Thursday, 2 July 2015

School Sports Day

The glorious sunshine this morning paved the way for a very successful School Sports Day at Matilda's school. Thankfully it clouded over a little for the little ones giving much needed shade for all the races. All the practice they've been doing over the last few days paid off providing a very entertaining morning for all the parents for this was about having fun rather than winning. Though Matilda did have a little wobble after coming last in the 50 metre race, she soon perked up when she came second in the next race and put three goals in the back of the net, much to her Father's delight.

Not being a particularly sporty person myself I was very happy to see her team spirit trying her best to gain points for her House which sadly came last in the end.

We had a lovely morning chatting, watching and joking with parents, we're so lucky to have met such a great bunch of people since our move here...all so welcoming, I know these will be long lasting friendships for both us and Matilda.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A weekend of Music, art and friends

We spent last weekend in the heat of busy steamy London. The husband travelled down on Friday for The Who in Hyde Park whilst Matilda and I left Friday evening to join my girlfriends for dinner. A much belated catch up fuelled by ice cold bubbly. Reliving our youth and with the children tucked up in bed we partied until 4am once the boys had wobbled in from their gig! It's been a long time since I've done that but it was a great release after the stress of the last few weeks. Old friends, wine and dancing around the kitchen to dance tunes just like old times was the perfect medicine.

On the Saturday we dragged ourselves over to the Southbank for the Carsten Holler exhibition at the Hayward which well worth the expedition battling through all the roadworks that have seemed to have taken over London. This is a must see, fun for both children and adults alike, this is art at it's best not only reaching out to all participants but challenging them too.

Carsten Holler hails from Belgium though he now lives in Stockholm. A celebrated installation artist I was super excited to finally get to take part in his work. Installation art is a fantastic way to introduce young children to fine art, inclusive and positively encouraging of participation, they adore getting involved. Matilda's highlights were the pitch black tunnels and the upside down virtual headsets (sounds crazy I know but so effective) where the London skyline is literally turned on its head. Another terrace was host to two rotating harnesses allowing people to experience flying over the Southbank, sadly there was a two hour waiting time so we didn't partake. The piece de resistence was the rather unique exit out of the gallery through two giant slides. Again Matilda didn't quite reach the height restriction so were unable to take advantage but the husband and our friends loved whizzing down to street level.

The exhibition is on until the 6th September and well worth a trip. You can book tickets here.

The weekend culminated with us busting our hip hop moves to the sounds of Public Enemy at The Roundhouse, still relevant and forever daring to challenge the establishment, they were simply brilliant.

Not only was an action packed couple of days but it was a wonderful chance to catch up with old friends and get my fix of dusty sweltering London with all its smells, colour and culture. Times like these I miss my city though leaving it for the open countryside and neverending skies filled my heart with warmth too...

Friday, 26 June 2015

Constellations, a review

There have been a number of plays I've seen along the years that have stayed with me, one such play was Pillowman the other The History Boys though not forgetting Rock n Roll.

Constellations, written by Nick Payne and directed by Michael Longhurst, originally premiered at the Royal Court followed by a stint in the West End as well as a run on Broadway, is finally on a short tour. Thankfully it came to the Cambridge Arts Theatre last week and the husband cleverly booked us tickets, as we'd managed to miss it in London. What a unique masterpiece of a play, beautifully written and rewritten, if you've seen it then you'll understand what I mean by that. An ingenious concept poignantly told by two great actors, this is theatre at it's very best.

With only an 80 minutes running time so much of two people's journeys in life is crammed in, taking the audience on a whirlwind trip leaving us wanting a lot more. Reality and an individual's perception of that reality is the focus of this play. Not only that but how differently the male and female psyche can read a situation. The play is an extraordinary exploration of the human mind challenging life, death and destiny. One word or one look or even an intonation can alter the perception of a conversation. Constellations is a duologue between a salt of the earth beekeeper, Roland, and an intellectual Scientist Marianne. They meet at a barbecue then embark on a relationship that sees them play out a number of potential paths in their relationship.

In one scene Marianne gives a lucid explanation of Quantum Physics to Roland 'We're part of a multiverse, at any given moment several outcomes can coexist simultaneously' which in turn illustrates  the structure of the play and inevitably life.

Great skill is required as an actor in this play, where there is no obvious linear line or conclusion, but these two have it in bucket fulls. Both Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong give mesmerising performances demonstrating their razor sharp timing, acute characterisation whilst achieving the delivery of the lines is a feat in itself given the lack of logical order. I take my hat off to them!

There is still a chance to see this play as it continues it's tour until July, though I suspect there will be many reincarnations in the future.

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Fathers Day

 I normally take the opportunity to write about my beautiful Father on this day, however this year my attentions have turned to the husband.

Glen, for that is his name, continually surprises me with his inventive parenting, his ability to turn any situation round turning tears into squeals of laughter. Matilda is very much a Daddy's girl, her eyes light up as he walks through the door each evening, they have their own unique greeting to each other and their funny little goodbye routine in the morning involving her running up the stairs to the bedroom window to wave him off. A lot of laughter and fun is had when Daddy is around, though he isn't afraid of reprimanding her when needed. I can see the sadness in her eyes that she feels she's let him down, just as I did with my Father. Thankfully this is short lived as normal service is resumed and they're back to playing fun games.

For me a Father is someone who will selflessly go to the ends of the earth to protect, nurture and love his child. Glen would undoubtedly do everything in his power to ensure our little girl's happiness and to keep her safe. I fall in love with him a little more each day as I watch their heartwarming Father- Daughter relationship unfold and develop. My heart sings when they play rough and tumble or even whilst they're watching their favourite Doctor Who cuddled up on the sofa. Tis a wonderful sight to behold such warmth and care within our little family.

Happy Fathers Day Glen to the best Daddy our little girl could have wished for! You're not such a bad husband either, love you Glen!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Monk's House & Virginia Woolf

My love affair with the work of Virgina Woolf coincided with the release of the mesmerising adaptation of her novel Orlando starring one of my heroines Tilda Swinton in 1993.

I spent much of my teenage years obsessing over French literature hence my late arrival to Virginia Woolf's work. Orlando was to change all that, still one of the most beautiful films ever made that has stayed with me for over 20 years, Tilda Swinton gives a unique performance worthy of ever accolade. An revolutionary story that crosses the centuries and generations. I was hooked from the haunting first scene, it took Virginia a year to pen this extraordinary masterpiece.

So imagine my excitement when I spotted that the National Trust owned her country escape that was just a few minutes drive from Brighton. Monk's House is a rather inconspicuous house that lies at the heart of a dreamy picturesque Sussex village, where horses trot along the lanes and not much seems to have changed in the last century.


A rather modest house belies the scale of the enchanting garden and the far reaching views across the downs from the bowling green. One can imagine why Virginia and her husband enjoyed their time here, the perfect place to write and be inspired. Her bedroom is simply furnished, still filled with her possessions though apparently the books were all sold off after her death then replaced with similar by the National Trust. The ground floor is the only part open to the public but it's easy to imagine the philosophical conversation that took place here over drinks with their highbrow literary friends.

Virginia divided her time between here and London spending most weekends and holidays in this peaceful haven. In her latter years she spent more and more time here writing until she moved here permanently. Sadly, she would eventually take her own life in the nearby River Ouse at the age of 59. She was plagued by episodes of mental illness throughout her life, it is thought she suffered from Bipolar disorder following the loss of her Mother at the tender age of 13. There is a real sense of her presence here, a place she must of felt a sense of peace. It did for us that day...

Her final novel, Between the Acts, published post humously was famously written at Monk's House taking the village and it's residents as it's inspiration. I'm yet to read it though it is now on my bedside table ready for me to pick. I bought it straight after our visit so I could picture each scene perfectly.

I regretted not having taken a picnic to enjoy on the lawn, nevertheless Matilda enjoyed exploring as well as a good game of bowls. As usual the National Trust has set up a pretty shop with very helpful staff, filled with lovely gifts and books. Please note there is no cafe on the premises but there is a pretty decent pub in the village where we had a good lunch with rather generous portions!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Brighton love

Can't believe it's been two weeks since we returned from the gorgeous Brighton. As you'll probably have noticed from my Instagram feed we were there for half term. Being in Brighton feels like going home, many a day trip from London was taken there. I love the laid back, creative vibe that fills this city. From the beach to the independent shops, cafes, galleries even the residents themselves. Inspiration is to be found in every nook and cranny of this vibrant city.

Despite it being a work trip as well as a little holiday we managed to create some lovely memories on our daily adventures. We met up with a couple of wonderful old friends, ate far too much, walked until our legs were screaming 'I can't take it anymore', ran along the beach then flopped every night on the comfy sofa with a takeaway and Britain's Got Talent. Yup Matilda developed quite an obsession during this series fueled by meeting my old Uni friend Suzanne who works on said programme! Think Matilda might have suffered her first starstruck moment.

Eating good food played a vital part in our week, from delicious breakfasts at our favourite Marmalade which I wrote about here a while back to a new discovery The Flour Pot as recommended by Lobster and Swan then endorsed by my friend Suzanne who is a regular customer. Their bread is second to none, wonder if they might consider expanding to Cambridgeshire...?

We also hooked up with Matilda's old Nursery friend Leo and his lovely family in Hastings. It was so wonderful to see them play together after all these months like no time at all had passed, just like old times whilst we caught up on all the old Fulham gossip. Great how children can pick up from where they left off so easily, these two were very close from their first day at nursery and I'm so keen for her to keep these special relationships. Here's hoping we can visit them again soon!

A little Star Wars action on the pier...

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Big Lunch coming to a street near you this Sunday 7th!

With the promise of warmer weather from the end of week there's really no excuse not to get outdoors and involved with The Big Lunch this coming Sunday 7th May. Organised by the inspiring Eden Project The Big Lunch is a perfect opportunity to bring neighbours, friends and families together for lunch. When so many of us live in anonymous city streets only catching a brief glimpse of our neighbours the Big Lunch provides the opportunity to get to know those that live around us. Every year on the first weekend of June communities up and down the country come together over food and drink for a day of fun, last year over 4 million people took part in this remarkable event.

I was approached by the Big Lunch to share some of the dishes I might prepare to share with my neighbours and friends. As most people know, I love nothing more than gathering friends together for an afternoon of food and wine often cooking for more than 15 people at a time. For me taking time to share good honest food with people you love fills my heart with joy. The long lunches or dinners around my kitchen table with my closest friends remain some of the most special moments in my adult life. As good home cooking often takes second place in our ever increasing busy lives when we find ourselves juggling all manner of demands upon our precious time, the Big Lunch seeks to reignite local communities coming together as they did in yesteryear.

I'll be hosting my own Big Lunch here on Sunday with some of our wonderful new Cambridgeshire friends. One of the key things I've noticed since moving to a village from Central London is how neighbours do take the time to talk to me offering advice and help, no one seems to be a hurry here. The same goes for the local shops, it once took me all of 30 minutes to buy a joint of beef in the butchers, and not because there was a queue. It was because they take pride in their work and enjoy sharing their knowledge with their customers. This was especially heart warming for me after years of going in the same shops, seeing the same people but never having a conversation with them. The community spirit particularly in large urban areas is not what it used to be. Fulham in the 1970s, where I was born and bred, was a close knit community where people looked out for each other, children played out in the streets until dusk, we even knew each other by name. Perhaps my view is a little romantic but wouldn't it be good to find that feeling once again? The Big Lunch can help you do just that.

I spend hours preparing for a dinner or lunch party pouring over my rather large collection of cookery books. I may well change my mind before Sunday but so far the menu will consist of broad bean bruschettas to start as well as Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Roasted Carrot hummus. To follow pulled pork with slaw, macaroni cheese and a pile of sausages from my favourite butcher in the village Barker Brothers. We may also throw some lamb chops on the BBQ seasoned simply with salt and pepper with a sprinkle of cumin. For the more virtuous I'll provide a large green salad, simply roasted Asparagus and sweetcorn. For pudding there'll be a strawberry cake for the children, flapjacks and a huge Meringue made by a friend. I also made a Pink Peppercorn semi freddo last weekend which will undoubtedly grace the table on Sunday. More on that later...

If I haven't persuaded you to join in the fun you can download a Big Lunch pack here which is full of useful hints and downloads on how to organise a memorable day. This doesn't need to be a military organised event even sticking a table in your front garden filled with sandwiches, a few pork pies decorated with pretty vases filled with wild flowers gathered from the hedgerows will do just fine. The key element of the day is conversation between the generations, listening and learning from each other discovering that actually you do have a lot in common with that neighbour you glimpse every morning walking up the street to the same bus stop as you. The day is about building ever lasting friendships, bringing local communities together and above all ensuring that loneliness is banished for the day. So go ahead, go and knock on your neighbours doors to make a plan for Sunday. Last minute gatherings always work the best, you'll be surprised!

You can watch The Big Lunch story here.