Friday 30 September 2016

The Big Sleep 2016 - Hastings

If you're on Hastings seafront tonight and notice a lot of folks in cardboard boxes, don't be alarmed! It's not a hobo convention, but a fantastic initiative to raise funds and awareness of homelessness within our communities: The Big Sleep. I learned about the Hastings event through our friend, Steve Royston, who is bravely taking part. If you know and haven't yet sponsored Steve, you can find out how to swiftly redeem yourself by clicking this link.

The Big Sleep team are building a cardboard city on Hastings Stade and the whole event will run from 7.30pm until 7am. Entertainment is free and open to all, sleepers and visitors, between 8pm and 10pm so do pop along to show your support before heading home to your cosy bed. Comedian Steve Furst will be hosting and headlining the music will be award-winning blues man King Size Slim and The Rufus Stone Band. The sleepout itself is a ticketed event which commences at 10pm and is only for those who have already registered. I understand that on-the-night registration is not possible.

Proceeds from The Big Sleep will go to Seaview, a worthy and unfortunately vitally needed local charity. For over 30 years Seaview has been supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Hastings and St Leonards, most of whom experience problems with their accommodation. They work with more than 1,000 people a year, and in the last year alone served more than 6,500 hot, affordable meals. Seaview finds up to 30 people sleeping rough each week on their outreach sessions and, in the last year, worked with 197 homeless people, including supporting 147 rough sleepers, aged from 18 to 60 plus.

I want to wish all the best to everybody sleeping out tonight! Fingers crossed that it doesn't rain.

Thursday 29 September 2016

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

Porto, Portugal 
We've often been travelling at the ends of Septembers because Dave's birthday on the 25th is a good excuse to get away! I know then that during late September a decade ago we were visiting Austin, Texas, for the first time with our friends Andy and Barbara. Amongst other memorable experiences, Wednesday the 27th was the evening we went to an amazing small gig at The Cactus Cafe, discovering singer-songwriters Danny Schmidt and Anais Mitchell. They are both still favourites of ours! I wasn't blogging that long ago though so don't have photographs.

Instead, this first photograph is of a huge public sculpture in Porto, Portugal, where we had a long weekend in late September 2013. It rained. A lot! But we did still get out and about taking a tram ride to the coast, being awestruck by the gorgeous Lello bookshop and loving the art deco Fundecao de Serralves park.

Waiting for the tide at La Flotte 
On this day in 2014 we were caravanning on the Ile De Re in western France. This was before I had bought my Roquetas folding bicycle so I wasn't able to totally appreciate the miles of cycle routes criss-crossing the island. I must go back. We did enjoy fresh sardines and several good walks though. I remember the fishing villages here being particularly picturesque. We had to leave on the last day of September though because the campsites were closing down for the winter season. We weren't quite the last to leave and could happily have stayed longer.

St Nicholas' church window 
We were in the UK for the 29th September 2015 and it was the last day of our British summer tour which we had begun in the April. We were near to Weymouth and back on the trail of Lawrence Of Arabia, plaques to whom seem to crop up disproportionately often in our travels. We visited Moreton to see his grave and also the incredible engraved glass windows in nearby St Nicholas church. The day before we had met up with Dave's brother, Andy, and his wife Lynda for a pretty walk that included spying over a hedge to Thomas Hardy's cottage. The cottage is owned by the National Trust which I am considering rejoining, for a year at least, because there are numerous properties across south Devon that we haven't previously visited so a year's joint membership could be worthwhile.

I love being able to look back across my blog posts like this, reminding myself of how much we have done and seen over the years. I wonder where we might be this time next year?

Monday 26 September 2016

Happy Birthday Dave!

Yesterday was my Dave's birthday!
Happy Birthday Davey!

I'd like to take this opportunity to pass on his thanks for all the messages, cards and presents he received. You all made his day!

