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Nature in Art is a small museum in Twigworth, which is a couple of miles to the North of the town of Gloucester. I find it is always a bit of a gamble on the first visit to small local museums, with some you can discover a little gem of place and others can simply be dusty and dull. Nature in Art is a museum that solely focuses on any form of art that has something to do with nature, ranging from fine art oil paintings to odd iron sculptures in the garden in the form of various birds, this weekend was our second visit and whilst it is not my favourite museum of all time, it is very interesting and is one I will always consider if I have a couple of hours spare.
The museum is on the main Twigworth road, which is very easy to get to by car or a number 71 bus from Gloucester bus station. I've just noticed a lovely little paragraph on their website that says that the drive is half a mile long and if you can't manage it, give them a call and they will arrange transport up the drive. They also have a couple of wheelchairs available and there is a lift to the second floor.
The drive is indeed long, it is a small single track drive with a few passing places and you catch glimpses of the imposing Georgian building that goes by the name of Wallsworth Hall. There is a small car park on the left and the building always looks closed as you walk up to it, mainly because the big English front door is usually closed with a 'please come in' sign on it, as it must get a bit draughty inside. The seen is set as you walk up the path with a wood carved owl greeting you.
The entrance fees are fairly reasonable, currently:
Under 8's Free
Closed Christmas and Monday's
There are several permanent exhibits within the house section of the museum, a huge lion which I think is in stone in one of the downstairs rooms, a beautiful wood carved fireplace with a painted freeze of the house above it, the fireplace having things like bulrushes and running water. Then several paintings like an amazingly detailed, very sad looking old lion oil painting, some prints by Tunnicliff, who was famous for some of his illustrations of the original print runs of Williamson's Tarka the Otter. There are all sorts of mediums and several paintings by ornithological illustrators, even some really big pencil drawings, not what you would expect at all. The amount of detail that some people are able to get into a water colour painting never ceases to amaze me, mainly because painting was something I was advised to give up at the first possible opportunity at school. These exhibits are all very nice but certainly not worth the return visit, however what every good small museum needs to do, especially in these austere times is to offer good variations of things to see, and this is why I am happy to come back to Nature in Art again and will be returning again in the autumn.
The Special Exhibits
Throughout the year the museum always has something different going on, the reason for our first visit at the beginning of last year was they had the prize winners from the annual wildlife photographer of the year awards. These took up the whole of the upstairs 3 rooms and corridors. Each photograph showed the category, age groups, there are some phenomenal young wildlife photographers out there, showing an amazing degree of patience waiting for the right shot, which in some cases must have taken weeks or they were very, very lucky. The photographs also gave details of which camera and lens had been used for the shot, Nikon and Canon definitely coming out favourites. The yearly books of this competition are also very popular.
This weekend they had a display of 'stamp' art. Every year, to raise money, the Wildlife Habitat Trust commissions a prominent wildlife artist to create a picture to be used as a postage stamp. The exhibition was fascinating as there were all of the commissions from recent years, the finished articles in the form of the stamps and in some cases the pencil sketches that the artist worked from.
The garden isn't particularly big, but is a very peaceful place to walk around. I must admit I'm not a big fan of modern sculpture and that is what is mainly here, there are some pretty garden ornament things, such as bird bath with bulrushes and a very impressive whale tale. The most famous piece in the garden does offer a small sense of nostalgia, as I walked past it every working day in my first job from school and anyone familiar with Cheltenham will recognise the huge Golden Eagle that once stood outside the Eagle Star insurance company building.
Artist in Residence
There is a small artist studio in the garden that always has an invited artist who uses it for a week as an outlet to demonstrate to the public and sell their own wildlife pictures. I'll be honest I thought it was just one permanent guy as we had the same one there as on our previous visit, Carl Thompson who is an airbrush artist so fascinating to talk to and watch as it is not a medium you see used very often. They do however change throughout the year.
The Shop is a usual museum shop with gift cards and books etc. There is a natural leaning towards art books and prints. There are a number of prints there by Joy Adamson of Born Free fame with proceeds going to the Elsa Conservation Trust, but they were all flower ones, no lions.
Now this is where I'm not quite sure the museum gets it right. Throughout the year they hold a number of courses for adults and kids, which I'm sure are brilliant, but for a museum that focuses on art I do feel there could be more hands on things, especially for the kids, I'd happily go along more often if I could sit and paint for an hour and get a bit of guidance, rather than have to plan to go and spend a day there.
Nature in Art is a nice museum, not in the least dusty and old because there is always something new going on. It's not somewhere I would make more than an annual visit to but is definitely worthwhile for anyone interested in wildlife art. The next photography exhibition is the first showing of the 2011 competition in October this year so I will be making another visit then.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
Last weekend was our 18th wedding anniversary, so for Saturday night dinner I suggested going to our local farm and getting some steak, they do lovely packs of really tasty sirloin steak for a tenner, which easily feeds the 4 of us and I could probably stretch it further if necessary. Hubby however did that turning his nose up thing and then tried to back track, so a minor grumpy spat followed between us which ended with me giving him the housekeeping money to go to the supermarket to get the shop for the weekend as I was working. My parting words were 'don't go getting supermarket steak it's overpriced and never tastes as good.' He came back with Bighams steak and mushroom pie, from Waitrose, we never usually shop at Waitrose.
What's in the box?
The box is very heavy as it contains 2 pies each served in an individual china bowl, the oven to tableware kind of thing.
As with any kind of ready meal all of the instructions are on the box, but essentially
Oven on at 200 degrees - plonk pies in oven for 35 minutes - leave to stand for a bit - eat!
Calories - Lots!
The pies are steak and mushrooms, braised in a red wine with beef stock and some tomato puree. The lid is a puff pastry.
The important bits
Taking the pies out of the oven they looked truly amazing, the puff pastry had done what it was supposed to do and really puffed up well so it did look very spectacular on the plate.
The top of the pastry was my first bite and it tasted lovely, light and crisp just as you would expect. I decided for the second bite to go for some of the filling as well, so I shoved my fork into the pie and it bounced back at me, I glanced across at hubby and he was doing the same, it was like a piece of cling film had been put across the top of the ramekin bowl. So We both then started giggling and stabbing the thing to death, which eventually did the trick and we got to the gravy mixture underneath. You could then see the pastry properly, and it wasn't beautifully puffy and crisp all the way through, at all, it was the pastry that we had bounced off.
So I fish around in the gravy to get a piece of steak, nope nothing, so I fish again and come out with a mushroom; that tasted nice - quite like a mushroom in fact. The sauce was nice, but I would have preferred a more beefy taste to it, whereas there was an odd sort of taste that I think may have been the tomato puree. I fished again, determined with a new vigour to find a piece of meat, and hey presto I find one. Its ok, it tastes like a piece of steak, but not melting in your mouth and moist steak like I prefer, a little tough to be honest.
In the filling itself I had 3 lumps of steak, and a few mushrooms, I do feel that for Waitrose, and for the price we paid £6.99, we deserved a little more than that.
So in conclusion
These pies tasted nice enough, the pastry didn't really cook properly and I would have liked a lot more filling. Would I buy them again? No.
So when compared to the steak that I would have bought, these pies just didn't taste as good. Not great value for money, but the bowls are nice.
We did however have a wonderful anniversary and the rest of the day passed with Champagne and no more grumpy spats.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
Arthritis has been a problem in my family on both sides, one of my earliest memories is of my Grampy, whose hands were so deformed by it, he was scraping a new potato for his lunch using his finger nails because there was no way he could hold a knife. The thing I remember most about that incident though is him laughing while he was doing it, overjoyed at his ingenuity but I don't think he realised that I saw him afterwards soaking it to try and get it clean and to ease the pain. I would also point out that the age of 4 at the time I was too young to offer to do it for him.
So with a family background like this arthritis is something that I have always been aware of and occasionally do suffer from, although so far I have been lucky and have only suffered occasionally. When I first started to notice it, I bought this book 'Eat to Beat Arthritis' as I always prefer to try and control things through diet before resorting to doctors and pills.
Please note that I am certainly not recommending this book as an alternative to proper medical advice from a qualified professional and I myself have only suffered mild arthritis and it has worked for me but I can-not comment first hand on more severe arthritis.
Marguerite Patten, is a food writer, who has suffered severe arthritis which she controlled through diet. She is a member of the forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine.
Jeannette Ewin is a biochemist and nutritionist; she studied at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine and the Harvard School of public health.
The book is divided into 2 parts and as with most books, is divided into chapters, the first is more of an introduction that doesn't really say very much at all. So I will start with:
Chapter 2 This is entitled 'Know your enemy' and it goes into some detail on the various forms of arthritis: rheumatoid, osteoarthritis and gout which sounds particularly horrible.
Chapter 3 Combatting the Enemy, this chapter is actually very sensible it starts with a detox, of which I'm not a huge fan at best of times but needs must and then the diet follows a 7 week plan to see what works for you. The idea is the first couple of weeks you cut all foods that often cause food intolerances like gluten and alcohol are cut from the diet, usually by this point there has been some relief from the pain. Then in weeks 3 to 7 you gradually start to add them back in so you find out what exactly is causing your inflammation and pain. With me it tends to be orange juice and tomatoes two of my absolute favourite things.
