Thursday 30 June 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Junes past

My first throwback for the 30th of June is a simple and
Delicious crumbly biscuits 
reliable biscuit recipe which I posted in 2013 having baked a batch in our Polegate kitchen. I had been baking these crumbly biscuits every once in a while for many years beforehand and the original go-to recipe is probably buried somewhere in my Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium - either that or I saw it on Blue Peter!

By the end of June 2014, I had graduated to baking bread and we treated ourselves to a week of varied theatre trips, the 30th of June event being a performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest broadcast to Eastbourne's Cineworld cinema from The Globe Theatre. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the next night saw us at The Devonshire Park Theatre for a live performance of The Play That Goes Wrong. Our friend Linda had recommended this to us and it truly is hilarious. We loved every minute! If you haven't seen it yet, I think the play is still on in London and there's now a Peter Pan Goes Wrong play from the same team.

Another year goes by and we spent the last day of June
Dave walking in Northumberland 
2015 on a ten mile walk around Harthope Burn and Broadstruther in Northumberland. It's such a gorgeous part of the country and, although the sky looks cloudy in this photograph, was a gloriously hot summer's day. The walk was a mixture of quiet roads, burnside grass and narrow peat footpaths across bracken and heather moorland. We spotted our first oystercatcher which we were very pleased about, but still hadn't seen a red squirel although there were signs 'promising' that we would!

That's all for this month's reminiscing. If you want to share your own #ThrowbackThursday posts, feel welcome to drop a link in the Comments. Next month I'll be remembering 28th of Julys.

Monday 27 June 2016

My #SmallSteps plan to overcome #Brexit disaster

Logo from A British Family 
I voted Remain on Thursday - as you might have grasped from this post here - so was bitterly disappointed and worried come Friday morning as I know many others were too. Since then however I have been thinking about how we might just be able to avoid the worst forecast disasters of this Brexit farce and how Leave could work if enough of us really get behind the idea. I remarked on Facebook that maybe if we all enthusiastically support existing campaigns like ShopLocal, BuyBritish and JustACard we could keep our economy from completely bottoming out. I think if we all try to make a small difference - as much as we can - it could be enough and even eventually trigger economic growth. I want to expand on my theory in this post. )I will be saying Britain and British although Scottish devolution and Irish reunification might render these terms obsolete.)

I am seeing so many different ideologies at the moment from disgusting racist and xenophobic violence to calls to work towards beautiful utopia. I am also seeing defeatist comments that it's pointless to try because 'we don't make anything anymore' and the 'politicians need to sort everything out'. Utter rubbish! (Shameless plug alert) Even I make hats! And bookmarks! Hopefully this head in the sand approach is shock apathy talking because if there's one thing we should take away from this Referendum it's that many of our leading politicians couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. Whether Britain ends up leaving the EU or there's another Referendum, or Britain disintegrates into individual countries, the processes will take time and we are already seeing extreme financial volability that will harm trade and jobs across Europe and the world. Already prices are rising and while I agree that it is difficult to see how an individual has significant influence, there are 65 million individuals in Britain and we need each only take SmallSteps. 65 million small steps is a long journey. Let's look at three small steps I plan to take.

Supporting British farmers and growers

When shopping at Morrison's a few days ago, there was only one variety of British-grown apple stocked amongst several from Chile and elsewhere, and ours were a few pence more expensive. I can't remember exactly, but maybe 30p more for a bag of five - an affordable difference. Now, nothing against the Chileans, great people and I like their literature, but I bought the British grown fruit. Obviously I realise that one bag and 30p won't actually make a blind bit of difference. But remember the 65 million? Just imagine the effect if we all coughed up 30p extra and bought British apples? We'd run out of apples! This is the big idea behind the JustACard campaign. Many people making small purchases have a huge impact in preserving businesses. Don't be embarrassed about only spending a small amount somewhere. Something is always better than nothing!
In Britain we still grow a lot of produce and raise food animals. We have those aforementioned breweries, plus cheesemakers, fishing fleets, market gardeners, beekeepers, ... I am not advocating a complete boycott of non-British produce, but I am going to retrain my brain away from always choosing the cheapest to choosing the most local.