We lunched at a new-to-us restaurant, Amici, which is on Torwood street in Torquay and serves Italian style cuisine. We were impressed! Firstly they blend a good Long Island Ice Tea cocktail which is Dave's favourite. He drank them on his 60th birthday in Austin, Texas, so had to have another yesterday. It's a tradition! Then we chose to share three starters expecting to also treat ourselves to a Chinese dinner in the evening so didn't want to be too stuffed. We had White Crab Bruschetta for one, Calamari Fritti and Funghetti E Panna Al Forno. All three were very good, but the simple mushroom dish was unexpectedly the highlight. As it turned out, we've had to reschedule the Chinese for later this week as Amici's food was not only delicious, but also so filling that we didn't bother with any dinner. Admittedly, a few Thornton's chocolates might have helped! Their Pudding Collection is gorgeous and is a limited edition intended for Christmas so snap them up quickly.

Excellent presents included Audio Technica headphones which are needed right now as Dave's got right back into music recording now that he has a room of his own and his old headphones are disintegrating more each day. We also both loved this olive wood chopping board which our friends Andy and Barbara got from The Rustic Dish. Isn't the wood gorgeous? It's far too beautiful to actually use! And the grain, to my eyes at least, resembles a man in a crown which seemed appropriate for a birthday boy! The 'Most Apt Card' prize goes to Steve and Frances for their brilliant choice. The design is by Pigment Productions and, although Dave was considerably more excited about his big day yesterday, it is still pretty close to the bone!

Saturday 24 September 2016

The @NTlive Threepenny Opera in Torquay

It's a shame there weren't more of us in attendance for NTlive's broadcast of The Threepenny Opera on Thursday in Torquay because it was a fantastic filthy romp of a show. Sex, violence, cross dressing, x rated language - where were you all?!

Perhaps the Bertolt Brecht name put you off, but this Simon Stephens adaptation is easily accessible and I found it simpler to keep up with the narrative than when we saw his Caucasian Chalk Circle performed by Blackeyed Theatre back in Eastbourne. That was a good production too though. Rory Kinnear has received well-deserved acclaim for his role as Macheath, but he is surrounded by other fabulous creations and I didn't think there was a duff moment in the whole musical. I loved all three Peachams (Rosalie Craig, Haydn Gwynne, Nick Holder), the poor stabbed policeman, the bickering gang, hard-done-by Jenny, the Pastor ... pretty much everyone and I wish I had kept my printed cast list so I could name all the actors! As I expect from the National Theatre, the set and costuming were amazing and probably my only criticism would be that it was often a little too dark to see all the details of what was going on. I loved Kurt Weill's music too. It must have been a nightmare to learn as the melodies aren't at all predictable, but the whole sound is wonderfully evocative of 1920s Germany which provided a dark atmosphere to complement the blackly humorous libretto.

If this post has now tempted you to go and see The Threepenny Opera of if you just forgot it was on and are now kicking yourselves, there are a few encore screenings across the country in the next week or so. Nearish to us in south Devon, Exeter Picturehouse has it on Tuesday the 27th or The Plough in Great Torrington is tomorrow (Sunday the 25th). Further afield there are screening dates out until November and you can check your nearest here.

In the meantime, here's a short video of the show:

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Enjoying a Square Mile Red Brick Coffee

If you pop over to my book reviews blog, Literary Flits, after noon today you will see my review of and giveaway for a brand new copy of The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander, a historical fiction adventure set among the coffee houses of seventeenth century London. I received the giveaway prize from The Pigeonhole who also kindly sent a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans from the multi-award winning East London coffee roasters Square Mile. The chosen blend was Red Brick and its aroma - even through the sealed packaging - was divine! I learned that the composition of Red Brick does change with the seasons so my coffee's blend of 40% Rabanales from Guatemala, 30% Montanas del Diamante from Costa Rica, and 30% Kagurno from Kenya might not be exactly the same as is currently for sale.

