Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Happy 80th birthday World Service

Good grief, is it really five years since I sat in a Bush House office, penning a birthday greeting for a 75th birthday?

Yes, yes, I know 75 plus 5 equals 80, I just cannot believe it’s passed so quickly!

I can’t believe that it’s been five years since several hundred BBC staff and their better halves were invited to the O2 for a knees-up. It was by invitation only and, due to the demand for tickets, was done as a lottery; you applied (for a maximum of two tickets) and your names were – or in some cases, weren’t – drawn from a hat. It was actually the first time I’d been to the O2 site; I found it pretty impressive. Our evening of entertainment was actually in the smaller of the O2 venues – the O2 Arena I think – and apart from some excellent BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJ’s spinning some splendid toons, there was also live music from around the world including the terrific Tinarewan – a Tuareg band from the Saharan Desert area of Mali. There was music from The Clash too, which I’m sure made a family friend very jealous – he’s a big fan.

What a shame that the year in which this wonderful, world-uniting entity that is the World Service marks its 8th decade, is the very same year in which it finally vacates the building that it has become synonymous with. Yes, the lease is up, “really, honestly and truthfully, no messing around this time, dead and gone, not to be extended no more, no siree!”

It’s all rather inexplicable too, as Jeremy Paxman wrote the other day; “why, during these times of harsh belt tightening, has the BBC decided to move from the (comparatively) cheap lodgings of Bush House, to the excruciatingly expensive area of W1?”

Now, while I agree with JP wholeheartedly, the BBC have been planning this move for years – it’s one of the reasons for the gargantuan modernisation process at Broadcasting House. And, you can’t stay in one place on the basis of, “that’s how it’s always been”, or through a fear of change’.

Of course, the fact is that those halcyon, sepia tinged memories of men at Bush House, wearing their tweed, 3-piece suits, smoking Capstan full strength ciggies and generally looking all ‘yah, absolutely’, have all been consigned to history anyway – they were a part of the BBC’s ‘yesterday’. I’ve rambled in the past about the ‘special-ness’ of Bush House from a personal viewpoint, and I know for a fact, that people from many nations around the world, made special trips just in order to see the place, the building, the architecture, to physically touch the entity that, for many, kept them and their recent ancestors informed on the global goings-on, often learning about news from other parts of their own countries, via a shortwave frequency. I lost count how many times I was stopped at the main entrance / exit as I nipped out for lunch, by an individual or group, wanting me to take their photographs, while they stood together, some with their fingers in a ‘V for Victory’ sign, held proudly aloft.

You could tell it was a real ‘Mecca’ moment for them, if you’ll pardon the analogy.

Anyway, happy birthday World Service.

And all the best in your new guise – there are a lot of people hoping you’ll be the same old you, albeit from a shiny new location.

Friday, 24 February 2012

YouTube, YouHoo, Yourop

As part of a teaching team, we are always trying to encourage the parents of children at the school, to get as involved as they can in their children’s education. For many parents however, teaching is done at school, and school alone - that’s what schools are for – and their child(ren) should be able to do as they please when they get home; for example, sit in front of the TV, play the Wii or X-Box all evening, pausing briefly to eat some tea, a bit more Playstation, then up to bed and lights out.

You don’t need me to tell you that this is the fastest way to prepare a child to fail in their education. Of course it’s hard, coming home from work, preparing dinner and then doing homework and reading with and to your child, everyone’s tired, of course it’s easier not to do it.

But it doesn’t have to be a chore or as regimented as all that. Helping a child is easier than many think. All it takes is to introduce learning into your everyday routine. Instead of asking your child to pass you a piece of fruit from the bowl, ask them how many apples are in the bowl, could they please pass you one and how many are left now that he/she has taken one. With literacy, it is literally a case of telling a story or, better still, make one up! Just while you’re walking them to or from school, or from their after school club, or anywhere, just talk for a bit, ask them to carry on the story, swap it around, introduce a new character every now and then (or every other day!) and see where it goes.


It’s really very easy and, as clichéd as it is to say, I’d like to meet the child that doesn’t enjoy being engaged by his or her parent or guardian.