I am going to make a point to CheckTheLabel and BuyBritish whenever that is an option.

Supporting my local businesses

Of course, shopping at a large chain like Morrison's, while convenient, doesn't help my local town economy much. While travelling around the UK last summer we noticed the most vibrant towns were those where people still used their High Streets, visited their weekly markets and had a genuine sense of community. In France towns even have some of their markets in the evenings so people can visit after work. It's like a little weekly street party! I like independent shops and cafes anyway, so making more of an effort to ShopLocal and use them won't be too arduous. Vibrant towns are attractive to investment so supporting mine will help it to create jobs, thereby encouraging new shops and businesses to set up in a self-propelling chain reaction.
This Totally Locally poster illustrates the community benefits well:

Plus small businesses are less likely to have shareholders swallowing up chunks of their profits and are more likely to pay their full share of taxes. And those businesses are owned and staffed by local people too so it's in their interest to spend locally what you pay to them. Large chains siphon off a high proportion of their income to head office locations which might not even be in Britain. Obviously some large purchases like cars, furniture and household appliances might be difficult to find on the High Street as so many shops have been forced out of business over recent decades, but the internet is a great resource for locating what I need. Britain has a strong artisan and craftsperson manufacturing sector. Prices do seem higher, but the crashing pound is likely to erode the apparent cheapness of many foreign made products and, especially for gift giving, why buy mass produced plastic crap from the other side of the world when surely a unique locally made and chosen item is far more meaningful?

I am going to make a point to ShopLocal whenever possible. If I can find and afford a product locally, I will buy it there. If not, I will prioritise British businesses that actually manufacture in Britain and pay their full tax liability here followed by overseas businesses that manufacture in Britain and pay their full tax liability here. Tax avoiding businesses and products manufactured overseas will be my last resort.

Minimising my resource drain

£350 million a week for the NHS was a much publicised and now discredited VoteLeave campaign statement. I wondered how much of that we could actually save anyway by just making small lifestyle changes. Healthier people need fewer health services and, while I don't consider myself a drain on the NHS right now, who knows what I might be setting myself up for in the future?
With the loss of EU membership will also come the loss of EU legislation on environmental aspects such as air pollution levels and green space conservation. It would be nice to think the Tory government would keep these laws, but I don't hold out much hope! Greenpeace are already gearing up for the fight, but there is a lot we can do as individuals too. Air pollution is one of the major killers in the UK and a lot of the problem is caused by congested traffic in our towns and cities.
I actually use our car less with our caravan lifestyle than I did living in a house, by several thousand miles a year, but I could reduce it still further by walking or cycling every short journey. The exercise will benefit me and the reduced diesel emissions will benefit everyone. Petrol and diesel prices will no doubt shoot up as a result of the crashing pound so saving money by not driving makes sense too and the more of us who use and insist on safe footpaths and cycle lanes, the more that will be marked out and built. That's more jobs being created too. Walking into town ties back in with ShopLocal as well. I am more likely to get a good sense of what businesses actually operate in my town by walking past them. I notice far more on foot than I ever do through a car window.

I am going to make a point to eat more healthily and walk or cycle journeys of a mile or less.

So, those are my three SmallSteps lifestyle changes which I hope will benefit me as well as whatever is left of my country. I am looking forward to the challenge and would love to discover other such practical suggestions too. Please do Comment your ideas! As a national community, I know we have a huge struggle ahead and the current lack of decisive leadership really isn't helping anyone. Whether Brexit becomes reality or whether Hugh Laurie's suggestion of 'Best of three?' is the route chosen, I think my SmallSteps, if undertaken by enough of us, will result in a revitalised country able to maintain a useful role in Europe and the world.