I appreciate the ritual of making a proper cup of coffee so gathered together my tools to do justice to the first cup of Red Brick. My vintage Turkish grinder is from Kawaii Rose Vintage, bought to replace a worn out wooden version. This new-to-me grinder is entirely metal so should last for decades and its small size is both cute and ideal to take away on our next winter caravanning expedition. I discovered that filling the top section with beans results in the perfect amount of ground coffee for one good cup and that heady aroma again almost made the actual drinking superfluous! The Finum Brew Basket was also bought with caravan travel in mind and its compact size is ideal for minimalist living. It's perfect for making cafetiere style coffee hardly any washing up or the risk of broken glass in transit. I find it much easier to judge the strength of my coffee with the basket than I used to with a cafetiere as well.

Red Brick has a rich fruity and sweet taste which I loved. This id absolutely a high quality coffee and being able to drink it within a couple of weeks of its roasting makes such a difference to the flavour. I am thrilled at having a large bag of beans still to grind up and enjoy. Thank you so much to The Pigeonhole for their generosity! Don't forget to click through to Literary Flits for this week's giveaway ...

Monday 19 September 2016

Our Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat day out

One of the great things about having visitors to stay is that we get to indulge in special excursions in the name of showing our guests how much fun our new Torbay home can be! This was especially true for the weekend just gone as Dave booked the four of us onto a day trip with the Dartmouth Steam Railway And River Boat Company. The company does pretty much what is says on the tin - steam train and boat rides - and both are perfect ways to see the gorgeous scenery around here. We began our tour by driving to Paignton to catch the steam train. Car parking in the public Station Lane car park is £8 all day and is only a short walk away. Be aware that the mainline rail station is right next door to the steamline rail station, but they are clearly signposted so we didn't wander into the wrong one!

The Lydham Manor 
Our locomotive for the day was the 7827 Lydham Manor which was built in 1950 in Swindon. It pulled a train of several vintage carriages all from different eras. Our outward journey carriage wasn't very far removed from ones I used in the 1980s whereas our return journey carriage felt much older and more luxurious. We travelled from Paignton along the pretty coastline getting to enjoy great views across beaches and out to sea. One of the stops was for Agatha Christie's former home, Greenway, which is now owned by the National Trust and is somewhere I am keen to visit. For this journey though, we stayed on the train all the way to Kingswear where our all-in tickets allowed us to immediately board the Kingswear passenger ferry and cross over to beautiful Dartmouth.

We were booked onto an hour-long river cruise at 2.15, but didn't hear it mentioned during announcements on board the ferry so took the prudent step of checking at the kiosk before wandering off to look around Dartmouth. It was a good thing we did because it turned out that particular cruise had been cancelled. My only complaint of the day was that it would have been nice to have been told this when we picked up our tickets that morning!

The Kingswear Castle 
Fortunately there was room for us on the 1.30 sailing so, instead of going for lunch we trooped back down to the boats to set sail down and up the River Dart. We were lucky that our boat for the trip was the elegant Kingswear Castle paddle steamer. She was built in Dartmouth in 1924. We sailed (paddled?) down the Dart to see the castles at its mouth before turning around and heading upriver as far as Greenway which we briefly saw high above us on a hill. Our informative guide told us about the river's history and explained buildings we could see on the banks. We all enjoyed the cruise and I am now tempted to take some of the other river and sea journeys offered from Dartmouth. Considering how ill I usually feel on cross-channel ferries, I was delighted to have no problem at all on the Kingswear Castle!

Returning to Dartmouth at half past two meant we were all hungry and the town has a bewildering array of cafes and restaurants! We must have wandered around for another half and hour just trying to decide where to eat and finding somewhere that wasn't already completely full. I was often distracted by beautiful historic architecture too including this timbered and painted frontage, and the wonderful leaning walls of the only surviving medieval house in the borough of Dartmouth which is The Cherub Inn. I've included its photograph at the end of this post. The Cherub is believed to date from about 1380. We didn't go there though, but chose another old building which houses The Spinning Wheel cafe. Here they do good well-filled sandwiches, but Dave thought his traditional pasty was a bit dull. It's pretty pricey too, probably because of the surroundings and ambience.

