Friday, 25 November 2011

Gareth Love

I must be losing my mind, as I just can't work out how I managed to get through a whole three weeks of Gareth Malone on television without a post about him.

If you read my old blog, you will be aware of how much I fancy the pants off Mr Gareth Malone, Choirmaster Extraordinaire. He tickles my fancy so much that when I had my Hen Party in 2010, my lovely friends arranged for him to come. Yes, he was there...

...albeit in the form of a blow up doll that had been dressed from head to toe in my best friend's boyfriend's gear (pants and socks included) for a game of 'Pass The Gareth' (normally people would substitute the 'Gareth' for 'Parcel). It was great fun and I must be the only girl around who can boast that 'Gareth Malone came to her Hen Do'.

Yes, since 2007 there's been a lot of 'Gareth Love' going around.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here is a clip from Gareth's most recent project which saw him create a choir from the wives and girlfriend's left on a military base when their partners were deployed to Afghanistan for six months.

As with Gareth's previous projects, the choir has brought people together, many of whom thought that they were tone deaf and that choirs were just for posh people in churches. 

The Military Wives Choir from Chivenor are going onto amazing things. They sang at the Festival of Remembrance earlier this month and are releasing their song Wherever You Are to enter the race for the Christmas Number 1. A more worthy festive hit than X Factor? I wholly think so.

There is still time to watch the most recent series of The Choir on BBC iPlayer. Make sure you settle down with a mug of tea and a big box of tissues - it seems to have made so many people very teary. The stories the ladies tell of being parted from loved ones and the worry they go through is heart-wrenching. Not only are our soliders brave, but their families are remarkably brave to carry on with normal life and daily routines.

I find Gareth to be an incredible leader/teacher who manages to bring out the very best in people, whether they are children or adults. He encourages enthusiasm through his warmth and passion for music. You get the feeling when watching him on television that if he is talking to a member of his choirs his focus is on the them and, unlike most reality TV stars, not promoting his own fame. I hope to acquire and use some of these skills as a TA and hopefully, eventually as a teacher. 

And did I mention that he is very handsome? 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Living In A Building Site

This is what my kitchen looked like a week ago.

 It looks even worse now. There's no sink, no hob and no units.

There's also a big hole in the ceiling. I can see into the first floor!

The only room that is untouched is our bedroom. The only space to sit in our flat is on our bed. We just sleep and wash there and try to side-step the dust, stripped floors and imagine what it will be like in a month or so's time.

We're trying to be cheerful!

Evenings and weekends are spent at my parents' house which is where Fluffy Cat has been relocated too for the time being. My parents are loving their house guest, and the food there isn't half bad either.

For a short while our flat is just a house, it's not a home. I can't wait for it to be 'our home' once again!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Christmas Ahhh

I saw the John Lewis Christmas advert for the for first time today.

Once again, it's very sweet.

I like the twist at the end.

I usually hate adverts but I love to watch them at this time of year. I'm sucked in, whether it's for luxury goods or for a supermarket.

I'm just a girl who loves sparkle and magic a little bit too much for her age!

Which Christmassy adverts are you enjoying?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Christmas Greetings

It does seem very early to say that, but I've not gone bonkers wishing you a Merry Christmas very early. I'm wondering if you've already bought or made your Christmas cards.

I bought ours in the January sales - beautiful and a bargain. As we send over 70 cards to family and friends it's worth trying to save some money and buying extra early. For very close friends and family I make a few handmade cards throughout November for that more personal touch.

If you would like to send a homemade card but lack the inspiration, skills or time this year, I would like to introduce you to Handcrafted by Paula.

Snowy Festive Post Box

Paula is a life-long crafter (It's in her genes - her mother is also an inspired maker) and since the birth of her gorgeous daughter three years ago, she has started her own card-making business from her home in Godmanchester.

Knitted Father Christmas

Paula's Christmas Cards have a mixture of religious and non-religious themes.

We Three Kings

There are plenty to choose from - cute snowy penguins for children...

Snowy Penguin

...and more sophisticated scenes for adults. 