Chapter 4 Lifestyle, this is looking beyond the arthritis and at your health and wellbeing in general. The 5 steps that they focus on are not rocket science, but are important things to consider in any health regime:
1. Control your weight
2. Enjoy gentle exercise
3. Get adequate sleep
4. Learn to relax
5. Have a good laugh
Goes into more detail about arthritis, and the diet also covering food types that harm and heal.
This finally is diet itself. The most useful part of the book, and possibly the only part I refer to regularly is here in a long list of foods that you can eat on the diet without worrying about the effects of arthritis. Along with a few that you can't.
This is of course all the recipes, of which I have made, precisely none!
If at this point you have read my previous recipe book reviews you will know that all of my recipe books have to earn a place on my bookshelf so why has this one survived?
I have used this book, on a fairly regular basis, it has been borrowed by several of my adult piano students, many of whom were learning the piano as an aid to keep their fingers moving in the wake of arthritis. The recipes are not good, there is nothing in there that sparks my interest and there are only a small number of colour pictures of them that I guess for financial reasons are all bunched together in the middle rather than next to their respective recipe. The food lists however are really good and very useful. The information on the disease itself is really good.
With my family history I can see this book becoming more valuable as I get older, but with my limited suffering so far making small changes when I have suffered has definitely made a difference. Also amongst my students who have borrowed the book, many of them have made changes to their diets as a result of the book and have also reported a difference.
I do believe the science and knowledge behind the book is good and will make a difference, it's no miracle cure and I hope to goodness one day there will be, but in the mean time for mild arthritis it has worked for me.
Currently available on Amazon for £5.39 with the usual second hand options.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
Hi, my name is Squeaky Green and I start my diary being lovingly placed in a beautiful basket with lots of my brothers and sisters in a lovely Lush store in Stratford and two long haired teenagers come running in, shortly followed by their short haired Mum.
The youngest girl turns to her Mum and the conversation goes something like this
'but we never come into Lush Mum, you hate the smell of it'
'I know, but I've read hundreds of review on their products and thought we'd give it a go'
My heart sank, this was clearly a woman who didn't love our products, had never even been into a Lush store before in her life. She doesn't know that all our products are natural, many are suitable for vegans and have not been tested on animals. She has never experienced the delight of sinking into a Lush bubble bath and thinks it is an unashamed luxury and unnecessary expense for a single bath. It was nearly closing time and I was destined to spend another night not being used for my proper purpose.
Then something strange happens, the Mum comes over, and picks me up and smells me. I knew I was on to a losing battle, all of my cousins in the neighbouring baskets smell so much sweeter than me, and I'm just made of nettles, rosemary and mint. I mean who is going to choose something that smells of stinging nettles over all of the flashy Mango and other exotic things nearby. Then, insult to injury, she asks the shop lady 'so what do you do with these then?' So the poor lady had to go through a long description about how a shampoo bar, is just like a bar of soap for your hair, when you let it dry put it on its side and it will last longer and it will go less gooey, and don't worry about all the bits of herb in that one, they will just wash away.
It then becomes clear that she is completely tight fisted and is only interested in the family budget, 'so how long does it last' she says with a sarcastic edge to her voice that thinks there is no way that I'm going to be economical, and at £4.85 I'm not the cheapest bar in the shop. So the shop lady patiently explains that I should last 3 times longer than the average bottle, as long as you prop me up to dry properly.
Eventually after lots of wondering around the shop, picking things up, putting stuff down, she comes back over to me, buys me, I get wrapped up in an ugly yellow paper bag and off we go, to my new home with the tight fisted, Lush hater.
Day 1 evening
The eldest teenager decides to try me out, tears the label on the paper bag in half (making it difficult for the Mum to read should she decide to write a review on me) and off to the shower we go.
She did seem to have real trouble getting enough lather to be able to wash her hair with me, but eventually gets enough to wash her hair; she keeps smelling her hands and smiling, it must be that lovely mix of fresh nettle and mint, it's really not so bad. When she'd finished she put me in a tin that the nice Lush lady had given her because they'd bought a couple of hair products.
There I am, happily sleeping in my tin when at some ridiculous time in the morning the Mum pulls the top off the tin, the light comes streaming in, she's in a foul mood apparently because the teenager didn't listen to the shop lady and I now seem to be stuck in the tin. So she's there shaking me, prodding me with a tooth pick, swearing at me and shaking me some more. Eventually I finally drop out and off to the shower we go.
She has no problem getting lather; adult hands seem to find it much easier. She didn't seem particularly sure about the smell of me though, all of my herbs radiating out. I make a good job of lathering her short hair, even if I do say so myself, but she seems underwhelmed and props me up to dry out, just using the lid of the tin.
Then it was the turn of the youngest teen. She is really easy to please, she seemed delighted with my smell, had no problem getting a lather it must be that she was the third person to try. When she'd finished she put me back properly then kept telling everyone how soft her hands felt, I mean whatever next I'm not a hand soap I'm a hair soap.
The Mum comes in, and picks me up, doesn't seem too happy at a gooey patch on the side where I'd been sat for the night. I have to say I had a much better night's sleep in the tin than I did being stood up all night.
She seems to think twice about using me or the bottle, but decides to give me another go. Bits of my dried herbs start to fall out, and off they go down the plug hole. When she'd finished, she was so much happier than yesterday, I think she's getting used to the smell I saw her later that day and she kept running her hands through her hair as if she liked the feel, all soft and touchable, she also kept smelling the girls hair so she must like it!
As the Mum comes in this morning, I am rather embarrassingly sat in a little puddle of my own green goo, but she doesn't seem to mind, she picks me up and gives me a satisfied little sniff, it must be that the herby smell is really starting to work now that I've been used for a few days, the rosemary is finally coming through or was she picking up on some of my other ingredients of chamomile or vanilla. She then carefully places me in the other half of the tin that I hadn't been standing in, and simply uses the liquid goo. Then later I hear her saying that her hair feels a lot more natural now, it's like the natural oils are allowed to stay rather than being chemically washed away like they do with the regular shampoo. She even seems happy with the financial side of me, it looks like with 2 long haired teens to cater for, both of whom seem to love me, I last much longer than a regular bottle so will cost much less in the long term, I mean I'm almost a week in and have hardly reduced in size at all, at least a quarter of a bottle would have gone by now.
So there you have it, the Lush hater seems converted, she apparently prefers my more natural smell to the more pungent, exotic smells of my cousins even if it did take her a couple of days to get used to it and she seems to like the fact that I am so natural so there are certain properties in the herbs that I am made from that can enhance health and beauty, and above all, as I gradually get washed away, I am happy in my new home.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH.
John Williams is a bit of a hero of mine, I sat next to his wife at my daughter's carol concert last year, I still have no idea why they were there and I was so star struck I couldn't even buck up courage to ask for his autograph. He is of course most famous for his wonderful music scores for the Harry Potter series of films and for composing the most terrifying pieces of music of all time consisting of mainly two notes, the theme to the Jaws film.
Warner Brothers have cashed in on the Harry Potter series rather well and particularly with one of their pieces of merchandise, the music scores. The scores are available for various instruments but the focus of this review is Selected Themes from the Motion Picture Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for Easy Piano.
The book was given to my daughter as a birthday gift, I think she was about 7 or 8 at the time and she was around about grade 2 standard on the piano. As a book for a gift it is lovely, it is A4 in size and has 10 pages devoted to photographs from the film, and an additional double page picture of artwork from the film. The music naturally takes up the rest of the book so as a present for a fan of the film, which my daughter most definitely was and still is now at the age of 14, it is brilliant.
What does 'Easy Piano' actually mean?
As a piano teacher, these books adapting popular pieces are a mixed blessing. Anything that gets kids wanting to play the piano, and to practise regularly is a good thing, the problem comes at the top of the front cover where it says 'Easy Piano'. Easy piano literally means 'Easier than the original' which really isn't very helpful, so if the original is so hard that it can only be played by 1% of the piano playing population, an Easy Piano adaptation could be really easy so able to take in 75% of players or still fiendishly impossible with just 5% of people able to play it. Many is the time I have had an enthusiastic young student come to a lesson excited with their new book, only to find that it is generally too hard for them and then disappointment and frustration follows.
Dan Coates who has arranged this selection, is very good at his job, this collection has been arranged with the players in mind and these pieces can be tackled by players of around about grade 3 standard. There are fingerings marked in and they are good, I don't feel any need to change them all, which I frequently do (for non-keyboard players, fingerings simply tell you which finger to use on a particular note.) The key signatures that he has chosen for these are not the original ones as they would be too complicated but they are fairly straightforward, this is one of the most important points with young players as they often forget, so when something sounds very obviously wrong they have often forgotten to use the black notes! The most complicated one in the collection is C minor, but still approachable by grade 3 standard. The place where the standard of the piece is most challenged though is the length of the pieces. Coates is torn between trying to do justice to Williams music and trying to make something that your average learner can cope with, and at this level a piece of two pages is considered long and needs a level of concentration that has often not developed yet, all of these pieces exceed that length and often take in multiple themes from the original.
