier this year it broadcast an investigation into the anti-aging properties of a variety of creams and potions, and * shock horror * announced that one of the products it tested actually seemed to work. That product was Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum. Cue women flocking to Boots in their thousands. Except me.
I have always been very sceptical about the anti-aging claims made by beauty products, and even though "Horizon" is generally considered a serious, ethical programme, I wasn't struck by its findings. I continued happily with the Sanctuary moisturiser that I had been using for years. Until two things happened.
My two sisters in laws, both older than me (in their forties and fifties respectively) started using it. The older one lives in a hot country and she absolutely raved about it. I met up with her a few weeks ago, and I have to say, she was looking good. The other one admittedly was less enthusiastic, but it turned out that she was only using the day cream in the range and not the Beauty Serum.
Then Boots changed the formulation of my Sanctuary moisturiser, so I decided to switch products. I picked up 30ml of the No 7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum and a 50ml pot of Time Resisting Day Cream.
My sister in law's Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum came in a glass bottle with a pump-action top but Boots have changed the packaging, presumably due to availability issues after the Horizon programme aired. Now it comes in a slim, white, semi-transparent plastic tube, inside an outer cardboard box. Well, you have to think you're getting something for your £16.75. The tube has a screw-off lid with a flat top so you can stand the Serum up, and it has a very fine pointy nozzle to squeeze the serum out of. I actually think that this packaging is better, for a number of reasons: you can use every last drop of the Serum, you can control how much you dispense more easily, and the plastic, while not exactly environmentally ideal, is recyclable and probably uses less energy to produce than a glass bottle.
When squeezed out of the tube, the Serum is white and shiny, with a silky feel, almost like liquid soap and with much the same consistency. However, it has a harsh, "chemical" smell, which I recognised instantly from my student days to be an organic solvent (and on inspection of the ingredients list, turned out to be phenoxyethanol). This put me off to be honest, but I still decided to give it a try. It's labelled as hypo-allergenic so I thought it couldn't be that bad.
The Serum glided on effortlessly, with a little going quite a long way; it felt smooth without feeling greasy, and absorbed quickly. I have to say that straight away my skin felt smoother and silky.
As the Serum is designed to be a supplement to normal moisturising, I have been following it with the Time Resisting Day Cream from the same No 7 range. I have been using it for six weeks. At first I used the Serum and day cream twice a day, morning and night, but in the last couple of weeks I have only been using the day cream (ironically) in the evening, and a lighter moisturiser after the Serum in the morning.
So, how are the results?
Boots promise that the Serum "perfects your skin's surface, enlivening your complexion, helping to reduce the appearance of pores and smoothing lines and wrinkles in just 4 weeks". It does this, supposedly, via the action of antioxidants, which help to protect against damage caused by free radicals, and a pro-retinol complex that boosts the skin's elasticity. Well, my skin is definitely smoother. I can see an improvement in the fine lines around my eyes and especially those above my top lip. So from that point of view, I am a satisfied thirty-something-year-old. An unexpected bonus also has been that, as the surface of my skin has evened out, so has the appearance of my "ruddy" cheeks - these are still redder than the rest of my face but have an even tone without any "orange-peel" effect. I rarely wear make-up, but when I do, it now has a great base.
However, there were downsides. I have "combination" skin, which tends to be slightly greasy in the T zone (forehead, nose, chin) but dry on my cheeks. It also varies with hormonal changes through the month. When I started using the Serum and day cream, I found that I broke out in spots on my chin. Also the blackheads in my nose filled up nicely! I persevered for about three weeks in case it was coincidental with the worst point in my cycle; the blackheads did sort themselves out but the spots on my chin remained and in the end had to admit to myself that these products were the cause - which is a real shame, as I was otherwise very happy. As a result, I am only using the Serum once a day (and not on my chin), followed by a light moisturising lotion and this seems to be the ideal solution.