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of parents who aren’t bothered about engaging with their children – that is undoubtedly a sad truth – so if you know a child like this, then if you get a chance, YOU discuss the contents of a fruit bowl, YOU make up a fantastic tale, see how it goes.

I know I’m lucky; my children are happy, they’re quite bright, but more importantly, they enjoy learning. When we walk to and from school, they ask me if we can play a game. I ask if they want maths, literacy or general knowledge (you see? I’ve made free time learning fun! It was a doddle – just do it regularly and not too serious, plus plenty of praise!).

If its maths, we do number bonds – to 20 or 30 for Annabel, to 100 or 1000 for Joseph. If it’s literacy, we play Just a Minute, taking it in turns to try to speak for a minute (or 30 seconds, depending on the mood), without hesitation, deviation or repetition.

We sometimes play the ABC game – choose a topic such as boys name, girls name, fruit or animal, then someone says the alphabet to themselves, announces the letter, and then we all try to beat the others to come up with a word before the others.

This morning, walking to school, Annabel chose countries, I ran through the alphabet and Joseph stopped me on ‘Y’. Now, we’ve had this topic and letter before, so I rather selfishly announced ‘Yemen’. The race was on between the two of them and Annabel, cleverly using her phonics, proudly (and seriously) shouted out ‘Yurope’.

While Joseph staggered around laughing, I hid my own chuckles and explained how sometimes the letters ‘eu’ also makes the ‘y’ sound.

Good try bubba

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

"But the day it always lasts too long …”

I mentioned in a text to a friend the other week that there was a possibility, the very slightest possibility, that I may be just a teensy bit in love with Emelie Sande. Of course, it’s also possible that I should, being a very happily married man, spend just a smidgen of time justifying this statement.

Well, you’d have to have had your eyes poked out with sharp sticks not to see that she’s just plain gorgeous (now and before bleaching her hair white), she has the most amazing voice - both mellow and soft, yet at the same time rich and powerful – and, stumbling across an interview with her on the radio last week, I thought that BBC Radio 4 had started playing bedtime stories, such was the soothing nature of her soft, wonderfully lilting Aberdeenshire accent.

She’s not ‘pop star thick’ as in many cases, but is actually a very clever individual – this made listening to her interview all the easier as she actually answered questions, rather than giggle annoyingly throughout. Her birthday is just two days after mine and, just to bring me crashing back to earth with a bump, she was born in 1987, a year which is very close to my heart, but at the same time reminding me that she is exactly half my age.

Her debut album is just sublime – if you haven’t got it yet, do yourself (and her) a favour and order it now. Look, I’ve even provided you with a link here so that you can purchase it with ease. Your music collection will be all the better for it and your world will be opened up to the vocal delights of this wonderfully talented – and rather lovely – young singer who is destined for great(er) things.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

"Peace, through superior firepower"

Admittedly, I’m no adrenaline junkie. I was, once upon a time, and always hankered after doing stuff like skydiving, but Point Break came and went, and it seemed a bit more sensible to get my life in order and leave the craziness to everybody else.

Until now, that is!

Yes, thanks to a terrific bit of foresight by the lovely M, we marked the start of this half term by driving to Milton Keynes (I know …..) in order for me to partake in my first ever indoor skydiving experience.

Yes, that’s right, “indoor” skydiving, all the fun of the fair with pretty much none of the risk. Well, I say that, but my disclaimer did question whether or not I suffer from backache or (get this) have ever suffered from a dislocated shoulder! So the risk was there man, it was real!!!

A friend said that Milton Keynes consisted solely of “dual carriageway, roundabout, dual carriageway, roundabout, dual ….”, well, you get the idea, and frankly, he summed it up rather perfectly. Laid out grid style (like New York without Central Park or Times Square), it’s a drab, monotonous place, created for businesses and …. erm, well, just businesses, as far as I could see. Apologies for anyone with friends or family there but it is a dull place.

Step just outside it however, and you have parts of England at their most beautiful, but I’ll come to that in a minute. Back to the skydive.

