reviews

bond in motion

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Ooh, look what else I found in my drafts. This must be one of the last things we did before turning our backs on city life – the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden. Amazingly, it’s still on; extended due to popular demand, apparently. And if you’re remotely a fan of Bond, or even just cars, you should definitely go. We all loved it, and our levels of fandom varied wildly right down to the girls who haven’t seen a single Bond film.

ok not so new now

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what’s the time, mr wolf?

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I really have to tell you about my new favourite .. well, thing. It’s lunch. At work. Don’t shake your head at me, you will understand when I tell you.

Specifically, it’s this book:

It’s rilly, rilly good. Like, every-one-of-my-work-lunches-has-been-a-recipe-from-it-since-I-got-it good. That was three weeks ago, in case you’re wondering. (Given to me for my birthday, from my awesome husband who wins at present buying every single time.)

And let’s face it, it’s exactly my kind of recipe book; I mean, over half the recipes involve no cooking whatsoever, can be made in the morning before you go to work and are mostly vegetarian (still claiming that title despite eating all forms of pork, the occasional duck and sometimes even fish). It’s even entertaining to read, with gems like this:

Spread everything out on the tea towel and turn on your desk lamp. Pretend you’re in a pub garden.

or this:

Bat the inevitable probing forks away from your plate.

and who doesn’t relate to this at some level?:

Fight the urge to eat the sandwich for breakfast.

I’m not even going to tell you any more. Just go and buy it, ok? Trust me, you won’t regret it.

nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be

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Back in July the last of my many cousins got married. From booking the date, they had exactly 100 days in which to arrange the wedding; enough to send the calmest of couples into a tailspin when the average time to plan a wedding is 7 to 12 months. Well clearly my cousin and his new wife are the calmest couple EVER as their wedding was quite possibly one of the best planned I’ve ever been to, including my own.

Everything had been thought about from the guests’ point of view, starting with the fairground entertainment and steel band laid on for the boring part between the ceremony and the meal, right down to the baskets of flip-flops, pashminas and toiletries in the ladies and the pizza served at midnight when the most hardened wedding guests were still going strong.

But the wonderful wedding aside, the other highlight of the weekend (for Nick and me, anyway) was the B&B we stayed in. Part of the superb organisation was the usual wedding website with a very comprehensive list of places to stay near the venue, from basic rooms to gypsy caravans to luxury hotels. After some careful research, I settled on the whimsical-sounding Dippersmoor Manor, which turned out to be anything other than whimsical.

It is in fact the most beautiful 16th century manor house, reached by an impressive tree-lined drive and run by the charming Hexie and Amanda Millais. Billed accurately as luxury bed  & breakfast accommodation, Nick and I were so taken with the place that we spent a good half-hour before leaving papping the house and grounds, much to the owners’ mild bemusement.

there is a story the bees used to tell

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One of the things I like about Twitter is the way it connects you with people unexpectedly and the way that unexpected people are connected. Most recently it has led me to Joanne Harris, an author I was already familiar with although wasn’t aware was on Twitter and who (to me) appears to be doing it exactly the right way, or at least a right way. She uses the medium to connect with her audience by doing her best to answer anyone who asks her a question, talking about her life as well as her work (and more importantly, being interesting about the latter as well as the former) – even using Twitter for writing practice. This discovery before long resulted in me buying her latest novel, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, having not even realised there was a third book in the Chocolat series until then; proof, if any were needed, that what she does works very effectively.

She is an open enigma, delivered in tantalising 140-character parcels of wonderfully down-to-earth and often pithy observations

intermingled with other-worldly micro prose about anything from her Shed

to the Lacewing King, with whom fellow Twitter followers will be familiar from her sporadic but eagerly awaited #storytime. My personal favourite to date was her unique interpretation of the mundane London rush hour, where she perceptively observed gazelles and lions prowling the city streets on the daily commute. Her advice for aspiring writers is to stop aspiring and just write; possibly the best no-nonsense advice I’ve ever seen.