My overall impression, therefore is somewhat mixed. It does deliver what it claims, but it just doesn't suit my skin well enough for me to continue to use it. As is often the case with skincare, it's a case of "suck it and see". If you are not prone to spots, you may well love it. At £16.75, it won't break the bank if it doesn't work for you. It's certainly much cheaper than many other (overpriced) anti-aging products, and my tube of 30ml has lasted for more than six weeks.
One last moan that I have though, is why do they call it a "serum"? I have used it throughout this review, as that is the name of the product (and hence my use of capitals) but this is one of my pet hates in the cosmetics industry: the misuse of impressive-sounding medical words. Serum implies a biological fluid - which this clearly is not. You don't fool us you know, Boots!
For further information please see the Boots website, www.boots.com.
I have also included a full ingredients list below for those who like to research their chemicals ;-)
Dimethicone cross polymer
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
The latest offering from director Mel Gibson, Apocalypto, is a historical action-adventure set in ancient Maya culture. I knew very little about the film before I watched it, other than the genre and that it had had some comparisons to prey-turned-hunter films such as Predator and Rambo. I was curious to see it though, because Gibson, whether consciously or not (and I suspect the former) is gaining a reputation for making films that are somewhat outside of the mainstream.
Whether you love him or loathe him, Mel Gibson has had an outstanding career. He was one of the biggest action movie heroes of the 1980s and 90s, and made the notoriously tricky transition to director, beginning in 1993 with The Man Without a Face which he also starred in. Since then he has earned an Oscar for his direction of the 1995 Scottish epic, Braveheart (featuring Gibson covered in blue war-paint) before whipping up a storm of controversy with his 2004 film, The Passion of The Christ a hard-hitting, bloody portrayal of the Bible story, which Gibson had to bankroll himself as it was filmed in the original Aramaic spoken at the time of Christ and cast using unknown actors. Accusations of anti-Semitism were levelled at Gibson, a devout Catholic, following the film, and these appeared to be confirmed in 2006 when, while being arrested on a drink-driving charge, he made a number of anti-Semitic comments to the officers involved.
All of this, naturally, coloured my judgement on this latest film, as I think it is impossible to separate the film from its director, and what he has, maybe, set himself up to stand for.
The film starts with a hunting party in the rainforest working together to capture a tapir. As the spoils of the hunt are distributed, we are introduced to the young men in the group, including the central character, Jaguar Paw, whose father is leading the hunt. The young men poke fun at each other and play practical jokes, and it is apparent that theirs is an idyllic, traditional way of life that has continued for generations. However, we get a forewarning that something is amiss when the party encounter other tribesmen and women crossing their territory, who warn that their lands were ravaged and that they seek a new beginning. Importantly, when returning to the village, Jaguar Paws father tells him not to disclose this to anyone, because fear infects, and eats the soul. Do not fear anything, he tells his son. This section of the film, while beautifully shot, is quite lengthy and I found the action a bit slow to start.
In the village we are introduced to more characters including the young mens wives and children. In the early hours, there is a raid on the village by fearsome-looking warriors from another tribe, who capture many of the men, rape and kill most of the women, and leave the children to fend for themselves as they lead the captives off to their city. Before his capture, Jaguar Paw manages to hide his heavily pregnant wife and young son, vowing to return and rescue them.
At the City, we learn that the crops have failed and there is famine. The women are auctioned off as slaves, and there is a bloody fate in store for the men, courtesy of the religious leaders. (And the men are painted blue). By a very fortuitous coincidence of timing (a miracle perhaps?) Jaguar Paw manages to escape, and flees back to his jungle, pursued by a band of warriors who he must then pick off one by one before attempting to rescue his wife and child.
The film is subtitled, shot in a Maya dialect. The cast is almost entirely made up of unknown, indigenous Central and South Americans, but despite (or maybe because of) this, the acting is superb. There were one or two scenes, notably in the first part of the film, where the camaraderie between the young men felt a little stiff and forced, with plenty of over-acting going on, but in general the actors were completely believable in their portrayals. There are some touching, non-verbal scenes.