Now answer me honestly, how many pieces from any Harry Potter film can you actually remember and hum back to me now? I bet you're all humming the main theme 'Hedwigs theme' aren't you? As a general rule, music for films is designed to create atmosphere, help the story along, very few people can remember any music other than the main theme after they have left the cinema. One of the most famous scenes of all time, Alan Rickman being thrown from the Nakotomi building in the first Die Hard film was accompanied by one of the most famous pieces of music ever written, so how many of you can remember what it was?
This however illustrates my point perfectly, of this book of 8 pieces; there is really only one that everyone wants to play, and maybe a further two that people can remember. This doesn't however in anyway diminish it as a set of music.
Aunt Marge's Waltz
This is a great piece, but no one ever plays it, because they don't know it. It's quite modern in the way it's written with some great attitude with accented notes in the middle of the bar. It's marked 'playfully' and there are some lovely triplet bars which any young player would love getting their fingers round. It is 3 pages long.
This is a lovely expressive piece that technically once you've got your head around the 3 minim beat is fairly comfortable. Again it is not a familiar piece so is unlikely to be played often, and it does need a musical player to make the phrases sound how they should, and to keep it interesting. At 4 pages it is one of the longer pieces in the book.
Everyone knows this one and it is great fun to play, it's not too complicated and is quite a flashy piece so sounds fantastic.
Hagrid the Professor
This for me epitomises the music in this film, I remember seeing it at the cinema and the optimism of the major keys used in the first couple of films was gone and there was a sinister, darker feel to the music showing that the films were starting to get darker. The music is in G minor which is a lovely key to play in and it is a variation on Double Trouble with a sad waltz feel to it. Another 4 pager.
This is the one that everyone wants to play because you all know it, and most people will manage it, because they want to be able to show off with it. It's in a comfortable key and isn't too complicated and has a lovely bright section in the middle.
The Snowball Fight
I don't remember this one from the film either, but it is a good one to learn, lots of staccato sections in it, and is quite quick, quite modern again with lots of lovely dissonance chords.
A Winter's Spell
Another unfamiliar one in a lovely C minor key, it's lovely and festive and great fun to play.
A Window to the Past
Any fan of the films will recognise this as a Harry Potter piece but may not know it very well, although it certainly has it's tricky moments to playing it, it is worthwhile.
You may have noticed when describing the difficulty of this book I have used phrases like 'can be tackled by' or 'is approachable' by people of a grade 3 standard. Generally I think this is about right, however with these books of pieces made popular by films or popular songs, kids want to be able to play them straight away, they don't want to spend several weeks working on it. So working on those guidelines it is probably more suited to people of a grade 5 level. It is here then that this collection falls down, age wise I have found these pieces to be most popular with year 6/7 kind of age and whilst my daughter could tackle them at that age she took her grade 5 in the first term of year 7, most kids of that age would not be able to pick them up and rattle them off fairly quickly, and so sadly would get frustrated and be disappointed.
It is currently available on Amazon for £6.11 with the usual second hand options, and if you can see past the fact that it is Harry Potter there are some lovely worthwhile pieces to learn, or if you are a massive Harry Potter fan I can definitely recommend it, but do take the difficulty into account before you buy to avoid disappointment.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
My kitchen is cluttered with a large number of recipe books, and every one of them has to earn their place on the shelf so they must provide maybe a couple of favourite recipes and generally be interesting to read and give lots of other ideas. Christmas books need to work even harder to earn their place, anything that is generally used for less than one month of the year needs to give much more than how to cook a Turkey.
Mary Berry's Christmas book is one of my favourite recipe books, because whilst it does what it says on the cover and tells me how to cook a turkey, mince pies and of course a Christmas cake, there are many recipes in the book that are useful all year round. It caught my eye to review today, in May when Christmas is a long way off, as it was out on top of the kitchen work surface having been used at the weekend.
This introduction is excellent; it gets most of the Christmassy bits out of the way in one fell swoop. There is a sample Christmas dinner menu, a shopping list of store cupboard and Christmas necessities essentials, the like of which would certainly make my bank account feel a little ill, Christmas day timings, things to prepare in advance and of course the necessary 'tips' for a stress free Christmas. Got that - good, now we can get down to the important bits in any recipe book the food.
With the exception of the mulled wine, which never tastes quite right when made from scratch I usually buy mine ready-made, there is nothing in this section that is limited to Christmas and they could all be equally used for a summer drinks party. Having said that with my particular group of friends canapés tend to be restricted to a bowl of peanuts. There are however some useful dips recipes and a nice smoked salmon canapé.
Any one of the recipes in this section works well for any dinner party, or even in the case of the soups for a regular family light lunch. My favourite is a Leek and Stilton soup which is great for using up left over stilton cheese but works just as well without it, I wouldn't buy the cheese specially. The great thing about most of these recipes are they are good ideas to use whilst not following the whole recipe for example there is a lovely asparagus and quails egg starter now there is no way my budget will stretch to quails eggs but it's a great starting point.
I always feel I'm never that adventurous when it comes to fish, there is a lovely parmesan crust salmon recipe that has a rich cream sauce, but we've had it in the spring with a lighter sauce. There is also an interesting fish pie recipe that could be used any time. There are not that many recipes in this section but they are all very approachable.
Yes it starts off with turkey, and some lovely ideas for stuffing and trimmings but it is a Christmas book after all. There is also the obligatory turkey stuffing recipe, and the goose option for those non turkey people. Then the book gets onto different things: A glazed duck which we have done and it was lovely and a great red wine sauce for chicken
Meat and Game
Not the most comprehensive meat section you will ever come across but there is a beautiful wild mushroom sauce to go with a fillet steak, which is on our menu for this weekend as it's our wedding anniversary and there is a lovely pork fillet with a madeira gravy. I haven't used this section as much as others as it is meat, and anyone who spends time in the kitchen who eats meat can cook a joint, but it is nice to salivate to and get ideas.
Vegetables and Vegetarian
This section is more to give you the vegetables to go with your Christmas dinner so not the greatest resource for lots of variation, and most people will already know what they are going to do with their potatoes and parsnips. It does have an interesting looking aubergine and nut roast in it, not one for me as Christmas is all about the turkey. There is also an interesting Parisienne potato recipe that I might try as a change one Sunday.
Puddings and Desserts
Ok I'll admit it - my favourite section, and the reason the book was out. In addition to the Christmassy things, pud, brandy butter etc... it has one of my favourite recipes ever in which is an almond and apple dessert cake also works very well with pears and chocolate instead. There is a really rich but very satisfying white chocolate cheesecake and a ginger spiced pudding. I'm afraid to also admit that my copy of this book naturally falls open around the apple dessert page. There is also an apricot brioch tart which, sorry Ms Berry, but from the picture looks like baby sick, the only one I don't fancy making.
Christmas cake, of course, mince pies and chocolate logs. I don't use this section much as I tend to use other recipes for all of these but no Christmas book is complete without it.
The book ends on suggestions for a buffet party and has a lovely picture of what must be the most expensive joints of beef I have ever seen. Some lovely party recipes here.
So there you have it, a Christmas book that lasts well beyond the festive season, if you want to know how to cook a joint and do roast potatoes there are far better, more comprehensive technique books out there. But there are some lovely recipes in here that means this book often makes it off the shelf all year round.
Currently available on Amazon from £3.62 which is excellent value
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
The idea of a pier has always been to me a very English one, images of the Victorians enjoying a stroll along it dressed in their Sunday finery with parasols. Most piers in our country were built at the end of the 19th Century as a direct effect of the industrial revolution, it gave people somewhere to walk and socialise and it provided a practical use such as landing stages for passenger steamers and of course fishing.
Clevedon is possibly one of the finest examples of a Victorian Pier surviving in the UK today, and it is no accident that it is still in use today as an area to promenade, to fish and as a landing stage for pleasure cruises. In 1970, at the end of the pleasure cruise season, the pier was having its annual safety test for insurance purposes and the 7th and 8th sections collapsed. Fortunately it was under 'test conditions' so whilst it must have been an awful shock for everyone there, no one was hurt.
The future of the pier was immediately in jeopardy with some people suggesting that the remainder of the pier be destroyed and it didn't take long for locals to start to come together to ensure that this did not happen.
Clevedon is a small village on the coast of the Bristol Channel, just around the coast from Weston Super Mare, which, particularly since the recent fire and restoration, has a far more famous pier, which is a proper seaside pier, with bumper cars and arcades. Clevedon has a very different more authentic Victorian feel to it.
The pier has always had a place in my consciousness as my parents spent their honeymoon at the pier head hotel in 1965. So growing up in the 70's I remember many a day out with a picnic on the beach, (well I use the term beach loosely it is very rocky with a small slip way for boats to go down into the sea, certainly no point bringing a bucket and spade) and as a child I would far rather have been at the more lively Weston around the corner. I could never quite understand my parents fascination with this pier that you couldn't walk along because there was a gap in the middle and I could never work out how people had managed to get the 'save our pier' banners on the end of it, for some reason the boat idea didn't occur to me.
In 1984 with help from English Heritage and National Heritage they were able to start work on rebuilding the pier and it eventually reopened in 1989. Now, every now and then, I drag my kids down there for a walk along the pier as well.
The pier is only closed on Christmas Day, and is open longer during the summer peak season.