Monday 20 June 2016

A festival weekend - Feastival Sunday at Eastbourne

Decisions ... 
What a difference a day makes! I am so glad that Eastbourne's Feastival this weekend just gone wasn't drenched in the constant rain we had overnight and this morning. I wonder how much of a quagmire Princes Park is right now?

Considering this was only the second occurence of Feastival, the organisers put on a great display with dozens of stalls cooking up foods from all over the world to appeal to any palate. The website lists Spanish, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, French, American, Mexican, Italian, English, Eastern European, Greek, African, Portuguese and Turkish food on offer. We had to walk right around the field twice just to make up our minds what to have for lunch! Considering the current migration hysteria which has taken over Thursday's vote, it was great to see such a positive illustration of a benefit of immigration to Britain.

I chose a vegetarian Yakisoba noodles from Yoshi's
Decisions ... 
Catering which was a tasty and filling mix of fried Japanese ramen noodles with cabbage, carrots and other vegetables, topped with dried seaweed and a ginger and soy sauce. Dave chose beautifully slow cooked Hogget Verdi (lamb) from Forgotten Cuts Co. The meat was served with chips which soaked up the delicious juices, but did go cold a bit too quickly in that chilly seafront wind. For afters we shared a tub of Churros And Chocolate from Pepe's and sat back on the grass to enjoy the music in the sunshine. I did briefly wish we had festival chairs like we borrowed for Broadstock on Saturday, but the ground wasn't too bad.

On the downside, while the bands we heard were good, we
Decisions ... 
both thought that it would have been nice if some cultural diversity had been offered through the music too instead of the all white, all male line-up we saw. Perhaps it had been more varied on the Saturday?

Our soporific sunshine began to cloud over in the late afternoon and instead of digging more clothing layers out of the car (£3 for all day car parking) we decided to stay to the end of Frankie Says and then call it a day. We didn't manage to get away easily though because I spotted the Yummy Things Bakery stall had reduced the last of their chocolate brownie slices to a frankly unrefusable 50p each. We snapped up a Chilli And Lime and a Salted Caramel brownie slice to take away and both were very good.

Decisions ... 

Sunday 19 June 2016

A festival weekend - Broadstock Saturday at Crowhurst

Continuing our run of busy weekends, we are cramming two festivals into this one! Yesterday we were fortunate to have been invited to join our friends Steve and Frances at a fabulous little festival local to their village of Crowhurst, near Hastings in East Sussex. Broadstock Music Festival has been running for several years now, with a brief hiatus last year, and takes place in the beautiful grounds of Broadwood. Limited to just 300 adult tickets, it's a perfect size of music festival for me and its proceeds are reinvested back into the village. There is a camping field, children's activities including a very good face painter, one music stage and two food options - pizza or cupcakes!

Before I mention the music, I will say thank you to
The Pizza Laundry 
everyone who baked cakes and womanned the refreshments stall. I should have taken a photo of the selection early in the day because it was certainly an enticing display! I thought the pizzas were tasty too and was glad to see the van doing a steady trade. If you spot this Pizza Laundry van anywhere, do give them a try! They really do have a wood fired oven in there and I was impressed with our very thin crust red onion, pine nut, mozzarella and basil pizza. I did mean to find out why the Pizza Laundry name, but forgot to go back and read the sign. If anyone knows, please Comment!

The main event for me was, of course, the music and,
Sharpe And Larsson at Broadstock 
although we only stayed until about half past seven rather than until the death at ten, we got talented musicians and a well-thought through variety. I was pleased to finally meet and hear local guitarist Hratch. He and Dave played together in pre-me days and we both loved his set. Entirely new to us were bluesy trio Sharpe And Larsson and this was perfect laid-back music for a sunny festival afternoon! If you liked their sound as much as I did, further dates are on Helen Sharpe's Facebook page and they are playing at a jazz breakfast in Crowhurst sometime in October. I'm not sure if we will be back this way again then or not.