Its obvious that Gibson wanted this movie to be as authentic as an action movie can be, from the choice of cast and language, to the costumes and the set centrepiece, the recreation of a Mayan City. The latter was certainly huge and impressive, complete with several full-size Mayan pyramids in a lavish, sweeping vista the budget must have been generous yet I remember thinking But was it really like that? The arrival scenes at the City are very dramatic, and visually stunning, yet somehow it didnt entirely ring true for me. Nonetheless, they serve the films purpose of portraying somewhere very different (and much more decadent) than Jaguar Paws usual surroundings.
The City scenes, however, are only in the middle section of the film, with most of it taking place in the jungle. The chase scenes here are slick and tense, with some inspired choices of weapon including a beehive, and of course the obligatory waterfall-dive escape. Although the storyline feels predictable and done-before, theres no denying that it is well filmed, with the viewer squarely in the thick of it.
However, one of the all-pervading themes of the movie is how gory it is. There are some incredibly violent scenes, and Gibson seems to relish going beyond what is necessary to communicate the story; he obviously wants the audience to be squirming in their seats. Be warned, a very strong stomach is required.
The soundtrack, although not immediately memorable, works well to enhance the ancient, other-worldliness quality of the film. There are low, droning instruments and jungle drums, which beat ominously louder and louder towards the sacrificial scenes, together with shamenic chanting.
There are some very good and a few bad points about this film. Firstly, it looks brilliant. The camera work is excellent. The characters are very engaging, and you are drawn happily into their world at the start of the film. I found myself able to care about Jaguar Paw, and the fate of his wife and child. However, the film is fundamentally an action movie, and I did find myself wondering when the action would finally start.
A major downside too, for me, was the level of violence in the film. Gibson has been criticised for portraying the Mayan people as barbarians. I believe that he was trying to show, in a realistic way, how tough life must have been in the ancient world. I am not against violence per-se, but I do think that he went beyond what was necessary to communicate the story, and I dont think that prolonged shots of blood pumping out of gaping chest wounds, severed necks, or heads and bodies bouncing right down the steps of the sacrificial pyramids added much to the story. I found myself thinking, Was that really necessary? on more than one occasion. At times, this obsession with gore seemed to slow the pace of the action, to the detriment of the film. Still, if you want a film that will shock you, then this is it.
An area that I feel ambivalent over was the fact that the film partly deals with the theme of religion and blind-faith; the desire to appease their vengeful gods is what drives the City Mayans to make so many human sacrifices. Gibson has been quoted as saying that he told the cast not to think of themselves as bad guys, but that they are simply part of their culture, and doing what is expected of them, what they believe is right. Without wishing to offend anyone reading this review that has a religious faith, surely there is a huge irony in this film being made by a man who is supposedly so pious that he made a film about the suffering of his God on earth? Does he recognise the parallels between his own actions and those of the characters in Apocalypto? Or is that somewhat the point? Anyway, it gave me an uncomfortable feeling.
Overall however, as a chase movie, Apocalypto is not really that original. But it was well told and is well set, with some good performances and thought-provoking themes so I would have to say that I liked it. 7/10 from me. And I resisted the urge to call this review Mad Mayan.
Run Time: 132 mins
Director: Mel Gibson
Producer: Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey
Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Bird, Carlos Emilio Baez, Amilcar Pamirez, Israel Contreras Vasquez, Israel Rios, Isabel Diaz, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Rodolfo Palacios, Ariel Galvan, Fernando Hernandez Perez, Maria Isidra Hoil
My husband really enjoys eating fish, but I am not a big fan so dont tend to cook it at home much. Because of this, he appreciates a good fish selection when we eat out. So when we wanted to have a romantic meal together recently, and having recently moved to South Devon, it seemed natural to head to the port of Brixham; not only is this one of the busiest fishing ports in England, it is also very quaint with a picturesque harbour.