Admission Charges are currently
Children under 4 and wheelchair users: Free
To maintain the pier today costs (according to the website) £200,000 per annum and this year they need a further £300,000 as the legs need repainting which must be the devil's own job, I certainly wouldn't want to do it. So I certainly don't begrudge any of the entrance fee, although as there isn't any further entertainment on the pier they couldn't really charge anymore.
They raise much of their money by the buy a plank method, so you donate money to the pier and get a small copper plaque as dedication to whoever you want on there. There are larger ones on the lanterns all along the pier and the most recent one, as we walked along there yesterday the 30/4/11 had been unveiled the day before in a massive pier party held to celebrate the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.
These plaques are fascinating to read as you walk along, some in memorial, some in celebration of births, marriages and anniversaries. One was clearly bought as a 7th birthday present for a little girl who I hope appreciates it and didn't just say 'but I wanted a my little pony!' Although I'm sure she'll appreciate much more as she gets older. You also notice lots of names that are nothing to do with you, but could be, the 'James Potter' plaque in the right hand corner at the very end always gets a giggle from my kids.
At the end of the pier is a Victorian style pagoda that has a small tea shop in it. The views from the end are lovely, I always like looking at our shadows in the sea at the end (and waving to yourself of course or is that just me?) The lanterns along the pier are the same as they used to have on the pier at Weston, which I wish they'd left at least one up after the fire as they are circular in shape but made of a very tough but not tacky plastic and the heat from the fire melted them into all sorts of bizarre shapes.
The old toll house, which looks almost fort like but was built in the Victorian era, is now used as a small shop, selling local books and cards, the usual stuff. You can still see the old stone spiral staircase but it isn't used. There is often an art exhibition upstairs with displays by local artists but this was closed yesterday.
There is very little information on the history of the pier on the pier itself, just a few information boards about when it was built, with almost nothing on the 1970 collapse and subsequent rebuilt, as a tourist attraction they are clearly wanting you to enjoy it for its purpose as opposed to dwelling on its history. The website www.clevedonpier.com however is a wealth of information on the history of it.
You can also hire parts of the pier out for weddings, parties and the like. They also do ashes scattering ceremonies on there but I'd think twice about that as even on a calm day it is very windy there.
The pier is very accessible, they will open the main gate for those in wheelchairs and it is very easy to walk along. They do however still run pleasure cruises out into the Bristol Channel, although I've never seen a boat there, and the landing stage does not look easily accessible at all, so if you were wanting to do that and feel you would need assistance I would check it out first.
I feel quite safe on the pier, some of the planks I'm sure will soon be replaced as I think the extreme temperatures of the last couple of winters haven't done it any favours. But unlike some other bridges or piers I don't feel a sense of relief when stepping back onto firm land, although looking down between the planks at the swirling muddy waters beneath is always an experience.
I wouldn't usually mention the staff in a review like this, but the toll shop yesterday was manned by two young lads, too old to be students and much younger than the retired people you usually get running heritage sites. They have such a passion for the pier and will happily answer all questions, but they also provided a plaster and cleaning wipe for my daughter who slipped and gashed her knee on the rocks very deeply, the plaster was the largest one they had and it only survived until we got back to the car and were able to do a better job.
Clevedon pier is a piece of old England, it has been lovingly restored and is beautiful and calm to walk upon, there are no slot machines, not a bumper car to be seen. It is a lovely and traditional way to spend a couple of hours strolling along with ice cream in hand. Unless you are a pier and history of piers enthusiast it is probably not worth the trip from the other end of the country, but if you are visiting the area it is definitely worth a detour and a beautiful place to while away the time.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
My name is Digbycat aka MarynneH and I am a Twitcher!
..... and of course every good twitcher, even a mediocre to poor one, like me, needs a decent bird book.
The Collins Bird Guide is possibly one of the best bird guides I have come across, the sleek black cover sums it up perfectly 'The most complete field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe' and that it most definitely is.
I'll be honest, I don't review things unless I have owned them a while and in the 10 years that I have owned and regularly used this book I have never looked at the introduction before today. It is quite a useful one especially if you are new to bird watching, it gives you all the key to all the information given in the book from abbreviations used, the sizes of the birds and details on how to understand the bird song descriptions, or squawk as it seems to me in many cases. Although I am never quite sure I could recognise bird squawk from the descriptions in any bird book and this one is no exception, for example a golden pheasant makes a two syllable piercing noise 'ehk' or 'eh-aik' but that could equally be an expletive from my very lovely aunt who is has a Yorkshire influence in her accent. This call of course is not to be confused with the boring normal pheasant which makes an alarmed sounding ku-tuk, ku-tuk, ku-tuk. So honestly, unless you're really clever, if you want to learn bird song - buy a CD.
The book is organised in an order that would be familiar to anyone who has looked at a bird book in the past. This starts with loons (medium length necks with pointy beaks, like water) then roughly goes via the ducks, birds of prey, woodland birds like owls and woodpecker then kind of draws to a close with things you might see in your garden and then ends with the vagrants ie species that shouldn't even be in Europe. This is not a complete list but the only thing that seems noticeable by its absence is the farmyard chicken.
The way the birds are presented in this book are what makes it so useful as a reference book. For each species there are several pictures probably computer generated as opposed to painted, but most importantly not photographs, which can often cause confusion. The artists have taken great care with the plumage (feathers) of each bird and you get several different views:
Male and Female view (shown by the standard symbols)
Juvenile view - This is quite important as particularly highly coloured birds like the blue tit, don't really look like that for the first year.
Winter and summer plumage, for those clever chaps who can turn white in winter to blend with the snow.
Undercarriage view - this is particularly useful for the Eagles and other birds of prey who you only tend to see soaring high in the sky so knowing whether they have stripes on their under wings is the only way you can identify them. Golden Eagles for example go really high and the only time I have ever spotted them we could only tell by the glint of gold in the distance.
Each picture is also labelled with anything special that needs pointing out to help with identification.
The descriptions of each bird are really useful saying when they are likely to adopt different plumage, where you are likely to see them and when, and each section gives a brief description of the species before going through each type.
There are small maps of Europe accompanying each bird showing where it is most likely to be found, this is colour coded like a temperature map so Bright orange is where it goes just to breed, Purple is where it can be seen all year including breeding and lighter orange is where it may be seen on migration. This is good as it shows whether it is reasonable to expect to see a particular bird there. This is also why if you are interested in ornithology it is not unreasonable to update your bird book every so often, the RSPB one I was given as a kid is now very out of date as, as our climate changes and breeding programmes take effect and various other influencing factors kick, in the birds move into different parts of the country.
Just before you get to the index in the book there is a very interesting list, giving you accidental sightings of birds that have absolutely no business being here at all and have only had a few sightings, for example in 1830 the Wandering Albatross that is supposed to live in the Indian Ocean was spotted wandering around France - clearly fancied a trip to Paris to suss out the site of the future Eiffel Tower.
The only problem with this book is you do need to know your tit from your finch if you are trying to spot things quickly, there is an index in the back, but if you come across something unfamiliar it can take a while to find which one it is.
My copy is paperback and the quality is excellent, however for a field guide it is fairly weighty, so maybe a little bulky to carry around if you are on a walk. But for use in the car, or on short visits you cannot, in my opinion get better.
Collins Bird Guide is available on Amazon for £17.87 with the hardcover for some reason cheaper at £14.64. I have considered getting a hardcover copy for the house as it is a lovely book and the paperback version is often carried with us on days out. This however is testament to the quality of the book and its bindings as it still looks relatively new despite being regularly used.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
'I always lead from the front, because only I know where I want to go' Ranulph Fiennes
It has to be said, my limits and those of Sir Ranulph Fiennes are so very, very different. I spent a beautiful April day sat in my back garden reading his book 'Beyond the Limits', with a small break in the middle to go for a glorious walk in a local bluebell wood. Ranulph fiennes in his life has circumnavigated the globe via the two poles and chopped his own fingers due to frost bite, two things I can categorically know for sure that I will never do.
'Beyond the Limits' has the tag line; 'lessons learned from a Lifetime's adventures' and that is precisely what the book does, it is the autobiography of his life from his post failed A levels Army career to the expedition in Canada where he lost his fingers. Each chapter is styled to cover various stages of the learning curve that he has gone through over his life to become what the Guiness Book of Records describes as the greatest living explorer.
This is possibly the most down to earth, common sense book on management technique I have ever read, but unfortunately is unlikely to be adopted by any of the big corporate companies of today, as they are all run by corporate yes men, who once a rule is written down, however silly, will follow it to its bitter end. Fiennes is the sort of character who when he is getting corporate negativity from one level of the machine, just goes straight to the top, which in some cases has been the Prince of Wales. So consequently he usually gets what he wants.
At the end of each chapter there is a single page that lists the various lessons that he has picked up from this expedition. Some are plainly obvious, but the problem with the obvious is that it so often gets over looked. Some of my favourites are:
Always lead with subtlety
Sarcasm and Mockery are fun but can easily go wrong
Never waste time applying to the boss's secretary if you can go straight to the boss
Watch out for the temptation of lingering too long in a warm hut when your schedule is tight and the weather may change
Try chewing a few prawns before you announce to the world that you intend to devour the whole lobster
Pick your team on character, not skill. You can teach skills you can't change characters
Each chapter of the book generally covers a separate expedition starting with his army posting to Dhofar and the challenges of leading a multi-cultural team, to his decision to become an adventurer which was very much a practical career choice rather than the romantic notion of 'because it's there.' There are fascinating reports of expeditions through Canada, Norway, the circumnavigation of the poles, unsupported trip to the North Pole and trips across Antarctica. What did surprise me is these days you don't really think that we have rival explorers as in the days of Scott and Amundsen, but the Norwegians are just as much competition as they always were and not always completely honest with it either. The quest to be first is as healthy a competition as it always was but there are fewer and more dangerous firsts to attain.