Brief mentions also to two other sets that particularly caught my ear: we only got to hear Son Of Kirk as a duo instead of their usual four piece, but I loved their sound and lyrics and we tracked them down online when we got home to experience the full sound with cello. Love cello! My other favourites were Tunbridge Wells-based Island Cassettes with their fun indie/worldbeat music which reminded me a little of Graceland-era Paul Simon.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this festival happen. I'll finish with a few YouTubes so you can hear the great music too!

Friday 17 June 2016

We see art in Worthing - Open Houses and along the Pier

I will admit that I had never thought of Sussex seaside
Trees by Frances Cheeseman 
town Worthing as being a particular hub of the art world so I was pleased to have this perception challenged on Friday when Dave and I visited the town to meet up with his daughter, Chrissie. We began by getting a preview of a few of the venues for the Worthing Artists Open Houses art trail event. This year promises to be the biggest and best yet seen in the town with sixty venues showing work by over 250 artists. The venues are open over three weekends - 18/19 June, 25/26 June and 2/3 July 2016 - and the work on show includes paintings, jewellery, sculpture, prints, stained glass, textiles and pots.

We took a look around Venue 39 which is Andy Manuell's Stonemason shop on South Street in Tarring. Work here includes painting, drawing, photography and collage and I was told that the shop enjoys keeping pieces on display all year, not just for the three weekends. I particularly liked a series of windswept trees by Frances Cheeseman (four pictured above) and also mixed media llama images by Jacqui Lauder.

Swordfish sculpture on Worthing seafront 
This swordfish sculpture is high on a wall outside Venue 8 - Coast Cafe Des Artistes on Beach Parade. There is a line of beach huts here too which are now artists' studios. Only a couple were open on a windy Wednesday afternoon but we did get to admire work at The Book Hut where Maudie Gunzie works to conserve and preserve vintage books by rebinding them and also sells elegant hand-bound notebooks and journals in varying designs and sizes.

After a lunch at the Indigo Restaurant - I enjoyed my Chickpea Chilli Burger, but Dave was a little underwhelmed by his Slow Cooked Pork Belly - we strolled onto the Victorian pier. Designed by Robert Rawlinson and opened in 1862 this beautiful structure is an attraction in its own right, but it also hosts the Creative Waves Art On The Pier initiative which is now in its fifth year. 2016-17 work showcases creative selfies made by local schoolchildren in a variety of media including clay, textiles and collage. There is also work by Northbrook College Art And Design students and a heritage exhibition of historic local postcards.

We needed to walk almost right to the end of the Pier to see all the art so, if you visit too, don't turn back too soon and miss it! On the way there are stained glass panels which caught our interest. They all have a Worthing theme and pictured below is one of two by Ferring artist Chris Brown. It commemorates the vast amounts of wood that washed ashore in January 2009 from the Ice Prince sinking off the Dorset coast  (remember that?). If you would like to see more of Chris's work, her Open House is Venue 60 on the Trail!

Plank Attack by Chris Brown 

Thursday 16 June 2016

Review: Where To Invade Next, a documentary by Michael Moore

I'm quite a fan of Michael Moore films having enjoyed being both educated and shocked by Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling For Columbine. Therefore I was happy to spot his newest documentary Where To Invade Next in the Ritzy Cinema listings for the very evening when we were staying up near Brixton. The film was only released here on the 10th of June so, for once, I was one of the first to see a movie!

'Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore returns with what may be his most provocative and hilarious film yet: Moore tells the Pentagon to "stand down" — he will do the invading for America from now on. Where to Invade Next is an expansive, rib-tickling, and subversive comedy in which Moore, playing the role of “invader,” visits a host of nations to learn how the U.S. could improve its own prospects. The creator of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine is back with this hilarious and eye-opening call to arms. Turns out the solutions to America’s most entrenched problems already exist in the world—they’re just waiting to be co-opted.'