A quick search of the internet revealed a number of likely candidates and although we would normally prefer to book somewhere based on personal recommendation, we decided to take a punt on a reasonably early table at Beamers restaurant. I liked the look of the booth style seating, as too often you end up stuck in a corner or a corridor when there are only two of you. You could hear the smile in their reply that it would be no problem when we requested a table with a sea view.
Beamers is located right on the harbour-side in Brixham, in an area packed with eateries. If you are driving, you might be lucky enough to get one of the limited parking spaces on the street outside, but you will probably need to keep going and park in the car park further out on the headland. There is a small (£1.50) charge to park here in the evenings and its a level, five minute stroll back along a path into Brixham, past the smelly fish market on your left!
Although Beamers is located on the first floor of the building it occupies, it was easy to locate, being well marked with a hanging sign and sandwich board at the entrance. The outside of the building looked smart and well-kept, with wooden window boxes planted with trailing greenery sitting below open, hardwood-framed picture windows. However, the stairs were steep and frankly the stairwell was a bit dingy and off-putting, with dark wallpaper. But we pressed on inside.
Inside, Beamers had a nautical theme, with plenty of hanging glass buoys and thick ropes. Each of the booths seemed to seat four people, and were named rather than numbered, with the appropriate nameplate hanging above the table like a ships nameplate. We were ushered to our table, Inspire, which was appropriate enough, next to the window with a lovely view out across the harbour and further out to sea. We were pleased with the location.
I liked the informal nautical theme, although it did strike us as very dated, and there were elements of over-looked maintenance in evidence such as a missing ceiling tile and a broken high-chair parked next to our table. However, the booth was very comfortable, and spacious, which we both appreciated, being tall people. There was no air-conditioning in the restaurant, so I imagine that it could become a little warm sometimes the windows were open when we arrived, but we did close ours when little evening beasties started to come in.
Now, onto the food: the advertising for Beamers states that All the seafood is hand selected by Simone herself from Brixham's fish market, ensuring only the finest, freshest goods are served in the restaurant. As well the seafood, Beamers's is renowned locally for their sumptuous Westcountry steaks, local meats, home made vegetarian dishes and delicious home made desserts.
A kind way to describe the menu might be to say that it contained mainly British classics. Having said that, from a choice of ten starters, my husband did indeed select the prawn cocktail lol. This came nicely presented as a tower of prawns, with mixed salad leaves and a warm chunk of granary bread. The prawns were plump, juicy and tasty. I chose a dish described as Large flat Mushrooms topped with Devon blue cheese served on a bed of tomato & herbs. This was disappointing, as the tomatoes turned out to be something resembling tomato puree with some herbs stirred through.
My husband also faired better than I did with his main course, which was a truly awesome Dover Sole, simply oven baked with a touch of butter and black pepper. I have to say, this was cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection, and if I ever ate here again, this is what I would order, despite not considering myself a fish lover. I had a plain rump steak, which I had ordered medium-rare but which arrived as distinctly medium to well done and not that tasty compared to some other excellent local meat I have had. The dauphinoise potatoes were soggy and bland, and the steamed vegetables were also soggy. I was not impressed.
We didnt order dessert or coffee, as we decided to get an ice-cream and sit watching the sun go down on the harbour instead. Despite the fairly mixed results with the food, we had a pleasant evening overall, and the bill came to £51 including two rounds of drinks. The wine choice by the glass, by the way, was only house red or house white; I had the house red which was actually quite pleasant but I would have liked more choice. The service had been pleasant and attentive from our waitress though, a very young but charming girl, so it wasnt all bad by any means. Overall, however, I probably would try one of the other restaurants in Brixham before returning.
I have voted "yes" to whether I recommend it to others, but only really for the fish, and with the reservations above. It's the sort of place that would make a nice lunch date but sadly it's only open in the evenings. Should you want more details, they can be found at www.beamersrestaurant.co.uk.