I’m not sure I’d pay the full price of £68, but thanks to a special offer, M paid just £15 for two short ‘flights’, photographs and a DVD. A quick tutorial on the do’s and don’ts of the vertical wind tunnel, a change into a jump suit, goggles and helmet and off we went, myself and my group of 10 others.

I positioned myself at the back of the group, cleverly thinking that I’d be able to watch everyone else make fools of themselves before I did but, not for the first time, my carefully thought out plan backfired and it was a case of ‘last in, first out, and so, slightly nervously, I stepped up to the opening to the tunnel, folded my arms across my chest, pointed my chin upwards and fell forwards, being caught half by my instructor and half by the 100mph wind that was being generated somewhere far below our feet, out of sight.

It would be kinda pointless to describe the feeling – you really have to experience it for yourself, but the saying ‘as free as a bird’, albeit one confined to a Perspex tunnel 12 feet in diameter, truly applied here; it was AMAZING!!

Clearly a natural at flying, I adjusted the angle of my legs, ankles, arms and hands to literally fly all around the space available and even, by flattening myself slightly, go higher than I think I was supposed to. Before the end of my second flight, following an agreed signal between myself and my instructor, he grabbed hold of my jumpsuit by one shoulder and one of my ankles, before whizzing us round in a circle and zooming vertically at tremendous speed. Down we came to within inches of the “ground” before up we went again, me yelling and laughing at the same time, before finally turning off the ‘fan’ for good.

And so, I left the Airkix part of the complex talking ten to the dozen, and we ambled around to see what else was on offer. A real snow ski slope was just opposite and is definitely next on our ‘to-do’ list, but for now, our visit was over.

Well, at least the Milton Keynes part was. Next up was our stay on a small farm which we used as a base for our 3 night stay in this neck of the woods. The farmer wasn’t that pleased to see us – we thought he felt that perhaps B&B is a bit “beneath” him, not pure enough for a thoroughbred farmer – but his wife was friendly and their two daughters, who were the same age as mes enfants, were very sweet, helping to serve us breakfast each morning. (Wahey, I love short breaks – licence to eat cooked brekkie EVERY day, guilt free!) As luck would have it, the lambing season started the day after we arrived, much to the delight of Joseph and Annabel, so out we went to meet the new additions to the sheep headcount.

An up-close bird of prey experience was also on my list of treats from M (hadn’t given much thought as to why I was getting all this very nice treatment until now – hope it’s not the equivalent of the husband buying the wife ‘guilt-flowers’! Hmmm …..) and it was wonderful having owls – creatures I have long had a soft spot for – perched on my very own gauntlet covered hand.

Did you know that owls can turn their heads 270 degrees to make up for the fact that their eyes are fixed in their sockets?

‘ course you did, just me then!

Next up was the National Trust’s breath-taking Stowe – I know what you’re thinking. “Your children are going to HATE you!” and normally, I’d worry you were right, but for now, they seem to genuinely enjoy the freedom to run ahead, climb the occasional tree and to discuss their beautiful surroundings. Actually, our trip to Stowe served a dual purpose – Joseph was required to design and plan a ‘wildlife park’ for his homework and many ideas were taken from that day. Stowe is stunning. Strangely though, the estate is not all owned by the NT. Well, the grounds are, the lake is, the boundary walls are, the bridges are, the rivers are … you get the idea. The house itself is actually a very very nice privately owned, private school. It’s the school that first takes your breath away, as you drive along the die-straight, undulating road from the gatehouse up to the highest point of the ‘driveway’, and there, in the early morning mist, off in the distance, is Stowe House – a fantastic building.

I think I’ve said before, that although the National Trust may not be your ‘thing’, there are certain properties around the country that we’ve seen so far, that you’d have to try extremely hard not to be impressed by. I tell you something, I sure as hell wish I’d have been able to visit some as a school-child; I reckon my history and geography essays would’ve got a much better grade than they did!
So, even if you don’t like the idea of the annual membership fee (terrific value btw), and you can’t see yourself ever joining, make at least one trip to see Stowe. It’s little wonder that it is one of the jewels in the National Trust’s glittering crown.