It's an unusual premise for a film and the three of us - myself, Dave and his daughter Carrie - were engrossed throughout the two hour screening. It helps that the Ritzy has very comfortable seats! I did feel a bit uncomfortable about Moore's marching everywhere carrying a large Stars And Stripes, but I guess that would appeal more to the folks back in America and it was a successful parody of their current imperialism. What fascinated me was the difference in views about work-life balance and how to live well between many of our European neighbours and ourselves. (Well, between them and America obviously but much of the UK's self-perception seems similar to America's.) We gawped at Italy's standard eight week holiday entitlement and Slovenia's universal free university education, and were impressed by France's school meals system - both the food itself and the the children eating as though in a restaurant - Tunisian women's bravery is inspiring and Iceland's gender laws with regard to company board composition could have prevented the banking crisis. Plus having not so long ago read One Of Us, about Anders Breivik, seeing Norway's rehabilitating prison system was particularly interesting especially as it was contrasted with brief glimpses of the brutality of American prisons.

A timely release considering the current Brexit hysteria, I wondered whether the common sense portrayed in Where To Invade Next will persuade any Leavers that some European ideas are actually pretty good. After all, we in Britain have EU legislation to thank for the 48 hour working week and paid annual leave (great article about this by Snigdha Nag here). Moore does present a rather one-sided view by plucking the best idea from each country he visited and not always presenting a realistic view of the struggles needed to achieve it. However these isolated idea grabs were pretty much the idea of the film and, overall, I thought we were left with an uplifting utopian view, but one which could actually be very achievable - if there wasn't always more emphasis on profit for a few rather than good lives for many.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Visiting London: Borough Market, Tate Modern and The Blues Kitchen

Staying overnight in Tulse Hill this weekend meant that
The Shard, London 
our journey into central London took us to London Bridge railway station instead of our more usual starting point of London Victoria. I didn't realise the iconic Shard building was going to be directly overhead and looking straight up from its base was bizarre. Vertigo alert! We also spotted the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and the new Walkie Talkie building peeping over the skyline. I couldn't get such good photos of that trio though and I am quite proud of this moody Shard shot!

Our first destination was Borough Market which I have heard about from others many times, but never actually visited before. On the way we passed a(nother) replica of Francis Drake's ship, The Golden Hinde. We were a little blase about it having recently seen a remarkably similar Golden Hinde in Brixham. Did someone order a job lot?!

Borough Market wasn't so much a place to visit as a giant hall to struggle through. Perhaps a rainy Saturday in June wasn't the best time to go because hundreds of other people had had the same idea. I got an idea of the wealth and variety of products on offer and the whole experience was quite overwhelming, but there wasn't enough space to properly browse. Our guide, Dave's daughter Carrie, told us that it's never much quieter there regardless of when you go! We did find a good lunch from the street food stalls. Dave sampled a Balkan spinach and cheese burek and I chose an Indian chickpea pancake filled with masala potatoes.

Tate Modern was also busy (especially the cafe where we
Valentine by Evelyne Axell 
were served quickly but had nowhere to sit!) but the crowds here were far less rushed. We toured the free galleries of hit-and-miss modern art. I found a few pieces I really liked, all of which (I think) was by artists whose work I hadn't seen before. Pictured to the right is Valentine created in 1966 by Belgian artist Evelyne Axell. Valentine depicts the liberation of the female body as personified by Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. It is oil on canvas with the addition of an zipper and a helmet.

Babel 2001 by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles was fabulous but impossible for me to photograph well as it was displayed in a darkened space. The work illustrates the information overload experienced in modern society and consists of a huge tower made of radios. There were dozens of them dating from the 1940s to the 2000s, tuned to different radio stations, and stacked from the floor to almost the high gallery ceiling. Finally, a display of numerous images by German artist John Heartfield were surprising as they were created and displayed in the 1930s and are very anti-Hitler and Nazi-ism. Six are pictured below so you can get the idea.

Images by John Heartfield 

After the Tate Modern we made our way to Brixton for an evening at the Ritzy Cinema. Last year we saw the film Suffragette there and this time we were lucky to catch the new Michael Moore documentary, Where To Invade Next. It's an interesting film which I will soon blog about fully in a post of its own.