Burnham Nurseries is a specialist orchid nursery near Newton Abbot in Devon. It is located in some pretty countryside just off the A382 at Forches Cross, fronted by an ample car park and small picnic area. If you wanted to use public transport to travel, there is a bus stop on the A382 near to the nursery turn-off, but knowing public transport in Devon, I would imagine that you would want to plan your journey very carefully if you intended to do this. They are open every day from 10am to 4pm except winter bank holidays.
The whole of the nurseries is under cover, in a number of giant inter-linked greenhouses, with the entrance to the main retail area being straight in front of the car park, in the centre greenhouse. The adjacent greenhouse, to the left, and very slightly downhill, is Orchid Paradise, which is a permanent display house, for which there is a small entrance charge. More about that in a moment, but it does help to locate the nurseries, as there are brown tourist signs from the A382.
I first purchased a plant from Burnham Nurseries approximately 15 years ago. Since then, I have visited the nurseries and Orchid Paradise on several occasions, and having just relocated to Devon, I was pleased to find that the business is still going strong. In fact, it has been trading since 1950, and is now on its third generation of the same family. As well as their Devon site, Burnham Nurseries exhibit and sell their orchids at shows and special orchid events all over the country, and also through their website, www.orchids.uk.com.
At the nurseries themselves, the first thing that you notice when you enter is how light and airy it is. The plants are arranged in staging along the length of the greenhouses, and there is plenty of space to wander around between them. Burnham stock a very wide range of species (they claim the largest selection in the UK), so whatever time of year you visit, there is usually something to catch your eye. I particularly like that there is no annoying piped music, and although I have always been offered help, there is no pressure at all and you can browse at your leisure. However, if you do want assistance, the staff members are incredibly knowledgeable. After all, as I said above, theyve been growing orchids for over fifty years, and a staggering clutch of gold medals from Chelsea and other flower shows adorn the walls to prove that they know their stuff. The owners of the business, the Rittershausens, have also written many books, guides and even DVDs on various aspects of orchid-keeping, and as you might expect, these are all available at the nurseries along with pots, compost, tools and other orchid related supplies. They even stock a small selection of other plants that would feel at home among your orchids.
When you (finally) decide on a plant, and take it to the till at the exit, the staff will give you all the information you need about where to site your new orchid buddy and how to keep him happy. He will also be securely wrapped so he can be transported home safely. As I mentioned, I first purchased a plant from them 15 years ago and am amazed to report that I havent killed it off yet. I always thought that orchids were tricky to grow, and this impression was reinforced in my teens by an unfortunate episode with a short-lived gift from M&S (I think it made it to the end of the week). However, with the right instructions, and one of the less temperamental varieties recommended to me (a Cymbidium) they are surprisingly undemanding and mine lives quite happily in my dining room.
To give you an idea of price, the orchids start from around £5 for a young plant. Most flowering size plants are around £15-£25, although some varieties are more expensive, up to £50 or more. Given that you can be sure that youre buying a healthy plant, I do think that this is quite good value, and compares well with prices at other nurseries. (And although not directly comparable, some of the large retail chains like Tesco and Marks and Spencer sell a couple of the more popular orchid varieties, and these start from around £30, so Burnham Nurseries scores well against these too. I personally wouldnt consider buying from Tesco or Marks and Spencer though, as the plants are likely to have traveled from Holland and then sat in the store so may not be in the best condition like my previous experience). If you are ordering through the website, rather than in person at the nurseries, you should bear in mind that there is also a delivery charge, of £10.
If choosing from their staggering variety becomes too much for you, you can take a break at the coffee bar in the centre of the nurseries; this actually only comprises a few plastic chairs and a couple of tables, with tea and coffee making facilities, but they do also have a small freezer stocking the most heavenly little tubs of ice cream that I have tasted anywhere and now I must have one every time I visit. I wish I could remember the name!