I am a true armchair explorer, I love books with beautiful pictures of remote places that I will never visit, showing a romantic view of different cultures and phenomenal artistic photographs of icy wilderness. This book does not satisfy these requirements on any level, if you want a book with pretty pictures of the North Pole go for something else. Fiennes is a very practical man, he does this for a living because it was something he could do and make money from when he didn't have the requisite A levels to get into Sandhurst. There are a couple of 'pretty' pictures in the book, beautiful blue ice, a polar bear that is only just visible behind the boat. But most of them are practical pictures, the team that was on the expedition, the equipment, the fire when they lost their store cupboard and contents in the Arctic. Then you get down to the real nitty gritty, the chill blains on Fiennes toe (I read that page really, really quickly it was revolting to look at) and worst of all the dead fingers when he had put his hands into freezing water to retrieve a line for a sledge, without which they would have possibly all died, but it resulted in him losing the fingers.
So whilst this is in no way a pretty, travel book it is a fascinating insight into a remarkable man, told through his travels into some of the most inaccessible places on the planet. But unlike your average pretty travel book it pulls no punches, it tells you the reality of travel into these areas, it is not safe terrain and you have to be really well prepared to undertake these excursions, very great men have lost their lives in the quest to be first through some of these areas. I am sure we all remember the Top Gear boys sipping gin and tonic on a trip to the North Pole, they spoke to him before they left and I don't remember his exact words but it can be paraphrased into 'a naïve bunch of unprepared idiots' fortunately their supporting production team weren't and they all returned safely.
I bought our copy for my girls when we all went to hear him speak at a fund raiser for the wildfowl and wetlands trust, he is an excellent speaker and I would recommend it if you get the opportunity to see him. I don't recall how much we paid for it, but it is signed with a dedication to them. It is available on Amazon for £14.62 hardback and £12.49 paperback with the usual array of cheap second hand options in the marketplace.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
Playing games has always been a very sociable affair, especially in my family. We have washed down many a family Sunday lunch with a bottle of wine or a cuppa and a family game, more often than not of scrabble, which has traditionally been played with between two and four people.
Now as we move further into the twenty first century, progress has taken us from this friendly, sociable environment into a realm where we can play these classic games entirely alone with nothing but the iphone for company. So what better game app to go for, than Scrabble for the iphone?
So what is Scrabble?
Scrabble is a word game, it is usually played on a board with lots of squares on it and 100 tiles each with letters on and a score for each letter ranging from 1 for common letters like vowels up to 10 for the Q and the Z as they are more difficult to use. Some of the squares are coloured and this indicates double or triple letter or word scores. The idea is simple you take it in turns to make words that must interlink with words that are already on the board, with the first word down going through the star in the centre of the board, whoever scores the highest wins.
Scrabble for iphone
Scrabble for iPhone costs £1.19, it is also available for iPad and with the limited experience that I have playing it on my Mum's iPad it seems the same but I can't guarantee that.
As you open the app you are faced with the usual options the only 3 of which are related to the game:
Play - gives you the choice of Classic game, where you play against the computer in the normal method.
More EA Games Well they have to try and sell you other aps don't they?
Options The usual turn the sound off kind of thing
Statistics These are actually quite interesting as they show you your highest scoring game, best word, how many games you have won etc.
Tell a friend Another chance for EA games to increase their bottom line
Help Not much going on here really, it's Scrabble and very intuitive to play
Playing the game you have three options:
Quick Play which is the regular game
Custom Play allows you to restrict the game to the number of points scored or the number of rounds.
Multiplayer WiFi which honestly is a waste of development time, you all have to be connected to the same WiFi network to be able to play this so unless you are playing with your next door neighbour and both use the same WiFi you might as well just play with a proper board, other than the fact it does the adding up for you.
Playing the game
I will concentrate on the regular game here, as all of the other options are variations on the same theme.
It opens with a random tip about some of the features of the app, then goes straight to a full screen board and your tiles at the bottom. On the ipad the full size board is ok, it's quite viewable on the iPhone it's horrid, like looking at a check dress pattern, you can however zoom in very easily by double tapping on the board and a second double tap brings you back out again.
You play your word by dragging the tiles to from the rack to the board, this is a pain, I would far rather tap the letter then then the position on the board. It also doesn't always land where you would want it to, this isn't a huge problem if it is a single letter, albeit a little annoying, but it does get more irritating if you have misjudged the position of your word, on a regular board you would just push all of the letters along, here you have to move each letter individually, I don't think it is too much to ask to expect them to have developed a system whereby you can adjust the whole word along one or two squares.
The app assumes that you are going to start, if you want to go second you have to skip a turn, so it duly warns you that you won't get any points. When it is its go, it tries to make out that it is thinking by showing you a couple of cogs turning.
At the bottom of the screen there are four little icons, the first a little letter bag showing how many letters are left and you click on it if you wish to forfeit a go and exchange your letters. The second shuffles the letters on your rack. The third is a best word option indicated by a heart, you can use this three times within the game and the computer calculates the highest scoring word you can get, useful if you know there is a 7 letter word there, which attracts a bonus of 50 points. The final icon is if you wish to pass and can't think of a word, I have only used this one at the end when the letters are running out.
The dictionary, half of the fun of Scrabble is arguing the various spellings within the dictionary with your friends. The number of times my Gran tried to persuade us that sapphire is spelt with one 'p' I lost count of, but she NEVER misspelt it when it came up in crosswords or quizzes. The iPhone's scrabble dictionary is odd to say the least, it uses all the standard Scrabble two letter words, which is fine if you are used to it, which we are, but really annoying if you are not. It will happily allow abbreviations, which are forbidden in Scrabble but it will not allow proper nouns, which although I agree with this refusal, they did change the official rules surrounding this a little while ago as I remember them mentioning on the radio the Jedward would now be an allowable word. However anything slightly crude is out, so you can't have the seabird 'shag' which is a member of the cormorant family and there are some very obvious everyday words that it doesn't allow, and being a computer, you can't argue with it.
The game I would say, for any self-respecting Scrabble player is not possible to lose. The computer thinks mathematically and doesn't have a clue about thinking tactically. It will therefore happily set you up for every single treble word score, even giving you a conveniently placed vowel to use, great if you have the Z or X. It will use its U if it gets the highest calculable score, not caring that the extra couple of points it may have got for it are lost when it has to take 10 points off the score at the end because it has picked up the Q, that has happened so many times you'd think it would learn but it's not built like that.
Playing the game is really quick, whereas the average post dinner with liqueurs game usually lasts 30 - 40 minutes, having no one to chat to, or joke with, or having to wait for your opponent to move, it only takes about 5 minutes to complete a game.
Choosing my star rating for this app is actually quite difficult. If I'm waiting for something like the kids to come out of school, it's quite nice to have a quick game. There are however lots of little annoyances with the game, the dictionary being weird, the fact that it doesn't give you an intelligent game and even little things like the tiles not moving perfectly smoothly. But it does what it says on the tin, it gives you a game of Scrabble for those moments in your life when you are Billy no mates and just want a quick game and the niggles are not really deal breakers. So I've decided to go for a generous 4 as for £1.19 it's quite good value for money and I'm certainly not in any rush to delete it.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
Had it not been for the Columbia Pictures 1965 adaptation of a strange little book by Joy Adamson detailing how she raised a lioness and eventually released her back into the wild, this important but quirky little story would have disappeared and much important conservation work that happened on the back of it would not have taken place, so putting the work of many conservation societies decades behind where they are today.
This is a single DVD with the films Born Free and Living free on it, there are no extras on the DVD so this is a film only review.
Born Free was the first of a trilogy of books written by Joy Adamson the others being Living Free and Forever Free.
The plot of Born Free is very simple, George Adamson was a game warden in Kenya and as part of his job had to destroy a lion that had become troublesome to the local community as a man eater; the upshot was that 3 lion cubs that were orphaned, so he brought them home and Joy raised them, such things just don't happen when your husband is a computer programmer, thank goodness.
The beginning of this film is so lovely these lions are just very large, playful kittens, pulling over washing, playing in the garden with an old tyre it is just so gorgeous to watch and has been brilliantly shot particularly considering this was 1965 and they hadn't been used to 40 years of David Attenborough wildlife films. The Adamson's had arranged for Rotterdam Zoo to take the lion cubs as having been raised by hand they could not return them to the wild, in addition to that they were slightly concerned that the Man Eating traits of the father could be inherent in the cubs. When it came to the departure Elsa stayed behind and this is the story of them preparing her to be released into the wild, teaching her how to hunt and even trying to help her find a mate.