Lunch munched, we explored narrow streets and interesting boutique shops, failed to spot a bride although we were deafened by the bells rung to celebrate her wedding, and just got to the old market to look around before it closed for the day. My favourite shop was Candles And Soaps Of Dartmouth on Foss Street which has a colourful range of attractively scented soaps at good prices and lots of Christmassy decorations already twinkling away! Dartmouth is nicely arty and we soon learned to look up as well as forward because several shops and homes have unique additions - like this fish!

The last return train of the day was at 5pm and we got the ferry back from Kingswear in time to have a quick look around the visitor centre on the platform, but unfortunately it was already closed up so we just had the gift shop instead. Brief excitement on the way back consisted of the conductor politely but firmly dealing with a faredodger! Considering that most of the day involved sitting down, I was surprised by just how tired I was when we got back home. It was a great day and I thought very reasonably priced at £23.50 each which included the two train rides, two ferry crossings and the hour's river cruise.
The Cherub Inn 

Sunday 18 September 2016

Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar - a fab find in Wellswood, Torquay

Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar 
We've had a lovely weekend entertaining visitors! Dave's daughters came down from Bristol and London and tomorrow I will blog about our steam train and paddle steamer excursion to Dartmouth, but today I want to talk about a quaint and pretty cafe we discovered near to our home. It's on the Ilsham Road through Wellswood in Torquay and is, appropriately enough, called Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar. They don't actually sell alcohol although we learned today that it is ok to bring your own, but do a great brunch as well as full meals, light lunches and snacks, and a traditional Devon cream tea.

Today was the second Sunday running we have visited and I am developing quite a taste for their excellent vegetarian breakfast - fried eggs, veggie sausages, plum tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns and two rounds of toast with butter and marmalade. It's easily enough for breakfast and lunch in one meal and very reasonably priced! Everything is freshly cooked to order - no bunging it in the microwave here - so there is a little wait, but the food is well worth it and even impressed our Bristol foodie - a feat indeed! One other customer today had the Sunday roast dinner which also looked delicious and we might well be visiting again sometime soon to try it for ourselves!

What makes Ilsham's special for me though is the attentive service and the fabulous vintage decor. Nothing matches! All the chairs are different to each other, as is the china and I love that teas and coffees are served in good quality floral china cups and teapots. There are proper linen napkins too and fabric tablecloths too. Menus are written up on the glass of antique mirrors with specials advertised on chalk boards outside. A mad array of artwork on the walls caught our attention as we waited for our meals and the extra teacups hanging from the ceiling and chandeliers are a great touch. I wonder who used to wear this dress?

Wednesday 14 September 2016

I've found a new blog tool: Gleam giveaway widget

I've had varied success with the blog tools I have tried out here and on Literary Flits over the past few years. I still love the LinkWithin widget and am pleased with my first affiliate marketing program, Affiliate Window, which is easy to use. I've also recently signed up with another affiliate marketing program, Rakuten Linkshare. Their interface is pretty user friendly, but I haven't seen any real results yet. It's early though - hopefully soon! On the negative side, I soon gave up with CommentLuv as it wasn't compatible with Blogger's mobile view. I also abandoned LinkyTools due to a lack of interest from visitors and struggled to get my head around setting up Rafflecopter.

However I do enjoy running my weekly Wednesday giveaways over on Literary Flits so have been keeping a lookout for a professional looking gizmo to organise entries for me. I did initially try keeping a track across twitter / facebook / blog entries manually and I would NOT suggest attempting this to anyone else. Absolute chaos! For the past couple of months I have just been asking for a blog comment as an entry method and this was fine, albeit limited and a bit dull. Then two weeks ago I realised I was entering someone else's giveaway through a Gleam widget. I liked the procedure and flow from a user point of view so decided to learn more and try out Gleam on my blog.