As I mentioned previously, one of the greenhouses is given over to a permanent display, Orchid Paradise and this is definitely something unique and not to be missed. Entrance is £2, children under 14 free. Here you can admire orchids in a natural rainforest setting, with orchids and other plants growing around a pool and clinging onto trees, with trailing aerial roots and flower spikes that you would see in the wild. This is the perfect escape on a rainy afternoon.
The Burnham Nurseries website, www.orchids.uk.com, is a fascinating source of information on everything orchid, including lots of tips and hints for novice growers such as myself. It is possible to view the latest plant catalogue and order plants online using a credit or debit card, and I have never had any problems with this everything I have ordered has arrived promptly, carefully packed and been correct. Alternatively though, you can phone the nursery to discuss your order and pay directly over the phone. There is a delivery charge of £10 for plants within the UK (£15 if you want delivery before noon or live in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Highlands and Islands or the Isle of Man). They also do a gift service where you can send a message and growing instructions with your plant, although you should note that you cant buy cut flowers, only plants.
Burnham Nurseries state that they will deliver anywhere in the world, and there is information on the website about arrangements for freight and import permits.
Overall, Burnham Nurseries are a real quality outfit; they obviously care passionately about what they do, and sell healthy plants at good prices. 5/5 from me.
When I first decided that I was going to have a go at making jam, I was under the impression that it was some mysterious dark art practiced only by the duly indoctrinated members of rural covens (or the WI). A few years on, I will admit to having had a few disasters, but in the main things have turned out edible. One of my favourite recipes remains one of the easiest, and an excellent one for beginners: crab apple jelly. (Jelly just means a clear jam, not the wobbly stuff you have with ice cream, by the way).
Crab apples, up to 4lbs
Sugar, 1lb per pint of cooked apple juice
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Crab apples are small, sour apples; the trees that they come from are descendents of wild, rather than cultivated, apple varieties. I have always been lucky enough to have them growing in my garden; however, if you are not blessed in this way, you may find them for sale at farmers markets and the like, although theyre not typically available from supermarkets.
LARGE pan and lid, preferably stainless steel
Clean tea towel or, if you want to be fancy, a muslin bag
Glass jars and lids
Waxed paper discs
Clear plastic film covers, elastic bands, sticky labels
To start with, rinse the apples and cut them into quarters. Dont worry about peeling or coring as you will be straining the fruit later. Put the apples together with the halved lemon into a large saucepan, with a couple of inches of water in the bottom to stop them from sticking when you turn on the heat. You will need a large enough pan to hold TWICE the volume of the fruit and sugar. This is because to get the jam to set, you need to cook it at a rolling boil, which makes it double in volume. So if you dont have a very large pan, its best to make your jam in batches. In any case, the largest batch I would recommend is about 4lbs of crab apples. Put the lid on tight and boil them to destruction usually around 45 minutes to an hour is sufficient. (If you have a pressure cooker, then this would be ideal for this step and cut down the time).
I have also experimented with freezing the apples and crushing them once frozen something my dad used to do when he was making cider to lessen the cooking time needed, but frankly, they break up easily enough from quarters, so it doesnt seem worth the bother, plus Im not sure whether freezing them spoils the taste.
Now you need to strain the fruit. I do this by pegging a CLEAN tea towel over a big old mixing bowl, although you should be warned that this step does take ages so you might want to invest in a proper muslin bag (like a long sock) that you can just fill to the brim and leave to its own devices overnight. A tea towel needs a couple of refills but since my husband sells them, amongst other things, for a living, we have an endless free supply so it would seem churlish not to use them! Do NOT squeeze the bag, or you will end up with a cloudy final product the aim is to get a completely clear apple juice. The lemon is not completely necessary, by the way, but gives a nice zing, and makes sure that the juice is acidic to help the setting process.