Another jewel, this time in the crown of English Heritage, is Wrest Park, and was our destination of choice the following day – I know what you’re thinking – “your children hate you NOW!” – and the place was opened amid much pomp and hype in about August of last year. And so, M and I thought, well, seven months on, the place will have weathered in a bit, it will be looking pretty tasty.

We were wrong.

Apart from a few stand-out show pieces, the place was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, the grounds in particular. The flower beds were bare, the hedgerows which will eventually serve as natural boundaries had only very recently been planted and several of the large water features were just huge, deep, muddy building sites with diggers and trucks sat driver-less, looking very much out of place. I mean, I know that a place like that takes a lot of work – we were just surprised they opened the place when they did, if this was the work still to be done.

The house itself, while beautiful on the outside, has been made a little too 20th century, a bit too interactive. They know, of course, that you have to hold the interest of the children if you are going to get the fee paying parents through the door, but although the balance is obviously a tricky one, it’s one that we thought they hadn’t got entirely right.

What didn’t help, was the fact that a portion of the house and conservatory usually available to explore, had been cordoned off for a wedding later that afternoon. (It was a blustery day, but as the wedding hour approached – 4pm – the rain started, then it got harder, and then it bucketed down. The grounds were, in parts, flooded, so we hoped the bride had a sturdy pair of wedding shoes!)

The crowning glory of this place, for me at any rate, was the Archer Pavilion, built between 1709 and 1711. It’s basically a large, garden house built exclusively to do two things.

1. To show your chums just how fabulously wealthy and clever you are to be able to design and afford something as cool as it and

2. To look from your house down to the garden ‘shed’ and casually mention that after dinner, you’ll all amble down to it and have swanky a party in it.

There are even two tiny bedrooms in the domed roof, allowing staff to take it in turns to rest, should the partying go on (and on).

I’ve mentioned the work of Lancelot Brown before, and he got his hands on this garden too, his influence far more apparent and easy to understand than at Petworth House, his clever softening of those edges, his blending of corners into rolling lawns, the removal of all that symmetry. Lovely as the garden was however, if you have just one day to visit a beautiful part of this country’s history, take a picnic and a trip to Stowe.

I very much doubt that you’ll regret it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Yes, yes, I know, my last post was a food based one. Don’t panic, this will be the last foodie one (this month), I promise! Still, you can’t grumble too much – the last one was mostly plagiarised and this is all my own work.

Where better to write a review for, than one of my favourite restaurants, if not my favourite one of all. I actually posted a review on Time Out back in June of last year and, rambling though it may have been, summed up fairly accurately how I feel about the place.

I remember my brother-in-law telling his sister (aka Mrs Dad) that he’d ‘discovered’ a new Lebanese restaurant, just down the road from us. Now this is more exciting than it might seem. For years we have trekked to Little Beirut (Edgware Road) for an authentic bite to eat, when my brother-in-laws mum (aka Mrs Dad’s mum, aaka my monster-in-law) hasn’t cooked a dish for a while which, I have to say, is happening more and more.

(It turns out that her cooking anything comes as a direct response to one of her grandchildren (aka my kids) requesting something Lebanesey. Man, if only I’d known that I could’ve dropped hints eons ago.

Still, never too late, and all that!

And although there is one other very decent restaurant of the same ilk in the opposite direction, it is;

a) a good two miles further away and
b) a very large restaurant indeed, detracting from the friendly and intimate nature of the place I’m going to review. But I’m jumping the gun somewhat so let’s crack on.

The section of Trinity Road where Meza sits, leading immediately away from Tooting Bec towards Wandsworth Common, is far from being an attractive stretch of tarmac. It is lined with shops (of a sort) and other eateries, none of which you’ll have heard of (ie no high street giants) which does, I s’pose, give it a certain unique charm. Incidentally, we had a very important guest lunching with us, and when he hadn’t shown up at 15 minutes past the allotted time, I ambled down to the other Lebanese joint just in case he’d confused the two.

He had.

I tapped on the glass, beckoned him out and, while we walked back together, I agonised over how many other people whom I had recommended Meza to had also gotten the two places muddled up. The gaff where I’d found our VIP is definitely more of a ‘kebab house’ (perfectly located opposite a pub) than a restaurant. I ‘agonised’ with good reason because I’m fairly sure people of my acquaintance have a dim enough view of my good self without my getting them to eat in second rate establishments.