The Blues Kitchen
(photo pinched from their website!) 
That busy Saturday pretty much wore us out and neighbours partying in their garden until 4am didn't allow us much sleep so I was glad to be taken to The Blues Kitchen for a reviving Sunday brunch. I absolutely loved the decor and ambience here. There is parquet flooring on the walls, Blues music images everywhere, a neon name in a fishtank, stained glass lampshades and beautiful copper tables. Whoever designed this place did a fantastic job! The food is excellent too. I had the Healthy Breakfast which included poached eggs, fried kale and sweetcorn fritters. Those fritters are now my new favourite food! And the coffee was considerably better than that served at the Tate. I definitely want to go back to The Blues Kitchen next time we are round Brixton way.

Friday 10 June 2016

Perfect Banana Cake recipe

I know I am setting myself up for a fall by calling this a
'perfect' recipe, but it turned out so well that I don't think I could have done anything better! I wanted to take a cake to an afternoon tea with friends yesterday so baked a banana cake as I had everything to hand. I blogged a Bread Machine Banana Bread recipe a couple of years ago, but we no longer have the bread machine. I debated using the slow cooker, but wasn't sure I had actually left myself enough time by that point so this cake is oven baked.

Banana Cake 
75g sultanas
1 tbsp rum
125g butter
150g demerara sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-3 ripe bananas
180g plain white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
60ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.

Put the sultanas into a cup with the rum and set aside.

Mash the bananas into a bowl and set aside.

Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat.

Add the mashed bananas and the rum-soaked sultanas. Stir well.

Add the egg and stir well again, but don't whisk.

Stir in the flour and spices. When combined, add the milk.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake at 180c for about 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. If the top of the cake browns before the centre is cooked through, loosely cover it with aluminium foil, shiny down down.

Leave the cake to cool before trying to remove it from the tin.

My cake did need a little 'encouragement' to leave the tin so I might use a greaseproof paper liner next time I bake it. It did feel quite heavy as a whole cake, but the slices were beautifully moist and very tasty!

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Miles Ahead - Don Cheadle's Miles Davis biopic movie

We're back in Hailsham for three weeks at our usual
campsite here catching up with friends and Dave's getting to play some tennis which is great. Looking around at what's on locally we got lucky with an art-house type film showing at our old favourite cinema, Hailsham Pavilion, yesterday. Don Cheadle was long ago chosen by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis' family as their favourite to play the legend onscreen and the resultant film, Miles Ahead, is finally doing the rounds of cinemas. I learned by reading up on its background that getting the whole production together was quite the labour of love for Cheadle. Not only the film's star and director, he was also heavily involved in its writing and financing, even going so far as crowdfunding in Indiegogo.

Miles Ahead begins in 1970s New York where a reclusive Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) hasn't worked for five years, choosing to remain secluded in his mess of an apartment instead. A heavy drinker and drug taker, he is coerced by Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) into being interviewed. Instead of speaking however Davis begins to play and the resultant music morphs into a film that is part truth and part fiction. The tag line is 'His story - with a little improvisation'. I'm not a Miles Davis aficionado by any stretch, but I'd say there's actually a lot of improvisation! I really enjoyed the film though.

Like our last cinema film, Carol, Miles Ahead looks fantastic. It jumps from the 1970s to the 1940s and back with wonderfully evocative sets and costumes. I love the long coats and am quietly hoping they come back into fashion on the back of this film! Emayatzy Corinealdi is great as the dancer Frances Taylor who became Davis' wife. Miles Ahead is far more about impression and atmosphere than true reportage and I thought it achieved its aims beautifully in that sense. I accept that the main plotline of the stolen music probably never happened and I don't think Davis did ever run around waving guns - maybe I'm wrong, there was a lot of coke - but I feel I do now have a stronger sense of him as a man as well as a dedicated musician.

Miles Ahead will be released on DVD in the UK on December 31st and is available for pre-order now.

The film soundtrack is available for download now as is the original Miles Davis album which gave its name to the film.