Once you have your clear juice, put it back in the cleaned pan, and add 1lb of sugar per pint of juice that you have extracted. You can use ordinary granulated sugar, or pay extra for special jam sugar which has a finer grain, although I cant tell you whether this gives a better finish as Ive never bothered (ahem, could afford) to try it. Dissolve all the sugar over a gentle heat. Youll be able to tell when its all dissolved if you use a wooden spoon as you can no longer feel a crunch at the bottom of the pan. Then crank up the heat and get the mixture boiling you need to achieve a rolling boil, which means that it is actively boiling (ie more than a simmer) but not rising up the pan. If you can not get rid of the bubbles with stirring, but its not rising up the pan, then you are at the right point. You can add the cinnamon stick here if you want extra flavouring (wrapped in a piece of muslin to prevent it breaking up). You want to boil for about 30-45 minutes, or until the jelly will set.
As an aside, the reason that this recipe is so good for beginners is due to the high pectin content in crab apples. Pectin is a naturally occurring sugar found in some fruit and vegetables, and acts as a gelling agent, in the presence of acids and sugar, to make jam set. With some fruits, the pectin content is very low so you have to mix n match, or use additional pectin to get the jam to set, but this crab apple recipe seems fairly bomb proof and sets well every time. You can tell when the jelly will set by dropping a teaspoon full onto a refrigerated cold saucer. If it sets, the mixture is ready.
In the meantime, you need to prepare your jars ready for the jelly. I have an assortment of jars that I have collected over the years, but if youre doing it for the first time, its worth knowing that a 2lb jam jar holds about 1 ¼ pints of jelly. (And for those of you who actually DID go metric in the 1970s, that 1lb = 454g). These need to be scrupulously clean, so that the jelly will keep for a long time without going off. A hot wash in the dishwasher should be sufficient, although give them a quick check over afterwards. I usually wash them just before Im going to use them, so that they are kept warm in the hot steam; be warned, if you allow them to get cold and pour hot jelly into them, they will crack. So if you wash them by hand, you may want to keep them warm them in the oven before use.
As soon as your jelly is at setting point, take it off the heat and ladle it (or if youre brave, pour it) straight into your waiting jars, and slip a wax disc on top. The aim is to get an airtight seal as quickly as possible, to lessen the chance of any germs getting in. Put a transparent plastic cover over the top, and secure with an elastic band, then the jar lid if you have it. The jelly should then keep in a dark, cool place for at least several weeks, possibly longer although mine never lasts that long before its eaten so I couldnt say for sure. It would be sensible to check for signs of mould by then anyway!
I expect that any of you who are thinking of trying this recipe are wondering how much it will cost, so I have done a rough break down per pint of jelly and per a 2lb jar. A 2lb jam jar holds about 1 ¼ pints. The crab apples are free from my garden so youll have to add the cost of these if you are buying them, and the jars themselves if you have not accumulated recycled ones. All consumables prices are from Tesco, wax discs etc. from eBay.
94p per 1 kg/2.2lbs = 43p per 1lb sugar = 43p per pint of jelly = 53p per 2lb jar
Lemon (assuming 1 lemon in 4 pints):
19p per lemon = approx 5p per pint of jelly = approx 6p per 2lb jar
Cinammon sticks (assuming half a stick used in 4 pints):
£1.08 for 4 sticks = approx 4p per pint of jelly = approx 4p per 2lb jar
Wax discs/covers/bands and labels:
Approx £2 for a set of 24 = approx 8p per 2lb jar
Approx 71p per 2lb jar of jelly
I have not included the cost of cooking, but you can see that this jelly is quite cheap to make. As well as being delicious, it makes an ideal cheap present and I have found it to be well received by friends and family.
THE TASTE / USE
This crab apple jelly goes really well with roast pork and particularly all cold meats, especially with the cinnamon added. Admittedly, it does have a fairly high sugar content (although lower than most shop-bought versions of apple sauce or jam) but its an accompaniment, not a main meal and I think we can all get a little paranoid about our food these days. You could try making it with a smaller quantity of sugar, although this would probably affect the setting, and also as crab apples are very sour, they do need a lot of sugar to make the jelly palatable, unless you like a particularly tart taste.