So, Meza restaurant; let’s start at the beginning.

Meza is not a big place - I’m talking smaa-a-all. Yeah, it’s very tiny and can seat no more than, I’d say, about 16-17 people, and that’s at a push! Before the owner created the space for an extra table last year, we booked the entire place out for a birthday – there were 11 of us!

It may very well go without saying that, being married to a Lebanese woman has exposed me to lots of food from this country and region; some of it good, some of it bad, some excellent as well as some dire. The food at Meza is among the best I have eaten, be it in W2, SW17 or, believe it or not, Lebanon itself.

The proprietor’s name is pronounced Hekmat (although I’ve never confirmed the correct spelling of this) and between himself and his right hand man Nader, they produce some very delicious food.

The menu has been kept simple and only a couple of specials change regularly. He is open to suggestions about what to feature and as an example, at Mrs Dad’s request, he began offering chicken livers, done Lebanese style, natch.

All the usual suspects are there for the ordering and, regardless of what we may request for our ‘main’ (the inverted commas are there ‘cos Lebanese food isn’t really about starter, mains and dessert – it’s ‘meza/meze’ or, a selection of small dishes and where the restaurant takes its name from).

After politely enquiring what our esteemed guest would like to eat/try, the following was ordered; (but not before we’d asked for a bottle of Lebanese red – dunno why I never took a piccy of it, soz!)

Tabbouleh – needs no introduction methinks

Hummous – always ‘home-made’ while you’re sat there. If you really want, you can stand at the small ‘bar’ separating the kitchen and watch them knock it up!

Joseph getting stuck in

Falafel – we didn’t order these but were presented with them ‘to try’. I’m usually a bit more au fait with the tahini dip being on the side but these were delicious, so no complaints.

Baba ghanoush – well, what’s left of it! Prepared in a similar fashion to hummous but instead of chick pea, you use aubergines, smoked over the open coals to give it a wonderfully smokey taste. Served with pomegranate.

Labneh – a thick and creamy yoghurt.

Kibbeh – ooh, now yer talkin’. This unassuming little dish was one of the first tastes of Lebanon I ever had and makes an appearance by default whenever we eat this food. Minced lamb, pine kernals and burghul. If I am being 100% honest, the kibbeh in my pic spent maybe 30 seconds too long in the fryer – not that this bothered me all that much but I don’t want you thinking I don’t acknowledge the rough with the smooth!

Lamb kafta – melt in the mouth delicious

Shish tawook – marinated chicken cooked over open coals, it is meltingly delicious and incredibly moist, served with salad, pickles and taratoor / toom sauce (aioli).

Lebanese beer – extremely refreshing. You may want more than one.

The coffee is made strong and with lots of cardamom. It’s very much a ‘marmite’ way of drinking coffee – you either love it or you hate it and it’s one of the very few things Lebanese that I love and Mrs Dad hates. Thanks to my new found companion rosacea, coffee has very much been taken off the menu, at least in an everyday capacity, and for some reason this style of coffee doesn’t kick it into gear, so hurrah for that!

The main selling point of this place (if you haven’t already been won over by my multitude of adjectives) is the owner. Hekmat is just a nice guy, plain and simple, and not only is he an extremely good chef, he has also nailed being the friendly manager who knows everybody’s name. He has realised that by giving a little, he can expect bigger in return. For example, he won’t charge for the smaller things – perhaps a coffee, some namoora or baklava. If you read above, you’ll see he brought us some freshly made falafel to ‘try’ and which doesn’t appear on the bill. Talking of the bill actually, we often don’t get one but trust me on this, his verbal summary of what we owe him, is always vastly short of what it should be. In ‘retaliation’, we automatically pay far more than he originally asked for, which naturally results in some good natured Lebanese haggling (always good fun).

Come and find out what all the fuss is about and join the fast growing list of people who consider this place, one of their favourites too.