Gleam is an Australian enterprise with a friendly, laid-back vibe and it turns out they offer far more than just giveaway widgets. There's lots more toys tools for me to explore using, but as yet I have only experienced the giveaway widget so that is what I will talk about here. It was really easy to sign up and find out where on their site I needed to be. It was also easy to set up the widget the first time although I did find it quite time consuming to add all the various options I wanted. The free version allows me to include a good selection of giveaway entry methods. I asked entrants to visit my Facebook and Pinterest pages, to follow me on Twitter and retweet a specified tweet, and to comment on my blog. I also added two custom options including visiting my Bloglovin page. This is what took time because I couldn't remember all the various social media URLs I needed. You'll notice I haven't gone around and found them all again for this post! Perhaps I should set myself up a draft email?! After that however, all I needed to do was check the start and end times and confirm how many prizes I would be giving away. The html code was created for me. I simply pasted that into my blog page, then sat back and watched the widget do its magic.

A week later I had seventeen entries to my first Gleam-run giveaway and received an email a couple of hours after the closing time reminding me to log in and pick a winner. This again was very easy to do. I logged in the next morning, clicked the big 'pick winner' button and the widget randomly chose a winning entry. It also confirmed said entry had completed the action they claimed to have done - in this case to have visited my Pinterest page. The winner's email address was revealed so all I had to do was get in touch and then pack up and ship the prize. Sadly Gleam has not yet invented a widget to stand in Post Office queues!

If you'd like to see the Gleam giveaway widget in action for yourself, please feel welcome to enter this week's Literary Flits giveaway! The post will publish at noon today and the prize is a copy of a humorous Devon novel, Not The End by Kate Vane. Alternatively, if I've already sold you on Gleam, click through any of their links from this page and get started running your own giveaways and competitions! It's fun!

Monday 12 September 2016

Have a very Happy Birthday with Biscuiteers biscuits!

I was excited to be asked to review a Happy Birthday gift box from London artisans Biscuiteers in September as, not only is it the company's birthday this week, but the timing ties in pretty perfectly with our lives too. Hopefully those of you who actually know us in the non-virtual world won't need reminding of the Big Birthday happening later this month? (Clue: it's not mine!)

My Biscuiteers parcel arrived on Saturday, a grey and rainy day in Torquay, and I didn't immediately realise what it was so experienced genuine delight on cutting open the cardboard box to reveal the brightly hand-illustrated tin with its accompanying Open Me card. The packaging is gorgeous in its own right even without any knowledge of the delights within!

I soon opened up the tin though and loved the vivid colours of the biscuits inside. Full marks to the Biscuiteers designers for such inventive creations! A birthday cake, a polkadot wrapped present and two stripy candles, all expertly iced by hand onto chocolate biscuits. And that was just the first layer! There are a generous four layers of biscuits in the Happy Birthday box which, having them all laid out together on our table, truly seemed to light up the room! Further designs include sprinkle-topped cupcakes, party hats, more presents, party blowers and, my absolute favourite, a delicately outlined bunch of blue and white balloons.

The whole presentation has been carefully thought out so there's no need to worry about anything getting damaged in transit. Each biscuit is cleverly held in position by a dab of icing on the back which adheres to the foodsafe packaging layer and secures it in place. Although it is darkly coloured, I checked with Biscuiteers and this packaging is recyclable. (Thanks Lauren!) So, assuming the recipient will want to keep the attractive tin - and who wouldn't! - there shouldn't be anything left at the end for landfill. Well done Biscuiteers!

Now, we definitely need to talk about the biscuits themselves. It's all very well that they look stunning, but a biscuit has got to taste good too. I am glad to report no problems on that score here! These biscuits were richly chocolatey with a similar flavour to a quality brownie, but, of course, without the gooiness. They have a firm texture with a rich butteriness that melts in the mouth. Delicious - and dangerously moreish! My partner did find the icing crumbled a bit too much so I'd recommend eating over crumb-catcher plates. These are biscuits to take your time over, not to wander around with!