For me Virginia McKenna will always be Joy Adamson and her real life husband Bill Travers played her on screen husband George. Joy Adamson was actually Austrian and there have been some very insightful documentaries on her. Joy was definitely more of an animal person then a people person and here is where the film and reality differ considerably. Hollywood did a great job in cleansing the character of Joy, starting with the Austrian accent by casting Virginia who is a very classically spoken English actress, there is a warmth in Virginia's portrayal of the character that by all accounts were missing in reality. Joy Adamson's death in 1980 I remember very well, I was in my last year of primary school and the news announced that she had been killed by one of her own lions, this later turned out to be not true as she was murdered by a disgruntled ex-employee who had been fired a few days earlier. This just would not happen to Virginia's character. Virginia did spend a lot of time with Joy Adamson prior to filming and seems to be one of the few people she really trusted, and is one of the very few people who were allowed to visit Elsa's grave.
Bill Travers is a perfect choice for George, George Adamson was an English man and a very well respected man, the on screen chemistry between them is perfect to give this clean image of the story, I think that in reality the reason the Adamson's marriage survived was that they didn't spend a huge amount of time with each other. In reality George was a very brave, down to earth man, he was also murdered rescuing a lady from poachers in 1989.
The second film on the disc definitely does not match up to the first. It starts by repeating some of the first film of story of Elsa but really picks up when she returns to the Adamsons towards the end of her life with her cubs, Joy and George then need to decide what to do. They decide not to handle the cubs as they had Elsa and her sisters to try and make the transition to the wild easier than it had been with Elsa. Things don't run smoothly though and the cubs wreak havoc within the local community and they have to move them to a reserve miles away.
There are some stunning bits of cinematography shot as part of this film though, for example a fantastic shot of a vast number of flamingos (does anyone know the collective name for a group of flamingos?)
The casting is different in this film with Susan Hampshire playing Joy and Nigel Davenport her husband George. Susan Hampshire just doesn't take to the role as naturally as Virginia McKenna had, she seems more the wronged school girl having a sulk because she's been told off than a tough conservationist who can tame lions. Whereas with Virginia you never felt in any doubt that she could tame and bring up lions. Nigel Davenport however is perfect in the role of George.
The Born Free Legacy.
Today I don't think there is anyway anyone would be allowed to raise wild lion cubs in this manner and it did cause some very potentially dangerous situations for both the lions and the local community as lions that live in the wild should not become this used to human contact. It is not natural for any human being to be this close to an animal like this, and some of the photographs with Joy and Elsa together are very intimate. However despite this and thanks to the conservation work carried out by Joy and George and this film our attitudes to conservation and the necessity of conserving these habitats and environments were changed and allow the kind of protection that many of these wild animals enjoy today.
Virginia now works in conservation and Bill did too up until his death, this started directly after the film, the lions that were used in it were supposed to be going to a zoo, but they didn't feel that this was in keeping with the conservation and freedom message of the film. Virginia is now one of the trustees of the Born Free Foundation.
The Elsa conservation trust that was set up by Joy Adamson runs conservation courses and holidays in the Adamsons home, all of the money goes to trust and towards conservation efforts. So the legacy of this film is undeniable, the Adamsons were truly remarkable people, we can question whether they should have got this close to wild lions, but because they did we now have a world that respects these animals and their habitat.
Born Free is a lovely film to watch with beautiful scenery and some really lovely, funny moments with the lions and certainly comes highly recommended by me, I bought it with living free because the two together were only £3.29 from Amazon and this is certainly worth every penny, I don't think though that I will be watching Living Free again in a hurry.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
As the Malvern Hills rise out of the haze of a beautiful spring day, we turn down a little village lane with a tiny church on the corner with a very unusual wooden spire. The village is the village of Lower Broadheath, and as you drive up past a country hedgerow on the right, you could have no idea that hidden behind it, next to the village pub 'the plough' is the birthplace of one of our most famous composers, Sir Edward Elgar.
The moment you step out of the car there is a feeling of peace and calm, the car park is ample big enough with a few picnic tables laid out under a few cherry trees, which at the moment look glorious with all their blossom. You then make your way down to the modern visitors centre.
If you agree to gift aid you get a 12 month season ticket to come back as many times as you like. This is where I caused a few problems, as I visited with my 2 girls the entrance fee would be £13, but I bought a family ticket for £14 certainly not begrudging the extra £1 which would go towards the upkeep of the cottage. My reasoning was, if we returned my husband would probably be with us. The poor lady on the desk really struggled to get her head around that one.
You also get free audio guides to take around with you, and for each section when you have a spoken section there is another option to listen to the piece of music that is mentioned in the cabinet, but many people just go and sit in the garden and listen to the music.
Within the modern visitors centre there are a small number of glass cabinets containing things mainly connected with his music like the violin that he learnt on as a child, his mother's clarinet and many scores that he was working on, including the final page of what was supposed to be the 'Pomp and Circumstance' as I piano teacher, I'd like to think I can read music, but I couldn't work out much that was familiar from it.
I love looking at original manuscripts, especially when you think back to your school days when teachers would tell you off for every mistake and if your work wasn't neat. Then you look at the work of people like Elgar, who are very accomplished and influential and honestly their original work is a mess. He'd fail a grade 5 theory exam on neatness alone, the sticks on the notes are all the wrong way round, they are doodled all over and there are scribbles and crossings out all over it. Mind you the messy manuscripts don't come close to an exhibition that I saw recently of Percy Shelly's work where his doodles really did look like the inspiration for Beavis and Butthead.
Then there are the sweet personal things, like his old hymn book from the local church, where he has scribbled out the harmony, written 'bad' underneath it and written in his own. Mind you, I've done the same thing with the New English Hymnal.
He was well decorated during his life with various medals and honorary degrees and one of the notices indicates that he only accepted his knighthood because his in-laws had not supported his marriage to his wife Alice, who clearly was his soul mate, because they felt that she had married beneath her.
This reminded me so much of my own grandparent's house only much smaller, the rooms are very small and pokey and there are only two downstairs rooms and three upstairs. The highlight for me though was of course his piano, which is beautifully carved and has the candle holders on it.
The cottage isn't furnished as you might have expected, it is just more personal effects from the Elgar family, all in display cabinets and to be honest I was a little disappointed at this, the cabinets could easily be moved to the main building and they could furnish it in a turn of the last century way which I do think would be more appealing.
In the second downstairs room there is a lovely old gramophone, with all the needles in the needle holder... that was an interesting one to explain to my iPod generation girls.
You then move upstairs to the room where he was born, this reminds me of my grandparents attic, very little light, low ceilings, squeaky floorboards and you will struggle with the stairs if you have mobility problems, they are not very big. There is a copy of the birth certificate in here, which I was a little disappointed with as it was not the original and was a copy that was procured in the seventies.
The highlight of the other rooms was his set of golf clubs, typical Edwardian wooden clubs with the tiny little bag.
The final room upstairs contained various signed photographs, all personalised to Elgar: Henry Woods, Yehudi Menuhin and Richard Strauss. There was also more evidence of his doodles as they had a page from the Daily Telegraph from 26th April 1932 which was ANZAC day so they had pictures of the soldiers at the Cenotaph which Elgar has added cats and dogs to, he also gave General Gouraud a pair of comedy glasses and the ladies in the Harvey Nichols ad gained top hats and pipes.
The garden is a typical cottage garden, there are two gravelled paths running through the middle so the girls could push their hoops down it. The garden also reminded me of my grandparents' house, the same blue forget me nots, the red tulips that are just passing their best. In a couple of months' time the roses will be in full bloom and it will be truly beautiful. There is also a bronze statue of Elgar at the bottom sat on a bench looking out over his beloved Malvern Hills.
Elgar was a very keen cyclist and walker and spent many hours and covered many miles exploring the Malverns. They have set up an official Elgar route that is signposted with little brown signs with what I think is supposed to be a violin on them, but it looks more like a guitar. If you are visiting this area and are interested in the music of Elgar it is worth driving round the Elgar Route as it is a great way to discover some of the pretty little villages in this region.
The museum does organise special events throughout the year, including talks and recitals which look like they could be really interesting and are all detailed on the website www. elgarmuseum.org
There is of course the obligatory shop, which also has a good selection of Elgar sheet music, so my Eldest is trying to get to grips with the opening of his Cello Concerto - I think I'll stick with listening to the Jacqueline du Pre version though for the time being.
As for a visit to Elgar's house, it is a lovely way to spend an hour or two, the garden is an area of peace and tranquillity, if you are interested in music and music history it is definitely for you, although I do think they could have made more of the cottage. It is interesting seeing things from the late Victorian/Edwardian age and it is when we start to enter the modern age. If however you don't have even a passing interest in music of the early 20th Century, it is probably not for you. I also think the average child would not particularly enjoy it, my kids though are just odd and they really did like it.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
When I was a girl my parents had bought me a complete set of Children's Encyclopaedia Britannica whether they succumbed to a door to door salesman or it was a conscious decision to go out and buy them I don't know. What I do know though is how useful these were during my school years helping out with all manner of school projects from primary school through to A levels. It had it's down points though, not least that despite being called 'Children's Brittanica' it was quite adult in the way it has been written so I do remember only understanding part of it in my younger years and some of the information did become out dated through the years that I was using them.