Friday 3 June 2016

A weekend in Bristol - the Open-Top Bus Tour and Bocabar

So, yesterday I talked about our afternoon Bristol Harbour
Wallace and Gromit street art 
walk and today's blog will focus on a different method of city exploration - the Bristol Insight open-top bus tour. We were surprised when Gemma and Simon suggested this entertainment as they have lived in Bristol at least a decade and we wondered if they wouldn't already know everything! This turned out not to be the case though as our guide, Jackie, was very knowledgeable and kept up the nuggets of information for ninety minutes as Ian drove us around. Tickets for the tour are £15 for adults, £13 concessions and £8 for children. We thought this good value as it's a long route. We caught the bus by Millennium Square At-Bristol. It drives around some of the harbour before heading out under the suspension bridge, up over the Downs, past Bristol Zoo and into Clifton, down Park Street, out to Cabot Circus and Temple Meads before returning to Millennium Square. I won't spoil the on-bus commentary by telling you what we learned, but there's lots of history and we were given a page of discount vouchers for other attractions too. I think if you went round them all, you might even get your bus fare back!

Prior to the bus, we had popped into the Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic theatre 
theatre which was hosting a street party to celebrate its 250th anniversary - the oldest continuously running theatre in the country. I'd never been there before. The event turned out to be mostly food stalls, but I was interested to see inside the foyers and public space. Sadly the auditorium was being set up for a later performance so we couldn't be nosey there. However, if you head towards the upstairs toilets, just through the double glass doors there is an uncovered section of wall that's preserved behind glass. It doesn't look anything special, but we learned that it is part of the original front wall of the building from 1776. I loved seeing the large production photographs lining the theatre walls too. There had been a Crucible production on not so long ago!

From the theatre, we strolled a short distance to Bristol
Keith New window at
Bristol Cathedral 
Cathedral, another place we hadn't previously visited. The Cathedral is free to enter with donations towards its upkeep welcomed. We later learned (yes, on the bus!) that Bristol's Cathedral escaped destruction by Henry VIII's men because it swiftly became Protestant. It was damaged during WWII though and the stained glass in the large windows is modern. I particularly liked this window created by Keith New in 1965. I saw it as an abstract dragonfly although it is a representation of the Holy Spirit. Older stained glass windows are preserved in the cloister. The arts seem to be strongly encouraged at the Cathedral and I noticed quite a varied What's On programme on their website. Television programmes Wolf Hall and Sherlock were partly filmed here and events include music recitals and book talks.

By early evening we were all pretty shattered so walked up to the Paintworks which bills itself as Bristol's creative quarter. The renovated industrial zone now has artists workspaces and studios, and offices for creative businesses. It also has Bocabar! This large bar-restaurant serves Brazilian style pizzas and has an extensive cocktail list. Indoors the seating is mostly huge sofas with fairy lights and modern art for sale on the walls. Outside there is a little sun-trap terrace. We were lucky to arrive at a quiet time - apparently Bocabar can get very busy, especially for their Sunday lunches. We had a couple of drinks and staayed to eat. I think Dave enjoyed his pizza and I can recommend the Halloumi Salad!


Thursday 2 June 2016

A weekend in Bristol - the Harbour Walk

We were lucky enough to spend two days of the glorious
Banksy -
Girl with an Alarm Earring 
Bank Holiday weekend just gone with Dave's daughter, Gemma, and her partner, Simon, in Bristol. It's always great fun to visit the city because there is so much to see and do. I don't think we could ever tire of it! Today's and tomorrow's posts will recount our weekend and hopefully entice you to make your own visit.

Arriving around lunchtime on Sunday, we caught up with each others' news before catching a bus from Brislington into the city centre. Our destination was the Bristol Floating Harbour, now almost completely rejuvenated, and a circular walk we hadn't done before. The harbour covers an area of about 70 acres and has been in use since at least the thirteenth century although its current layout owes much to nineteenth century alterations including the construction of lock gates and canals. Now primarily used for pleasure craft, reminders of Bristol's naval history can be seen in Brunel's SS Great Britain - apparently the South West's top tourist attraction - which we didn't visit, and the Matthew, which we did board.