Biscuiteers biscuits aren't just for birthdays though. Lauren kindly included a brochure illustrating the great variety of themes on offer. As a literary soul I was immediately drawn to the Beatrix Potter Biscuit Collection, and I could also choose designs suitable for celebrating weddings, new babies or new homes, and interest-themed collections for sports fans, travellers or superheroes. There's even a fashionista collection that Matthew Williamson thinks is 'divine' and, for the well-organised amongst us, the new Christmas collections have just been revealed.

Biscuiteers Happy Birthday Biscuit Box 

If you're tempted to send a Biscuiteers box for your next gift, then do take advantage of their introductory offer for new customers. Simply sign up for their email newsletter at and receive £5 off your first tin. Biscuiteers are happy to deliver worldwide. Next working day delivery is available within the UK and international delivery can be ordered via Fedex within 2-3 working days.

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Thank you so much to Biscuiteers for sharing their Birthday Week and Happy Birthday biscuit box with me! I did not receive any payment for this post, but all links are affiliate links so, should you choose to click through and make a purchase, I would receive a small percentage.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

We find a superb gig venue - Kingskerswell Parish Church!

Both Dave and I agreed that the major omission of our travelling lifestyle was the bursts of culture we enjoy. We can appreciate art in pretty much any language and I did find ballet in Portugal, but theatre and gigs can be tricky when you have a very limited grasp of what anyone else is saying. Therefore we agreed that culture opportunities were a vital prerequisite of our static base. And we have certainly struck lucky with Torquay. Not only do we have our beloved Event Cinema and an excellent live theatre both within a twenty minute walk of our flat, but this week we were delighted to attend two superb gigs just a twenty minute drive away in Kingskerswell.

Kingskerswell Parish Church dates from the fourteenth century and is an interesting building architecturally that also contains unexpected details inside. Whilst wandering around before the first gig, I spotted footprints preserved
on the wall at the back which turned out to be eighteenth and nineteenth century engravings etched into old lead that had previously been part of the roof. The etchings are believed to have been drawn by workers called upon to repair the roof at various times and contain their names within the foot outlines. Stonework around the church includes old tombs topped by sculptures of armour-clad men and also small figures underneath. I had to crouch down between pews to see this one properly.

Annie Rew Shaw at Kingskerswell Church 
Gigs at Kingskerswell are organised by World Unlimited, Graham and Kate, who bring incredible musicians to rural Devon (and to Birmingham) and we feel so lucky to have discovered them. We knew pretty much nothing of any of the three performances we booked to see, but have been impressed by them all in different ways. Certainly we now know we can rely on World Unlimited to present high quality music - and in fantastically different styles so will keep an eye on the rest of their Kingskerswell season too. They also provide coffee and a wide range of teas in the interval together with excellent cakes baked by Graham. We can already highly recommend the Carrot Cake and the Chocolate Orange Cake. We now need a third gig so we can try the Lemon Drizzle!

Our first Kingskerswell gig on Sunday evening was Lauren Housley and her band supported by singer-songwriter Annie Rew Shaw. Annie has a gorgeous voice which truly soared through the church and there was a brief pause at the end of her songs which I hope she didn't find too unsettling. We were all appreciating the fading ripples of each final note!

One instrument in Lauren Housley's band was what had initially attracted us to this gig. She has a pedal steel player, C J Hillman. It's a rare instrument to see played and this guy is a master! Having said that, all the band were excellent musicians and we thoroughly enjoyed their country-tinged set, especially the unplugged sound. I think the Jolene version was the best I have ever heard! Lauren opened with Nice To See Ya, a song inspired by her grandmother, and I have added the YouTube below for you to hear:

Our second Kingskerswell gig last night is probably best summed up with the phrase 'something completely different'! Transylvania are a Romanian band from Bukovina who play their traditional music on brass and accordion, but with a dance beat and expert DJ on decks, who also coordinates animated and vintage visuals on a large screen. Sounds odd, is odd - but it works! Kate said we were in for a wild night and she wasn't wrong! I loved this band and was up dancing in the aisles. We've even bought their album, Mister Vlad, or will have done when the wifi picks up enough to download it. Transylvania reminded me a little of Gogol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box, but without the American influence and with their own fabulous Dracula-meets-Adam-Ant style. If you see they are playing anywhere near you, snap up your tickets, goth up and go!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

I'm feeling right at home with my Coniston Crafts jigsaw!

Did you read my post last week about winning all those packs of Roots vegetable crisps? Well, my competition entering flurry was also successful on Facebook! I won the pictured handmade wooden jigsaw word ornament from Coniston Crafts. The prize was to have any word created and I wanted 'home' for our new flat. I chose blue and grey for the colour scheme because this tones with several pieces of our new furniture. I think my 'Home' looks fab on our mantelpiece and the grey perfectly matches our revamped vintage mirror. My prize took about two weeks to be created, painted and shipped to me which I thought was pretty good. It arrived beautifully packed too with absolutely no chance of being damaged in transit.

Coniston Crafts is a small woodworking business based in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, and run by two friends who create pretty and unique gifts with wood and paint. Most of the jigsaw words they create are name signs, but they also have a practical range of small storage boxes and a child-sized Time Out Chair. I've 'borrowed' a few images from the Coniston Crafts Etsy shop to give you an idea of their work. Click on any of the pictures to be taken to the shop!

Sunday 4 September 2016

We're making our own laundry powder!

And you're probably thinking why bother? Well, we're trying all sorts of ideas to minimise our environmental and financial impact, plus I read a post on the Australian Blah Blah Magazine blog about reducing air pollution in the home. Dave is prescribed inhalers so it makes sense for us to avoid as many potential irritants as we can. We already don't use air fresheners or that sort of thing, preferring to just open windows instead as we live in a part of town where, as long as the neighbours aren't having yet another bonfire, the fresh air is clean with a slight hint of the ocean.

The recipe for laundry powder is so ridiculously simple that it is not even really a recipe at all. There are two ingredients, washing soda and natural soap, in two to one proportions. We bought a 1kg bag of soda crystals for £1, a 4 bar pack of unscented soap for £1, and a grater for £4. I did think about using our existing cheese grater but, probably irrationally, found the idea a bit icky so bought a dedicated grater for the soap. Your first task, should you choose to play along at home, is to weigh a bar of soap and write its weight down. Then grate it into a bowl. This is good exercise for the arm muscles(!) and only takes a few minutes to do. With the volume of laundry two people create, the resultant flakes will last for weeks too so this isn't a job that needs to be done often.

A word of warning if you have small children (or a boyfriend), grated soap does look exactly like grated cheese so beware of people trying to sneak a taste!
I didn't write the soap weight down so weighed it again, then added double that weight of washing soda to the soap and mixed it together very well. I put mine into a locktop plastic tub and shook it up for several seconds until I could no longer see a separate powder layer. I ended up with 128g of soap and 256g of washing soda so mixed up almost exactly a quarter of what we bought. That's 50p's worth of laundry powder created, plus the grater which I can use again (and again ...)

When I was ready to do a load of laundry, I put just 2 tablespoons of the homemade laundry powder into the usual tray (or ball or whatever you use). It seemed far too small an amount and I was tempted to add more, but thought I should follow instructions at least for this first time and see what happened. I didn't use any other product in with the wash. 2 tablespoons was enough for a full load in our machine and the laundry came out perfectly clean. It smelt fresh, but not scented which will take a little getting used to. There weren't any white residue marks on dark items and the fabrics all felt soft and clean. Success! I'm definitely a convert to homemade laundry powder.

I have read of people who absolutely must have scented washing adding essential oils to the mix. The best way to do this seems to be to put a few drops of your chosen oil on folded kitchen roll and keeping said kitchen roll in the sealed laundry powder tub. Adding the oil directly to the powder will just make it clump together. The effects of fabric conditioner can be apparently replicated by using a half cup of clear vinegar. I didn't use this myself, so don't know how effective it would be or whether clothes would emerge smelling like a chipshop!

So, our verdict is that this homemade washing powder certainly does the job and the grating effort is worthwhile. 2 tablespoons of powder weighs about 20g so we should get eighteen washes for each 50p's worth of powder - a fraction under 3p a wash and with no nasty chemicals to infiltrate our clothes.

Friday 2 September 2016

Watching @NTlive The Deep Blue Sea in Torquay

Did you catch the National Theatre Live broadcast of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea yesterday evening? Wasn't Helen McCrory superb?! If you missed it, there are a scattering of encore screenings in the next few days so do grab a ticket. I know of an Exeter screening on Tuesday 6th September and Teignmouth on Wednesday 7th and details of venues further afield are on this page of the NTlive website. The Deep Blue Sea was surprisingly understated compared to other production broadcasts we have seen. Most of the emotion was simmering just under the surface in that wonderfully repressed 1950s way. I loved the set which is a recreation of a whole boarding house complete with its lodgers in each room who we see through the paper-thin walls. For me, this made the centre stage, which is Hester and Freddie's flat, feel more like a zoo cage than a home which added greatly to the tension of the play.

As well as being the first time I have seen The Deep Blue Sea, yesterday was also the first time we had visited the Central Cinema in Torquay. We were worried that it might be as run down as the Curzon in Eastbourne had been, and not a patch on the Barn Cinema at Dartington where we saw A View From The Bridge in May. This would mean longish drives for our event cinema excursions whereas we can walk to and from the Central Cinema in about twenty minutes each way. The venue is a little shabby, but has comfortable seats with lots of legroom and good sightlines to the screen. For this screening anyway, it was also so quiet that we had no trouble choosing and buying our interval treats and getting back in time for the recommencement of the play. Very different from several Eastbourne Cineworld experiences!

I think our only real criticism - which is amazing for a cinema - is that the staff could have set the volume a little higher. Other people chatting in the interval remarked that event performances are often too quiet whereas standard films are expectedly over-loud! We like the Central Cinema though and plan to return there for the next NTlive production later this month: The Threepenny Opera. See you there?

Thursday 1 September 2016

Have you tried Roots Vegetable Crisps?

Well, I didn't win the big Premium Bonds prize again this month, but I have done pretty well on smaller giveaways in August. I love entering competitions and those of you who follow me on Twitter will have noticed a major upsurge in #winitwednesday and #freebiefriday retweets now we actually have an address to which prizes can be sent. In the past three weeks I have been fortunate enough to be the name out of the metaphorical hat on five occasions! I've already received glam tights from Love Your Legs, plus I am anticipating coffee and a book from The Pigeonhole, a book from Goodreads and a lovely wooden word from Coniston Crafts. Yay me!

And yesterday a cheerful courier staggered up the steps to our door with a big box of crisps! I'd won a month's worth of Roots Crisps from Huntapac.

If this is a new name to you - it was to me until they tweeted - Huntapac are based in Tarleton, Lancashire, so we were actually close by when we pitched up our caravan at Garstang last summer. The company is one of Britain's leading growers of carrots and parsnips and these vegetables, together with beetroot, are what make up Roots crisps. Thin slices of carrot, parsnip and beetroot are cooked by hand in sunflower oil and lightly seasoned with sea salt. That's it! No great long lists of preservatives, additives, flavourings and unpronounceable chemical compounds. Just British grown and fried root veg with a dash of salt.

They're delicious!
And pretty!

Of course Dave wasn't overly impressed at being promised crisps and then being presented with VEGETABLES, but he did say that they are 'fantastically crispy crunchy'. Praise indeed! I wondered if a bag of Roots Crisps counts towards my five a day and decided that it probably doesn't, but I think they're a great way to jazz up a dull sandwich and to add colour to a picnic spread. I appreciate too that they don't irritate my mouth. The flavour coating on many other brands tends to be so strong that it gives me ulcers if I eat more than just a few crisps. With Roots Crisps though the flavour is naturally that of the vegetables themselves so I don't have to worry.

If you'd like to buy and try Roots Crisps for yourself, they are stocked at Booth's supermarkets and at all these other places on the Roots website map.

Thank you Huntapac!