34 Trinity Road
SW17 7RE

07722 111299

Saturday, 11 February 2012

"We're gonna rock down to Electric Avenue ..."

When I’m online, I’d say I spend about 70% of my time reading about food, looking at pictures of food, trying to grasp the finer details for recipes of the food I’m looking at, and generally drooling at various times throughout the day. I’d say I go on to cook and eat along the lines of what it is I’ve been looking at (if that makes any sense at all) more often than not.

Thank goodness for a fast metabolism!

The thing is, although there are squillions of webpages “out there”, I find myself always coming back to the same ones, time and time again. That sounds like a moan but it’s not – I go back to them because I like them, I have a good idea what to expect, even if the content has been updated or changed since my last visit.

For several months now, I’ve been trying (desperately) to pay a visit to Brixton Village market, in order to sample some of the wares on offer there. Although one person planted the initial desire to go there, it was the lovely M who, thanks to discovering it after passing through Brixton on her way to and from work one day, came in excitedly raving about it.

We did venture there on the bank holiday at the start of the new year (yeah yeah, I know, stoopid, stoopid, stoopid) but as you might expect, it was all firmly shuttered up.


(As it turns out, our trudge back up Streatham Hill allowed us to stumble on a terrific West Indian café/restaurant called Negril, but by then we were all too hungry for me to bother making notes about what I was eating – only that I was eating! For now, let me just say that Gladstone, the gentleman who looked after us there, was perfectly charming – we will return)

Well, M was working this morning, so we arranged to meet in Brixton for a much anticipated lunch and thanks to a particularly large bowl of porridge at 9am, mes enfants were doing just nicely thank you very much, when usually, they’d be giving me a hard time about their empty stomachs, Joseph especially.

Let me just say that ‘The Village’ is made up of lots of eateries, several little boutiquey knick-knack shops, a pick’n’mix sweet shop and half a dozen fruit, veg’, kitchen implement stores, all of them fairly tiny, but all of them enticing. So enticing in fact, I very nearly parted with £28 for a vintage decanter – far too expensive, as lovely as it was. I almost bought a way-too-big stockpot which I would’ve been able to store exactly nowhere, as well as a roll of 10 ‘heavy duty’ black sacks, even though I always expect at least 20 on a roll for my hard earned pound.

This is what Brixton village tried to do to me – it was extremely welcoming and relaxed, the folks there belonged (for the most part) to the pretty, the young and the cool set – but I kept a cool head, kept hold of my cash and marched to our destination – Honest Burger. Although my heart sank at the prospect of an hours wait for a table, the system they have is simple but effective.

The very amiable ‘Phil’ took our number and said he would call my mobile and hang up after 3 rings to let us know our time was up, informing me of the last 3 digits of his mobile number so I’d recognise it was him. Surely it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to just call the person and say, “Phil here, your table’s ready” – surely with your own business you’d have a “300 minutes plus unlimited texts” deal going on, but, who am I to judge. And anyway, it was another little quirk that made me like the place just a little bit more before I’d even sat down.

And it’s funny how the subconscious works, isn’t it? Even though I’d read a review about it only once before (alright then, twice), I never intended to mention our visit, let alone take pictures and the like. But I guess that the review I read about Honest Burger was so drool-inducing, the words and pictures must have buried themselves deep in my psyche and, like Virgil Tracy to Derren Brown’s puppeteer, I ordered the same as what I’d read, took similar snaps of those I’d seen and generally ripped off the post I’d seen months before.

Well, at least it would be a rip off if I went ahead and pretended it was all my own work.

But, being the honest, hardworking guy I am (not to mention generous and thoughtful - did I tell you I do a lot of work for charity?), I reckon I’ll post my efforts and then provide a link to a proper review, like only a foodie could write (I would love to think of myself as a ‘foodie’ but if they were all grouped in a circle, I’d be very much outside that circle of trust – I just don’t have a refined enough palate or set of taste buds, I'm afraid to say.