Perhaps the card below would be most suitable for the designated cook on Christmas Day?

...mmm Mince Pies!

Paula can also adapt cards to suit your needs. With the '...mmm Mince Pies!' card the Mince Pies and baking equipment could be substituted with a turkey and a roasting tin.

Three Babushkas

Most cards are normally priced under £3.50 although some of the larger cards with more detail can be slightly more expensive.

As well as Christmas Cards, Paula makes a wide-range of cards for all sorts of celebrations - birthdays, new arrivals, weddings, christenings. 

You name it, Paula can do it!

Baby Elephant
Owl Anniversary - The owls can be substituted with the recipients' favourite animal.

The best place to view Paula's current card repertoire is from her Facebook page which is regularly updated with lots of photos. You can also find contact details and a list of events where you can view the cards.

Paula can even create invitations. These were specially (and beautifully) crafted for my Hen Party last year.

If you're in the Huntingdonshire area, events coming up include:

Crafting Angels Christmas Fair
Saturday 19th November 10am-3pm
Park Road Baptist Church, Rushden, Northants.
St Mary's Christmas Bazaar
Saturday 26th November, From 2.30pm
St Anne's Primary School, Godmanchester.

I hope you enjoy looking at Paula's website. 

In the meantime, I had better get a wriggle on with writing some of those 70 cards!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Bring Me Sunshine

I'm still alive.

Albeit with a the remains of an ear infection, struggling to cut down my personal statement for my teacher training application down to meet the demands of the line and character limit, and surrounded by packing boxes.

But I heard this song on the radio this morning and it made me smile.

Happy stuff!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Let It Shine

I've been thinking about this post for a while, but was inspired by this beautiful piece from Ginger Jumbles about restlessness to finally sit down, type some words and bring my thoughts to life.

If you're a regular reader you're probably already aware of the uncomfortable end to last year and the life changing start to 2011 as I took the leap and changed careers. It wasn't any easy step to take and took many long hours of thinking and I had to force myself to be brave and make the move.

I've had all sorts of support from family and friends. The minute I said how I was really feeling, I realised that I was not actually alone but there was a lot of love out their for me and I felt warm and secure in the arms and hearts of those dear to me.

Now, ten months on, my life is better than what I could have imagined it to be. It's had its good and bad days but on the whole I feel so much happier. Perhaps the most happy I've been in my adult years.

It may sound silly, but throughout this year, it has been these music and lyrics that on an ugh day (the name I give to days when you feel the whole world is up against you and nothing will go right) which cheers me up and gets me back on track.

Shine - Take That
You, you're such a big star to me
You're everything I wanna be
But you're stuck in a hole and I want you to get out
I don't know what there is to see
But I know it's time for you to leave
We're all just pushing along
Trying to figure it out, out, out.

All your anticipation pulls you down

When you can have it all, you can have it all.

So come on, come on, get it on

Don't know what you're waiting for
Your time is coming don't be late, hey hey
So come on
See the light on your face
Let it shine
Just let it shine
Let it shine.

Stop being so hard on yourself

It's not good for your health
I know that you can change
So clear your head ang come round
You only have to open your eyes
You might just get a big surprise
And it may feel good and you might want to smile, smile, smile.

Don't you let your demons pull you down

'Cause you can have it all, you can have it all.

Hey let me know you

You're all that matters to me
Hey let me show you
You're all that matters to me.

Hey let me love you

You're all that matters to me
Hey so come on yeah
Shine all your light over me.
 Lyrics by Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Steve Robson 

I'm not sure why this song helps to drag me out of a mood. There are so many other powerful lyrics and melodies out there but this really does seem to do the trick. The words just say exactly how I felt for so long (I was definitely in a big hole!) and how I feel on an ugh day.

I always find that if I put the CD on, turn it up and sing very loudly, my mood quickly changes and I'm ready to battle on. I've even listened to it on the way to work on days when I've woken up on the wrong side of the bed and can't really find the strength to pull myself together and get on with the day. Two minutes in and I'm skipping across the park!

I hope that the magic of this song will long continue as my life hopefully gets better and better.