The Matthew was built in Bristol to commemorate the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's 1497 sailing to Newfoundland and is a faithful replica of that original ship. It was open for free visits over the Bank Holiday weekend (with a donations box to which we contributed) and it was amazing to think that such a small vessel crossed the Atlantic. This replica also made the same voyage and was welcomed into port at Bonavista in June 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II. We also saw the Matthew under sail on the Monday as she set out on a harbour tour.

Harbour history is also on show much further along at
Hand Of A River God by
Vincent Woropay 
Underfall Yard which is a working boatyard and now incorporates a newly opened visitor centre with displays, interactive models and a little cafe. You can visit from 10 - 5, 7 days a week throughout the summer and it's free. Underfall's slipway and buildings were rescued from dereliction during the 1990s and the yard is now used by a number of boatbuilders working in a variety of methods from traditional to cutting edge. We peeped at some boats under construction and I found it interesting to see their 'skeletons'. Within the visitor centre, we admired restored machinery, had a go at maintaining harbour water levels and I learned the origin of 'shipshape and Bristol fashion'. The phrase came about due to the Bristol Channel having the second highest tidal range in the world. Before the innovation of the floating harbour, the retreating tide would often leave ships beached and at risk of falling over. Therefore everything had to be especially securely fastened down and neatly stowed when boats were at Bristol.

A lot of our walk was spent simply drinking in the ambience - and a ginger beer at the Cottage Inn - and looking at the wide variety of architecture along the harbour route. There is a vibrant mix of new and older structures and some gorgeous looking residential apartments which must have pretty gorgeous price tags too! From several places we could look over to the painted terraces up on the hills too. The whole route is pretty much flat and about three miles so an hour's walk if you don't get distracted, or a good afternoon's worth for us.

Looking across the harbour from Baltic Wharf 

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Arthur Miller's The Crucible and a brand new home for my book reviews

We were so impressed by the NTlive screening of Arthur
Miller's A View From The Bridge in May that we both immediately wanted to see more Arthur Miller plays. Of course we couldn't find any productions nearby, but were happy to find a cut price DVD of The Crucible (download from Amazon) when we visited Trago Mills shortly afterwards. Coincidence or witchcraft?!

Miller's play is set during the Salem witch trials of 1692, but was written as an allegory of the 1950s McCarthy-era witch-hunts. In Salem, accusations of witchcraft are rife. John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) are innocent of any such charges, although John has committed adultery with their former serving girl, Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder). When witch expert John Hale is called in to investigate the reports of witchcraft, Abigail attempts to implicate Elizabeth, thinking that she will then be able to resume her affair with John. This film was directed by Nicholas Hytner whose work we previously saw when he directed the superb Timon Of Athens in 2012.

The Crucible is just as powerful a drama as A View From The Bridge and Miller had a fantastic talent for writing realistic and believable dialogue. The film is now twenty years old, but hasn't dated and it was fascinating to see how easily religious fanaticism can be manipulated for personal gain, especially in times of hysteria as it was in the 1690s and the 1950s and still is today. It was interesting to see similar themes explored in the different settings of the two plays. One such is the importance of retaining a good name when all else is gone, even at the expense of life itself.

On a different note, today is the launch of my new book
reviews blog, Literary Flits, which you can find at
It's a candy-coloured sweetshop of bookish delights!

Book review posts seem to have been taking over Stephanie Jane so I thought it was high time they had a room of their own. I am planning a daily book review with each post dedicated to a single book, rather than squishing trios together as I do currently. I've already got some great new books lined up including fiction from Sweden, Japan, Jamaica and Turkey. Plus I'll be interspersing my new reviews with the best of my book finds from over here. There might also be giveaways!

If you already visited LitFlits in the past week, you probably saw the countdown clicker. If not, you have got until noon today which is when the first review will publish. I'm all excited!