Then Britannica tried to keep up with the times by producing packages for the PC which were quite good value and did include all of their books but a CD is very easy to misplace and we could never find it whenever the pc was reformatted or updated.
Britanica has now well and truly joined the 21st century and have developed Brittanica online and despite the slnightly off putting cost I have joined for a year for my girls. The cost for the year is £42.51 exclusive of any taxes, or currently £12.50 in Tesco clubcard vouchers, which as usual I found out about after I'd paid cash. Having said that it is definitely good value when you compare it to the £900 price tag if you were to buy the most up to date set of hardback, beautifully bound books.
So why pay for an Encyclopaedia when you have wiki for free?
I'll be honest, I have never really liked Wikipedia, it is a useful enough resource, but I never feel completely confident that the information it gives is correct and my kids have never found the information that easy to use. So it always amazes me when kids simply copy from Wiki verbatim, the information is so cluttered.
Britannica is different because it does employ academics to write the articles and all of the facts within the volumes are meticulously checked so you can generally accept that the information is correct. From the ease of using the information Britannica definitely takes the first prize, the information is presented in a very logical, uncluttered manner and whilst it does have a few hyper-links like Wiki, there is nowhere near as many of them and there are very few within the articles themselves.
What do you get when you search?
So using the diarist Samuel Pepys as an example when you search it comes up with a featured article at the top of the search listing, then there are lists of other articles within the Britannica database that include Pepys within them. This is actually really useful as in one list you get many of Pepys contemporaries, institutions that he may have attended, like St Pauls School in London and things that he may have written about like the Great fire of London. This means that if you are doing in depth research you have a good list to get you started, if you are just looking for simple facts about Pepys you have a straight forward article to read.
Turning to the main article you have information on his life, his early career, his naval career and of course the diary including a few quotes. At the foot of the page is a link to articles within Britannica Kids which are perfect for younger students, probably pre GCSE level. You then have a list of suggested books and links to external websites that may be of interest.
So all in all the body of the information is very logically laid out and very easy to use, and I am pleased that they refer you on to proper books with paper and printed words rather than seeing the internet as the be all and end all.
Britannica have taken full advantage of having the online facility, and once you are logged in and it is advert free it looks lovely. Some of the online features that you wouldn't get with the massive 25 volume set are:
On this day: I am writing this on 15th April and you have a number of on this day in history snippets. So did you know that on this day:
1955 Ray Kroc opened the first McDonalds franchise
1452 Leonardo da Vinci was born
1947 Jackie Robinson become the first black baseball player to play in America's major league
There are also a number of featured articles within this section, one of todays is on the American Civil War as it is the 150th anniversary.
Britannica online also has a blog that is written by a number of academics, there is a disclaimer stating that facts within the blog are not checked meticulously like the Britannica Encyclopaedias are but they are all written by respected people who should know their stuff.
One of the main advantages of having the online access over the books is you do get the most up to date information, there are links on the home page to new and updated articles and I notice that there is an article about Alzheimer's on there so I would guess that this has recently been updated.
You then have links to recent news articles from the New York Times and BBC news.
It also looks like Britannica are expanding their sales options by adding a smart maths for kids, you will be pleased to know that I correctly identified how many red triangles and yellow circles there were on the page in the youngster's demo, but I don't think I'll be upgrading my subscription any time soon.
I do have a couple of small issues with Britannica online, the web address is www.Britannica.com if you type in .co.uk you do get onto a uk site that is clearly run by the same company, but there is only the sign up for a free trial option you cannot log into the main site from there. You can also get similarly stuck if you end up on the free trial option with the .com site. The site is also very clearly American, this doesn't impact at all on the information contained within it as it is very evenly split with articles from around the world, although looking at todays you may be forgiven for thinking there is an American bias. For some reason the spelling seems to be the English versions ie colour not color, although I haven't done an in depth consistency check on this. But despite having signed up in sterling, if you dig further into your account options it seems to default to dollars.
Also reading the refund policy, they are not very forgiving if you make mistakes over the dates the money is due and they only consider refunds if there are fraudulent reasons. So don't forget to cancel your free trial if you decide to go ahead and know exactly when your renewal is due.
So in conclusion, I am very happy with our Britannica membership, I have two children at secondary school and they are definitely using it enough to warrant the money, their friends have started to realise that they have this additional resource as well which is making them popular options for group work. I also don't have a problem with them using it on the school computers as although if they did forget to sign off, which they never do, and someone ventured onto my account page it does show how much the annual subscription is, you cannot get to any of the other account options ie the credit card without re-entering your account login details.
Thank you for reading and I hope you found this useful
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
I have always enjoyed baking so I was delighted when my husband bought me a voucher for a bread making course. The course was held by Richard Bertinet, who is a French Baker and runs a small cookery school in Bath. My mum joined me on the day course and she bought me his book 'Dough', which comes with a free DVD.
The book is looks very contemporary, it is black in colour and my copy has a picture of a Fougasse (a kind of holey bread) on the front but looking at the pictures online it has been updated since then. It opens with three pages of words by way of an introduction, I did try and read them, honest, but I hate introductions and I much prefer recipe books that cut to the chase, this is what we are going to make and this is how to do it.
Then you get your usual glossary and ingredients section, most of this comes as no surprise, but there is one section that is of interest here, and he did go over this at the beginning of the course, and that is the difference in ingredients between home baked bread and your standard branded shop bought sliced bread. The shop bought bread, just doing a quick count down on his list has 14 ingredients including various E numbers, the home made variety has just 4: flour, yeast, salt and water, I usually add sugar and olive oil to mine but that still only takes it up to 6. The reason the shop bread has so many is largely down to our desire for it not to go off too quickly, and these days bread doesn't seem to go stale, it stays soft looking and you only know it's gone off when it starts to grow blue whiskers.
The idea behind the book is to show how to make the 5 basic types of dough: White Dough, Olive Dough, Brown Dough, Rye Dough and Sweet Dough. Before you get into the recipes themselves there is a technique section. The basic technique is the same for every type of dough, and being French, it is different to the technique the usual English method. Richard demonstrates using the white dough recipe and there are plenty of pictures on this stage that take you through the technique.
The main difference between the French and English dough is the ratio of flour to water. The English will flour the work surface before turning it out and you knead the dough, with this method there is more water added to the mixture to start with, so you start off with what can only be described as a gooey, sticky mess which it is most tempting to add flour to but that is absolutely forbidden and you don't flour the surface either. Then rather than the kneading how we would do it, you turn the dough on the work surface by almost tossing it, slamming it down onto the surface, then enveloping it back over itself. This is great fun and unbelievably satisfying. The dough that you end up with is far softer than the English variety and the idea of turning it as he does is to get the maximum amount of air into the bread. The results are quite surprising, it doesn't take long for it to go from this bizarre sticky mess, to something soft and very easy to work with and because you haven't added loads of flour it is very light and airy. Watch where you stand when you first start turning it though as it is very easy to flick bits of dough all over the place.
Once you've got the technique the book becomes more of a regular recipe book with different things that you can do with each type of dough.
As well as your usual baguettes, rolls and loaves the book shows variations on these with things like the fougasse where you cut of a section of the dough, flatten it down and slice holes in it using a card like spatula (a knife would do) it then spreads and ends up looking like a leaf, very easy and very impressive.
There are a number of bread stick recipes, we did one of these on the course with cheese and sun dried tomatoes in it.
He also makes a puff ball which is great fun to do, you cut a small section from the dough and roll it out really thinly, then bake it, because the dough is so light, it doesn't puff up into a roll like you'd expect it puffs up making a crispy ball which you can then crack open and fill with salad for tea, again we did this one on the course but it isn't one I've made since.
This is almost exactly the same as the white dough but includes semolina and olive oil and this is a lot more oil than I would usually put in my bread. The results however are worth it.
The main bread that you can make with this dough is a focaccia, which I have only made the once, it was very flavoursome and definitely worth the effort. There is also a ciabatta loaf and various alternatives to regular bread like adding in tomato and basil to the loaf. One of the more unusual loaves, and I use the term loaf loosely, is a soup bowl made from bread, it looks spectacular, very rustic but I can't help feeling that if I tried, especially with the very slow speed one of my kids eats at, we would end up with one awful mess. He also uses this dough to make pizza which I use a lot and is far nicer than the pieces of cardboard with ham and pineapple on top that you get from the freezer section in the supermarket.
This section just makes me think of holidays in France, all the loaves look so rustic and lovely, it is essentially just lots of variations on the brown bread, I've made the regular loaf many times but rarely try any of the alternatives. There are things like honey and lavender loaf which I'm really not sure if it appeals, seaweed bread, which actually I would try and then lots of seeded breads with different ways of shaping them.
I have never used this section, and have only ever tried Rye bread once which was half way down the Colorado river in Arizona on a day rafting trip and no disrespect to the Americans but I have never been a great fan of their bread. But there are some interesting looking variations in here like a walnut bread which he has made look very Christmassy with a red ribbon and an aniseed and guiness bread. Then there is the French classic pain de campagne.
I love this section, it gives you my favourite recipe of a fruited tea loaf, which we use to make hot cross buns for, guess what I'll be doing with my kids next week? It also has a recipe for doughnuts, which is on my to do list and those gorgeous bacon slices that you get in French bakeries and make a lovely alternative to croissants when you're on holidays, I have made these and they were lovely.