Now I've shared my special song with you, do you have a special song that helps you get through those ugh days?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Cheeky Visitor

When I arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon I was greeted by this sight.

A white moggy was sat in our olive tree planter loving the pot of catnip that has been there for the past few months. Fluffy Cat has shown absolutely no interest in this special herb for felines!

This beautiful white Tom (I'm assuming it was a boy) did not look at all worried as I started to take its photograph to show Mr P when he arrived home.

In fact, he carried on licking his chops and looking very satisfied with his treat. 

Cheeky or what?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Once Upon A Blog

This half term my Year 5 class are planning and writing their own fantasy stories. They are drawing on inspiration from Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and even Bedknobs and Broomsticks to devise their own story for a five to seven year old. What they have written so far is amazing. We have some very talented nine year old novelists!

To aid the creative process, I've been playing a little game with the small group that I work with. I start off with the first couple of lines of a story and they take turns to add to the tale. It's really exciting to see how the stories develop. They usually take all sorts of twists and turns. Yesterday a delicate pink fairy turned into a big, hairy squirrel who was going to be captured because a family wanted to eat it with chips, custard and tomato ketchup!

I thought I would try this game out in Blogland. I will start the story and then pass it onto four blogs, then hopefully you'll continue the chain and we'll end up with all sorts of interesting stories.

The opening of the story was inspired by this toadstool picture I recently took while visiting Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire.

Once upon a time, only a fortnight or so ago, Bobo the Elf stepped out of his shiny red toadstool house. It was a warm and sunny autumn morning and only the calmest of breezes passed through his woodland home. Bobo was feeling rather peckish. He'd been awake all night repairing his special gold pocket watch and had eaten everything in his cupboard, so he set off to find himself something delicious to eat.

I would like to pass this creative writing challenge onto:

The Girl @ Just Me
Kate @ Domestikated

I look forward to reading your stories and hearing about the many adventures Bobo has as the plot develops.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I was a very excited bride.
Today I am a very happy and contented wife.

Thank you Mr P for a wonderful year. 
Every moment shared with you is special.
And year after year I love you more.

And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You're gonna see, it's our destiny
'Cause you've got a friend in me
Words by Randy Newman

Edited 22 September - 
Thank you for all your lovely wishes. 
We went back to the hotel where our reception was stayed and had an absolutely lovely weekend. x

Friday, 16 September 2011

Turning Over Autumnal Leaves

So autumn is well and truly here.

Montacute House, Somerset - 4 September 2011

Time for lots of changes - outside and inside, at home and at school ( well, work).

It's taking awhile for me to get back into a routine - getting up and going to bed and getting focused again at work

My inability to get back into a routine also includes blogging - both reading and writing. 

I once read that it takes doing some three times until it becomes a habit and you can routinely do it without too much thought.

Well, I make that two posts to go until I'm back on track!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten Years On

I don't know about you, but I keep asking myself how it can be ten years since the awful day that was 9/11. The decade seems to have vanished in no time at all and nothing really has changed. Conflicts continue: the innocent carry on suffering and the brave put their lives on the line.

The New York Skyline on the 8th anniversary of 9/11 in September 2008. Source: Time US

When I recently visited the Imperial War Museum I looked at the projected images of Francesc Torre's photographs of objects and debris cleared from the site of the World Trade Centre. These are shown next to a two metre piece of rusted steel which is one of the first objects from Ground Zero to be displayed in the UK (this will move to the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester in October).

The images were of a mixture of objects - rubble and twisted iron were shown next to files, business cards and items from the many shops in the WTC. There were scarfs still displayed on shop dummies and spectacle frames from an optician's shop that still had the plastic lenses intact. It really saddened me to see these near-perfect objects and wonder how they managed to survive when so many people lost their lives.

The image which left its impact on me the most was of a rag doll of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I just couldn't help but think that on that day ten years ago there were so many people who must have wished they could have clicked their heels together three times and said 'I Want To Go Home'. The potent irony of this black and white picture left me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I don't suppose any of us will ever forget that day.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Once Upon A Wartime

Another interesting thing to do on a rainy day in London - particularly if you have children (probably those aged nine and upwards would find it most interesting) or are interested in children's literature - would be to visit the Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories For Children exhibition at the Imperial War Museum near Waterloo Station.

Source: Imperial War Museum Website

I visited it last week on a particularly rainy day (it would rain, then stop, then start again and be even heavier than it was before) when I couldn't bear to stay in the house any longer. I was particularly interested in visiting as I have been re-reading Carrie's War in preparation for reading it with Year 5 next term as it's a set text on the National Curriculum.

The exhibition focuses on five great children's books which are about experiences of war. The books highlighted are:

War Horse - Michael Morpurgo
Carrie's War - Nina Bawden
The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall
The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier
Little Soldier - Bernard Ashley

The displays have been creatively curated to tell each story using artefacts from the museum's collection and relating real facts to the fiction of each book. It also delves into each author's wartime experiences to show the inspiration behind their story. Nina Bawden, for example, was evacuated, while Robert Westall grew up in Tyneside during World War II. 

Discovering more about the authors and reading the fictional texts alongside objects from that time, helped to bring these stories, most of which I had read in my own childhood, to life. Since visiting the exhibition, I have found Carrie's War much more vivid and 'real' than I had when reading it before.

If you do visit, I would try to leave enough time to see The Children's War and 1940's House exhibition which looks at children's life on the Home Front during the Second World War. It considers topics such as evacuation, the black-out and bombing and the impact this had on the lives of children. You also get the opportunity to walk through the 1940s House (used in a Channel 4 documentary in 2001) which helps to bring the home front experience to life - although I think it is probably a lot 'posher' than my grandparents and probably most working class people's houses were at the time.

Both exhibitions are ideal for children entering Year 5 (aged nine to ten) as they will usually study the Second World War and a linked novel during that year. Children at secondary school would probably also enjoy it as they may already be familiar with the books and topics and will usually cover the Second World War again in Year 9. There is a lot of reading in both exhibitions but there are also lots of hands-on activities that can be enjoyed by all ages.

I've visited the Imperial War Museum a great many many times over the years (I visited their archives lots of times when working on my A Level History Dissertation) but still enjoy going there every year or so. I think it is one of those museums which can entertain the whole family - boys and Dads will love the planes and reading about tanks, while girls and Mums are possibly more interested in the affect that war has on people. There is something there to everybody to see and enjoy - and best of all, most of it is free.

Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories For Children - Closes 30th October 2011. 
There is an admission charge to visit this exhibition

The Children's War and 1940's House - Closes 3rd January 2012. 
No admission charge.

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Tiger Is Coming To Tea...

And I may be some time.

Have a lovely bank holiday weekend!

If you're in London and in need of something to do during the final rainy week of the school holidays, then I suggest get down to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and visit the Judith Kerr Retrospective: From The Tiger Who Came To Tea to Mog and Pink Rabbit.

Judith Kerr has written and illustrated many of the most popular children's picture books from the 1970s to the present day - who could not want to own grumpy but lovely cat, Mog, or have a tiger come to tea? She has also written three very interesting semi-biographical novels about escaping from Nazi Germany and moving to a new life in England via Switzerland and France. 

I visited the exhibition earlier this week and was in awe of all the beautiful original illustrations of some of my favourite books from my childhood. I wanted to take them home with me. The exhibition is very informative, particularly explaining how Kerr incorporated her own family and pets into the stories. Younger visitors can also pretend to have tea with a tiger or snuggle down in Mog's comfy basket. 

If you're interested in children's book illustration this exhibition should not be missed!

(Exhibition closes Sunday 4th September.)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Patisserie Parisienne

Or, the one about the macaroons!

The oldest Ladurée shop in Paris (there are five, including one at the airport) is very central and easy to find. It is at 16 Rue Royale, just off the Place de la Concorde and close to the beautiful Madeleine church. 

You cannot miss it as the decorations in the window are exquisite.

We thought that we may have to queue for a table as it was very full, but we were quickly seated in a room upstairs. Looking at other people's plates, I knew it was going to be hard to pick only one delicacy but I chose one that a lady close by was eating. It was so pretty and pink, I knew that was going to be my perfect choice. 

 The Ispahan was made of two raspberry sandwiched with raspberries and a rose flavoured cream. It even had a rose petal on the top. It was divine. 

Mr P had a Pistachio Ladurée Saint-Honorés. This was a pistachio macaroon with miniature choux buns, lots of freshly whipped cream and pistachio chips. It was also delicious.

As it was a very hot day we had a lemonade with our cakes rather than tea. The lemonade was interesting in so far as it didn't really taste lemony. Nevertheless, it was refreshing and we were so parched it was just what we needed.

The surroundings are lovely. The room is so beautifully decorated and it has a real atmosphere. However, I did feel that the service left a little to be desired. Perhaps it is just French ways, but both our waiters weren't very friendly, plonking the plates down on the table and whipping them away only seconds after we had put our pastry forks down. I know the English are meant to be rude, but I get better service at the café at the top of my road here in London (and it's quite a bit cheaper too).

Don't let this put you off though.  I would definitely visit Ladurée on another visit to Paris. If you can stomach the bad service (no pun intended!) it is worth treating yourself as the patisserie was perfection on a plate.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Paris En Une Journée

Our 11 hour whirlwind trip to Paris was simply amazing. 

How great it is to step onto a train in London, have a short snooze and a homemade bacon sandwich, then just a couple of hours later wake up in 211 miles away in Paris.

We packed so much into one day, walking from one part of the city to another. If we had been in London I would have been tempted just to hop on the Tube to get from place to place. Yet despite the intense heat, we happily strolled around the city, soaking up the joie de vivre.  
The beautiful ceiling at Galeries Lafyette
An alternative angle of the Eiffel Tower
Montmatre Cemetery from a footbridge
Parisian pigeons paddle in a puddle
My highlight of the day was visiting the Musée de l'Orangerie and seeing Monet's Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies). It was the first time I'd seen them and, as a friend had described them prior to our trip, they are beautifully translucent.
To get this picture, I followed a guy with a camera who looked like he was doing and stood at a funny angle to get an image not of the painting, but of people enjoying it.
The Musée de l'Orangerie is a really nice gallery to visit particularly because it is small enough to view in an hour or so. Despite not being the largest gallery, it has an interesting selection of paintings by artists such as Picasso, Cézanne, Modigliani and Matisse. All the paintings were collected by one man, Paul Guillaume.

I particularly liked this painting of the collector's wife. If I am ever painted, I would like it to have the feeling of this, although definitely with a cat beside me rather than a dog!

Portrait of Madame Paul Guillaume by Marie Laurencin (1924)

A visit to Paris from London can definitely be managed in a day. Possibly it is best to pick a particular area to visit or an attraction or gallery to see, but you can enjoy the city and not feel too rushed. 

Mr P and I have already decided that we will give it another go in the not to distant future. We didn't feel too tired on the day or the day after either. The only drawback was that prices were more or less the same in Pounds as they were in Euros and in Paris this means that nothing is cheap.

But oh yes, we did go to Ladurée. However, that's a story for another day!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Something Funny For A Friday

This is toilet humour of sorts.

The toilet at the Emma Bridgewater Factory!

How fab is this? 

Although I'm not sure what Mr P would think if I stored our dinner plates in the bathroom!

Happy Weekend! x

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Great British Bake Off

Are you fan of The Great British Bake Off (BBC Two, Tuesdays 9pm)?


I really enjoyed watching it last summer and ensured that the time spent watching became some 'me' time for relaxing in the busy few weeks leading up to my wedding in mid-September.

I had recorded Tuesday's episode (the first in the new series) and sat down yesterday afternoon with a cuppa to get lost for an hour in a world of batters, mixtures and fluffy icing.

I could be heard making 'oooh' and 'aaah' noises in amazement, but also at times was thinking 'I could do better than that'.
If you watched it, do you think there is already a frontrunner to win this series? 

I'm already liking Holly Bell very much and think she could be both creative with design and bake with great skill. I loved her cow celebration cake and there was something very deja vu about watching her weigh each cupcake case to check that they were all the same weight. If I was in the competition, I would definitely be doing the same.

Holly Bell To Win The Great British Bake Off 2011!

So I'm going to champion Holly to win this series. You can find her Cherry Bakewell Cupcake recipe here and a link to her lovely blog here

Good Luck Holly!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Ooh La La - Paris In A Day

At the weekend, Mr P and I are off to Paris for the day.

Oh, to see a sight like this!
We leave on the first train out of London St Pancras and return on the last train back from Gare du Nord.

We have visited this great city together twice already. 

In the summer of 2000 we escaped London and holiday jobs for a few days to enjoy our first holiday together. For 18 year old me, it was a very romantic trip.

In 2007 - for my Dad's 60th birthday present - we bought tickets to be the first members of the public to leave for Paris from the new St Pancras International. However while we had a fun-filled trip, the train didn't actually leave the station until 3pm and there was only time to cross the road outside the Gare du Nord and have an amazing celebratory meal, before crossing back over the road and getting the last train home.

As Mr P and I have seen quite a bit of the city and visited the key sights and museums, on this short visit, we are looking forward to relaxing and and filling the day wandering the streets, absorbing the smells, sounds and views of the city, and as always, filling our stomachs with delicious food.

A visit to the original Ladurée shop is at the top of my list and Mr P suggested that if the weather is good, we should have a quick visit to the Eiffel Tower as it completes any visit to the city.

But being the fonts of all knowledge about nice things, I was hoping that you could suggest some lovely things to do in Paris in a day.

Thinking caps on, please! x

Monday, 15 August 2011

Beautiful Emma B

I promised you a full account of my trip to the Emma Bridgewater factory and here it is.

Acton Belle picked me up from Stoke-on-Trent station and after a quick stop at her house to drop my bags off, we headed over to the Hanley area of the city.

It was almost lunchtime, so the first thing we did was seat ourselves in the cafe and enjoy some hearty food. 

Served on Emma B plates and bowls and with Emma B cutlery!

It was unlike any lunch I'd had at a tourist attraction before. Acton Belle had a cheesey baked potato with salad and I had hot pea and ham soup. It was so nice. I could easily understand why Acton Belle sometimes pops in there for a bite to eat and a read of the newspapers.

The room we ate in was so cosy. It was just the sort of kitchen space that I would love to have, full of pretty pottery 

I did wonder what the total value of all these pretty things would be.

and a very quirky range.

How unusual is this?
After lunch, Acton Belle showed me the little garden at the back of the 'Firsts' (things that aren't seconds) Shop. It is rather hidden away and it was no surprise to me that I didn't find it when I quickly popped by in January.

There were chickens.

And very beautiful and inspiring planting.

I couldn't help but wish that my garden looked like this.

After we had whiled away some minutes talking to the hens, it was about time for us to start the tour. I didn't feel like I could take photographs while we walked around - because of health and safety and also because there were some (lovely and very different!) new designs and I thought that the company wouldn't want me putting pictures of them up here before they'd had chance to promote them fully themselves.

The tour was very good value (£2.50 redeemable if you bought anything from the shops) and lasted about 45 minutes. Our informative guide (who actually worked in the factory) took us through the whole manufacturing process, from the clay arriving and going into vats, to the hand painting and application of transfers. It is a really time consuming process lasting over several days and makes you understand why there is a premium to be paid for something so well crafted.

All the factory workers were really friendly and willing to answer our questions. In fact, Acton Belle and I were so engaged with one of the ladies in the transfers room that we hadn't realised that we'd been left behind and had to make a quick dash to catch up with the rest of the visitors!

I couldn't help but leave with a souvenir of my visit to the factory and my trip to Stoke-on-Trent to visit my dear friend.

Lost City of Stoke Mug - ready to join my other 2nds treats!

If you're a fan of Emma B or you're just interested in the process of making cups and plates from scratch, I would definitely recommend a visit. There is also a pottery decorating cafe which might interest more creative or younger visitors and the factory frequently holds special event days, details of which can be found on their website.

And just before we headed back to the car, I took a very sneaky blurry picture through the window of some of the 'pots in progress'.

And me being me, I couldn't help but wonder where all the chickens, teapots and mugs will end up - hopefully lots of very happy home.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunny Days in Stoke

Head a little further north, and a little further west and you reach the debatable lands of Staffordshire, perhaps England's most enigmatic county. It has pottery and a bull terrier. It has its own local delicacy, the oatcake, a sort of heavy-duty tortilla with the texture of flannel, which exiled 'clayheads' get all tearful about and is actually pretty good with cheese and bacon. Also, in Port Vale FC, it has the only football team in England not named after a place...but a building, Port Vale House, where the inaugural meeting took place.

Heading north at Euston Station
But for all the funny foods and simmering aggression, I'm still not having it that Staffordshire is the north. For one thing, the football teams aren't good enough. Sorry but it's true.
Pies and Prejudice - Stuart Maconie (Ebury Press, 2007)

The above extract from my train-journey-read does little to contradict the common view (thank you for your suggestions!) that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are definitely in the Midlands rather than the North. However, what I can say from my little holiday to visit Acton Belle and her Beau is that it has much of the charm of the North (the people are very friendly, things are cheaper and there are lots of green spaces between each town) with only a 90 minute train journey. Ooh - and the oatcakes really are tasty and worth sampling.*

Perhaps calling the few days I spent in Newcastle-under-Lyme with Acton Belle 'sunny' is a little bit of an exaggeration. The weather was generally a bit rubbish: grey, windy and rainy but the time I spent with my dear friend was wonderful. If it had to be described as a weather, I would call it 'totally tropical'.

True to her word, Acton Belle took me on a chauffeured driven tour of some of the locations where Robbie Williams spent his pre-Take That days.

The Red Lion Public House - where Robbie lived from birth to the age of three
We enjoyed lots of tea and cake. The area has lots of many nice places to enjoy a bit of afternoon tea including the Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Trentham Gardens. If you're in the area I really recommend the latter. We had 2 soups, 2 sandwiches, 2 cakes and a 2 hot drinks for £10.95. I know I'm from London and any prices 25 miles outside the M25 seem cheap to me, but this was a very good offer and was super yummy too.

Tea at Trentham Gardens - Not the best picture ever but we were in a hurry to start eating. Acton Belle's spoon is hovering and ready to tuck in!
In addition to our day trips (Emma Bridgewater Factory Tour post coming tomorrow!) Acton Belle just enjoyed the time chilling out and chatting together.

Acton Belle's Amazing Cat Pie! (It's actually Chicken and Leek and comes from this blog)
For two people who have at least an hour long conversation each week, it comes as no surprise that we found it easy to chat into the early hours. You would think that having known each other for 18 years we would have run out of things to talk about by now, but somehow I think that will never happen. It was just lovely to spend lots of time together; reminiscing (that word reminds me of my Grandma talking about her childhood in South Wales during the 1910s!) about school days, sharing our plans for the future, laughing and discussing at length the joys and woes of working in a Primary School.

I'm so pleased that Acton Belle has settled in well to her newish home and town. Be it in the north, south or Midlands, I had a wonderful time and hope to pay another visit soon.

Thanks so much for having me, Acton Belle and Beau! x

*Even if we did eat them for lunch (two days after I returned) with chorizo, tomatoes and cheese. A first for the humble oatcake?!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Stay Safe

Last night I couldn't believe the images I saw on the television of my beautiful city on fire and being damaged by hooligans. It's horrific. 

The famous image of St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz (Herbert Mason taken 29 December 1940, originally published Daily Mail 31 December 1940). I've thought about it a lot over the past few days.

Let us hope it is the final night of such awful events.

London is better than the gangs that walk its streets. 

Londoners are resilient and don't need to use violence to show how strong we are.

London Spirit makes you get up and get on with life no matter what is thrown at you. We look after each other.

If you are in one of the areas that has been attacked, I hope that you, your family and friends stay safe.  x