And anyway, it wasn’t just about our meal. After lunch, we strolled back along Coldharbour Lane and stopped off at Ms Cupcake, a beautiful 1950’s inspired vegan cake shop, to buy a box of four cupcakes of various flavours. Being highly allergic to eggs, M thought she’d died and gone to heaven – a cake shop where she can eat anything she sees! We purchased one mint and chocolate cupcake (mine), a Cola cupcake (for Joseph – when you’re not allowed to drink the ‘Real Thing’, you take your cola hits where you can), triple chocolate (Annabel – a 6 year old chocolate fiend) and M’s choice of flavour was Ferrero Rocher. What with the packaging and all, the ambassador really was spoiling us (I’m sorry, I know that was bad but I couldn’t help it – the 80’s were my formative years – you should be pitying me, not judging me!!)

From there we crossed to Bookmongers, a large second hand bookshop with a fantastic selection of books (I clapped eyes on and snatched up a 1977 edition of George N. Rayess’ Art of Lebanese Cooking – 's alright, I’d never heard of it either but at £2.50, I was willing to overlook the fact that it was almost picture-less and the inside back cover had what looked like a large red wine stain on it). The shop has a friendly and fantastically bearded owner, along with a resident dog – not sure what breed but looked both young and easily capable of taking the arm off anyone who forgets to pay for any book they may have chosen!

From there to the Living Bar. An upstairs venue which holds a bi-monthly artists market, allowing a variety of peeps to showcase their cool ideas. I was particularly taken with ink drawings of Brixton, the River Thames and the UK, as well as themed limited edition lithographic print; all of it was far more reasonably priced than the decanter I mentioned; check them out here and here.

By this time the children were starting to wobble, so onto a good ol’ 333 we jumped, taking us home to eat our cakes, along with a cup of hot chocolate (well, times three – I had a Guinness with a splash of port in). With the 21st century equivalent of It’s A Knockout on the TV (Total Winter Wipeout) Joseph and Annabel agreed that we’d had a fun Saturday.

Not always the case, I can tell you.

So without further ado, here are some fairly bog-standard shots of our terrific lunch.

My Honest burger; beef, red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. Surprisingly, our waitress suggested medium but I enquired after medium rare and was answered with a smile. Also, the proprietor must've taken heed of the 'limp 'n' soggy chip comment on the review you'll come to later - ours were delicious, bordering on too crispy. But yes, the rosemary salt is genius.

Not that you can see them in these shots, but all meals are served in beautiful white and blue enamel plate/bowls. I'm glad M liked them - she says we should look out for some - hurrah!

'Homemade lemonade' - delicious and thirst-quenching.

And here’s a link to a proper review of Honest Burger. Trust me, the place deserves it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

This Saint Will Change Your Life

If you’re reading this, then August the 28th should mean something to you.

It doesn’t?


Ok, well make a note on your diary or wall calendar for this August then. The thing is, if you’re reading this, chances are you write a blog yourself – no, I’m not saying that ALL readers of blogs are bloggers, but many of you / us are.

And I got to thinking about this the other day. With my work and family commitments, my children’s busy social lives (mine is pants btw, non-existent if you’re wondering), I spend less time blogging now than I did when I started over 5 years ago. Throughout the day, I still think “ooh, that’s a good topic, I’ll type that up tonight”, but more often than not, either something else comes up (boo, hiss, bad blogger!) or I’ve forgotten the idea by the time the evening comes around.

Does that happen to you? Have ideas of yours been lost to the mists of time, due to a busy schedule or an unreliable memory? Or are you too conscientious to let the opportunity of a terrific post pass you by?

Perhaps you’re more like me, but I am here to tell you that you do not need to worry about it – you, and I, have a saviour (stay with me, stay with me) and that saviours’ name is St. Augustine – the patron saint of bloggers, feast day August 28th.

No, I’m not kidding!

Well, not according to Thomas J. Craughwell at any rate.

Thomas, who has written about saints for the Wall Street Journal, has put together a very lovely looking book entitled This Saint Will change Your Life, as per the title of this post, and he very helpfully lists a Saint for just about every walk of life, occupation or situation. (ok, not everyone – more of which I’ll come to later). Some of the jobs listed are your everyday kind of job; for example, actors (St. Genesius), social workers (St. Louise de Marillac) and photographers (St. Veronica).