I'll be honest, having gone on the course I hadn't actually watched the DVD until I started writing this review. The DVD is copywrited 2005 and I think this must have been one of Richard's early appearances in front of the camera as he does look very nervous. He has since popped up many times on television in programmes like Saturday Kitchen and is probably much more at home there now. There is a friendly but almost amateur feel to the film which is shot in what I'm guessing to be their kitchen at home. Now it does get the message across, it is a very useful tool showing the method with which to make the dough, and reassuring that you are doing it right as the amount of water in the dough can be off putting and make you think you have gone wrong. However there is one major problem with it, the work surface was a little too low, so they kept doing shots of Richard turning the dough and trying to show it properly got down onto the level with the dough, which unfortunately looked right through his legs in the crotch area. I must admit, it did make for an amusing 5 minutes and if you can watch it without laughing and focusing on the dough, you do learn what you're supposed to. The book has probably been reprinted since I bought my copy so they may well have reshot it.
The book is currently on Amazon with the DVD for £9.83 and the original copy with the DVD on used options only one of which is £49.95, which makes no sense.
This book does earn its place on my shelf, and I am quite fussy with recipe books, and a book will soon find its way to the charity shop if it doesn't deliver. I use the basic recipe all the time and it is interesting to dip in and out of, especially with the summer barbeque season coming up when I like to bake different sorts of breads. It is not my favourite bread book from an interesting point of view, mainly because it is very French and I also have one with breads of the world which I prefer to read, but from a practical point of view it is the one I use the most, and my kids who are now 14 and 12 also use it a lot and have easily learnt this method. So it does most definitely get my recommendation. It does make breadmaking very easy and straightforward and if you want to invest in a bread book that works you can't go far wrong with this one.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH
There is something rather special, driving down a strangely quiet road towards Epernay near Reims in France, there are vineyards stretching out for miles to either side of you, and you know that every single grape is destined to help someone celebrate something , a wedding, a christening, to spray over the crowd as the winner of a formula 1 race, the opening of a prestigious hotel, the opening of a modest new business, even becoming Prime Minister or President of a country, or something as mundane as the weeks end and you are together with family.
Moet and Chandon is possibly the best known and most widely loved Champagne in the world, it is pronounced Moet with the T . They export all over, and whilst many people, my husband included, prefer a sweeter wine there is no denying its place as the world's most popular Champagne.
In order to qualify for the title of 'Champagne' the sparkling wine has to have been produced in the Champagne area of France, a low lying area to the NE of Paris with soft, gentle hills providing perfect shelter and conditions for the grapes. If you come across a bottle from another country that claims to be Champagne, don't buy it, it will be inferior, go for the one that says sparkling wine instead as the better producers respect this title, unless of course you can stretch to the real thing.
Epernay is a very pretty little town in the centre of this region, and it would be wholly unremarkable if it were not for one road, the Avenue de Champagne, which in addition to Moet houses: Mercier, Perrier Jouet, Heidseick to name but a few, and there are plenty more Champagne houses scattered around the town.
There is no parking around the House at all, but there is plenty of parking in the town.
Finding the Maison de Moet et Chandon is really easy, simply head for the centre of the town and there it is, a beautiful 18th Century house entered through wrought iron gates into a very clean gravelled courtyard with a statue of the father of Champagne Dom Perignon. Now Dom Perignon from what I can gather is a totally different brand that simply shares the cellars and shop with Moet.
These are guided tours of the house and the cellars, the cost varies depending on what tasting options you chose. Currently the charges are:
15 Euros The regular tour including one flute of Moet imperial
22 Euros To include an additional glass of Rose Champagne
28 Euros Vintage Champagne both regular and Rose
9 Euros 10 - 17 year olds without tasting
Free Under 10s (No tasting)
Tours are offered in French and English, and they seem to hire well spoken English Students to do the tours so it may be worth investigating if you are looking for a gap year. Other languages are available but you need to make arrangements. They do recommend on the website that you book the tours in advance but I have visited twice now and have never been disappointed or needed to wait long and on our last visit we arrived early afternoon, having said that I have always been prepared to take a French tour and translate for my family if necessary.
The tour of the house is interesting, but few facts have really stuck in my mind. There are the usual array of portraits on the wall, Claude Moet, who founded the house of Moet in 1743, his grandson Jean Remy Moet who produced the world first luxury brand in 1793, you get the picture. There are also lots of references and portraits of Napoleon who visited the house in 1807 and it was in his honour in 1863 that Moet adopted the term 'imperial' for the Champagne.
The garden wasn't open to the public, but it is apparently shaped like Champagne bottle, and just having checked Google Earth, yes it is!
But then the tour leads you down into the cellars....
There is something unbelievably romantic and just a little bit scary about these cellars, they are enormous and they go on for miles and it would be very easy to get lost.
As you go down the ancient stone steps you can feel the temperature dropping, but not uncomfortably so, and there is that lingering yeasty smell of centuries of alcohol, but not stale alcohol that you might get in a pub it's a very comforting smell.
The tour takes you through the various processes they go through to create this famous Champagne you walk past massive, oak barrels which they don't use anymore and I guess showing us the modern equivalent would have ruined the romantic illusion. They then show you row upon row of racks, here they put the newly bottled Champagne, and turn it a quarter turn every day much of this is still done manually, this is to allow the sediment to settle and the bottles are in a top downwards position so it rests by the cork. When it is ready they freeze the top of the bottle and chop it off so removing the sediment with it. The wine as it is at this point is then rebottled and topped up to the correct level.
They take you past what seemed like an infinite number of small arched cellars each holding tens of thousands of bottles of Champagne waiting to mature and go off to market.
Then they take you past an infinite number of locked caged cellars, these hold the vintage bottles of Champagne, including some bottled in the year of the Queen Mothers wedding a bottle of which was presented to her years later. Not every year has a vintage, most bottles that we buy are blended from various qualities of the wine, however if they deem it to be a spectacular year they will create a vintage bottle and this will be at least 85% of wine produced in that year. Hence the larger price tags.
The tour guide that we have had on both occasions has been exceptional, always picking up interesting little tit-bits like the Moet exported to America has a white star on it, and is blended slightly sweeter than the Moet for the European markets as the Americans have a sweeter palate than us, my husband was upset that they wouldn't open a bottle of that at the tasting session at the end.
Most people buying Champagne will buy a full bottle containing 0.75 litres with half bottles and quarter bottles available fairly readily, visiting the home of Moet was the first time I saw anything larger the sizes of the bottles side by side are quite spectacular, even the names of the larger bottles are quite exciting:
Magnum 1 ½ litres
Jeroboam 3 litres
Methuselah 6 litres
Salmanazah 9 litres
Balthazar 12 litres
They even had the larger bottles on sale in the shop but there were two major problems had we decided to buy one; firstly we would have had to have a left a child behind to fit it in the car (the behaviour of the eldest on the day in question this was a tempting option) and secondly it would have required a second mortgage to buy it..... But, how cool would it have been to turn up at a New Year's Eve party with one.
The tasting is a nice little extra, but let's be honest you wouldn't really travel all the way to Epernay for your first taste of Champagne, however it can be a good excuse to try a glass of the more expensive stuff that you wouldn't usually buy. We just had the regular glasses, of which I had most of it because as previously mentioned my husband doesn't really like it. They did provide our under age girls with a glass of Orange Juice each which I thought was a nice touch.
The first time we visited they had the Champagne fountain running in the tasting room, the classic pyramid of flutes with the Champagne flowing down it, that is spectacular, our second visit it was set up as a feature in the shop with just the glasses, not quite as spectacular but still worth a look.
The shop is interesting, naturally we bought a couple of bottles, which are no cheaper than buying them in Tesco, it just doesn't say 'Chosen by Tesco' on them or whatever else they do to get themselves linked to the branding, but you do get a lovely Moet bag to put it in. Other items in the shop are very expensive, but really interesting to look at.
If you really fancy splashing out, you can even hire parts of the cellar for banquets of up to 200 people, there is a small photo of this on the web site and it looks amazing all laid out with candelabra's. Not an event I'm ever likely to be invited to sadly.
As a visit for adults, it's a very interesting tour, you get the Champagne at the end of it, and is a popular trip for Hen weekends. I took about 20 photographs with 20 different cameras of such a trip whilst waiting for the rest of my family to come out of the loo. So if your name is Julie and you all wore white t-shirts with Julie's Hen Weekend on them I hope you had a lovely day and are enjoying married life.
As a visit for Children, it depends on the child. My eldest had a strop on her all day on the journey to Moet, she didn't want to go and seemed determined to make sure I didn't enjoy it either. The second she got inside despite not liking alcohol at all (a taste I hope will stay with her) she was fascinated and asked loads of questions and really enjoyed it and I mean really enjoyed it. It still took several days before I got an apology though, and she was still talking about it for days afterwards.
All in all I definitely recommend this tour, I'm sure there are far more worthy smaller Champagne houses to visit, but this really is the home of Champagne, the English may have invented it, in Roman times by mistake by being too heavy handed with the yeast but the French have certainly made it what it is today. From a value for money point of view, it is something a bit different, I always feel that we have had good value and leave feeling happy and relaxed.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH