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)?

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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

Monday, 8 August 2011

Stoke-ward Bound

Tomorrow I will be off on an early train to visit my dear friend Acton Belle in Stoke-on-Trent for a few days.

Wikipedia describes Stoke as 'a city in Staffordshire, England, which forms a linear conurbation almost 12 miles (19 km) long, with an area of 36 square miles (93 km2). Together with the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Stoke forms The Potteries Urban Area. This, together with the rural Staffordshire Moorlands area, forms North Staffordshire, which in 2001, had a population of 457,165.'

Perhaps this isn't the most inviting description of a place, but I'm bouncing up and down with excitement and looking forward to seeing my friend. Acton Belle has lived in this part of the world (Newcastle-under-Lyme to be precise) for the past couple of years. It will be so nice to spend some quality time with her; we have gone from living a short distance away from each other and regular meeting up to lots of phone calls and the occasional cup of tea when she's in London visiting family.

We are planning to visit the Emma Bridgewater shop and do the factory tour, and I'm hoping to see some of the places associated with Stoke's most famous son, Robbie Williams. As I'm a HUGE Take That fan, there will no doubt be lots of pictures of me posing outside the pub he grew up in.

Whatever we do get up to, one thing I'm sure about is that there will be lots of tea, cake and chit chat.

I'm also helping that this trip will help me determine if Stoke is actually in the North or the Midlands. I'll be reading this book en route and hoping it helps me to make a final decision. 

In the meantime, what do you think: Is Stoke-on-Trent truly the North or just in the north of the Midlands?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Little Boys And Their Ice Creams

Little D enjoys an ice cream at home - August 2011

They just love them - even if they are just plastic toys!

Friday, 5 August 2011


Madrid is renown for its culinary culture and on our visit we found so many options and opportunities to eat.

We enjoyed amazing tapas and pinchos at our friend's wedding celebration.

Tortillas, Tapas and Jamon!

We ate Churros (deep fried batter fingers) and Chocolate for breakfast. They taste a bit like a doughnut.

In fact, they are good at any time of the day - not just for breakfast!

But our favourite place to eat quickly became the Mercado de San Miguel.

It is an old covered market which in recent years became rather dilapidated as it lost out to cheaper supermarkets. In a way similar to Borough Market in London, the owners turned the market's fortunes around by making it upmarket and attracting a younger clientele for tapas and drinks as well as usual market fayre, like fruit and vegetables, cheese, fish and meat. 

During the day you see people popping by to purchase groceries and snacks and then in the evening it turns into a hive of social activity. 

We liked it because we could purchase a variety of food and drink from each stall and have a taste of everything good that Spain has to offer.

The Mercardo de San Miguel was one of the highlights of our trip and I would say it is a 'must' for anyone visiting the city.

And I dare anyone not to come back from Madrid a pound or two heavier!