He also lists some of the less everyday; for example, if you are a Queen, your saint would be St. Hedwig. If you are homeless, you'll be delighted to know that your saint is St. Benedict Joseph Labre (come on Benedict, sort it aht!) and if you are a lumberjack, you should be aware that your prayers are floating upwards in the direction of St. Simon the Apostle.

Mr Craughwell, very kindly, also lists some of the downright unusual, namely saints for appendicitis, con men (they must be delighted), hangovers, impossible situations and vampire hunters. In fact, there are 300 saints featured, all on their own gold edged page, each giving the feast day for that particular saint, a very thorough description of how that saint came to be associated with the group they stand for, as well as a very beautiful saints 'holy' card - a colourful depiction of the saint going about his or her business. The year of their births and deaths are also mentioned which makes for surprisingly interesting reading - some saints lived very short lives.

Brilliantly, some of us will be lucky enough to have feet in more than one camp. I was particularly pleased to see that motorcyclists have St. Columbanus looking out for them (not all that carefully, it has to be said) as well as teachers being under the watchful eye of St. John Baptist de la Salle. (Oh, hang on, there's a saint for 'procrastinators' too, I'm in three camps! No, wait; four - the physically unattractive have a saint too. Dammit!!)

Although you may think I'm bound to say this - thanks to my occasional rambling on the subject of faith - I must say I would definitely consider giving this book as a gift, and can think of several people who would appreciate it. I'm pretty sure you could give this beautiful book as a gift too. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to let their favourite pawnbroker know that they have a saint, eh?

Or, if you're a lover of bacon, streaky or otherwise, I'm sure you'd want to offer up a little prayer to St. Anthony of the Desert, the patron saint of Pigs (no, I’m not kidding), before you squirt HP sauce all over one side of your white bloomer bread and get stuck in, while simultaneously stirring your strong mug of tea, served in a white china mug, natch.

There’s no getting away from the fact, however, that this is a very handsome book. It’s chunky, quite heavy thanks to the quality paper it’s printed on but smaller than A5 and has sat quite happily in my bag while I ferried it to and from work. The reason I took it to work was to lend the book out to colleagues, leave it lying around and wait for the feedback; I even dropped it off to the Head teacher to see what she made of it.

Everybody, bar no-one, commented on “what a lovely book” it was, each of them telling me what their favourite saints were, usually stopping for a chat and laugh about some of the more random ones.

(trust me, I’ve only scratched the surface of them, there’re some corkers!!)

In fact, I’ve had this book for some time now, partly because so many people ‘borrowed it’ from me.

So, to sum up this review, I’ll say this;

Would I buy this book?

Yes, I definitely would.

For myself or as a gift?

More likely I’d buy it to give to someone else actually, but would be more than happy if I received it as a gift myself. The price on the (soft) cover is $19.95 which at today’s exchange rate (on is £12.61. Although I’m sat here looking at the book and willing my hands to type “too expensive”, I can’t; I think it’s an ok price for the book – it really is a quality looking and feeling item.

I’ve just taken the liberty of having a quick look on Amazon, and I see that it is available for 2 pence LESS than I’ve just reported at £12.59 which I s’pose is a bargain of sorts!

Buy a copy of this book and stick it on your favourite bookshelf at home. You will either enjoy reading it yourself or, in a worst case scenario, it would make a terrific emergency gift for that unexpected guest / visitor. I really can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy flicking through the pages to see who might be looking out for them (or not!)

Personally, I’ll be telling my parents to keep the 14th of March free so we can get together. It’s the feast day for St. Matilda, born around 895, died 968, the Saint for, and I quote, “Parents with Disappointing Children”.


ps; the lovely M, who loves books just as much as me, picked up the book, commented how lovely it was, turned to the index and then tossed it down on the sofa, huffing as she did so. When I looked, I realised why - although paratroopers, donkeys, asses, mules and those who have succumbed to sexual temptation all have saints, apparently dentists do not.

She wasn't impressed!

Addendum; apparently, there is a saint for dentists - well, teeth - but this was not mentioned in the book. This was the reason for her very out-of-character huff.

Here endeth the post.