Twitter aside, she has become, rather by stealth, one of my favourite authors for her evocative writing style; she has the gift of imparting the sheer feel of her story to the reader, the atmosphere being so beautifully and unselfconsciously crafted. Her books feature food and drink prominently with sensuality unlike any other; the chocolate that Vianne makes melts over the page and the titular peaches are ripe and juicy, sticky with warm sunny flavour. From following her on Twitter, it has occurred to me that Vianne and her daughter Anouk are none other than Joanne and her own daughter, Anouchka; I find myself wondering curiously who the second daughter, Rosette, is. The fact that she doesn’t speak seems incredibly poignant, as though she is a ghost from Joanne’s life.

Barely a page into Peaches I am already hooked, finding myself drawn in from the first few sentences which brought the harsh dry Paris summer into my room, the wind caressing my face as I read. I look forward to Vianne’s fate unfolding with just the slightest tinge of disquiet, knowing as I do Joanne’s tendency to explore unflinchingly the darker side of the everyday world. And between times I digest her Twitter morsels, enriching my own everyday world with just a little touch of magic.

harry’s wondrous world

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I remember distinctly the first time I heard of Harry Potter, possibly because it’s a memory associated with my mother. She was a librarian and one day she told me about this fantastic book she was reading that was written for children, but had the adults reading it for themselves. She urged me to read it, which I did after she had finished it, curious to know what was so good about this kids’ book. And thus began my twenty-something-year relationship with Harry Potter; an obsession that has, if anything, grown stronger over those years.

From the books to the films to the video games to the Lego franchise to the official merchandise, I immersed myself into the magical universe as much as I could, so when I found out about the Warner Brothers Studio Tour opening only an hour away from home, I squealed with excitement. My very understanding husband offered to buy tickets for all four of us to visit for my birthday a few months later, which I accepted before he’d even finished speaking. We had indoctrinated the girls into the films by then, so it would be something we’d all enjoy, not just an outing for me with everyone else trailing behind.

I honestly don’t think I’ve looked forward to anything in my life quite as excitedly before; the idea of seeing the actual sets and props used in the film and even getting the chance to walk around, in and among them thrilled my magic-obsessed muggle heart to the core. Did it live up to my ridiculously high expectations? Well, if I admit that the introduction to the tour very nearly reduced me to tears (in a good way), that should give you an inkling. No spoilers though, it’s definitely something you have to experience for yourself.

We had the last time slot of the day, which meant we didn’t feel rushed by loads of people coming in after us; in fact we spent a good four hours there and I could easily have spent much, much longer. I must have taken as many photos in those four hours as I would do in a two-week holiday and half the reason this post has taken me nearly a year to write is because of the almost impossible task of whittling them down to an acceptable number that someone else might want to look through. It’s just so hard to choose!

doo doo do do do

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I am the archetypal child of the 80s. This is the decade that most of my childhood and teenage memories come from; the friends, the schools, the fashions and the tv programmes. (If you want a potted account of living in the UK in the 80s, look no further than here. And don’t judge me when I say I identify with about 90% of that list.)

Ah yes, the programmes. The A Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Grange Hill, Press Gang. I can feel a wave of nostalgia engulfing me as I type the words. Press Gang? You remember Press Gang, right?? Oh. Ok, so maybe that’s just me.

And of course there was that pinnacle of weekend viewing, so good it was like a religion to school children of a certain age: The Muppet Show. So strong is my affection and regard for that programme, I feel it requires extra punctuation: The. Muppet. Show. Followed by a Gonzoesque trumpet salute.

But before I drown in my own reminiscences, there is a point to all this sentimentality. Unless you’ve been living in a media-free cave for the last few months (or have no children, either would do it) then you’ll be well aware that they have recently released a movie, the first in 12 years or so the interwebs reliably inform me. They? The muppets, duh. Or, The Muppets, as the movie is ingeniously named. Yes, that was sarcasm. Oh, do keep up.

I saw the trailer a couple of months ago while at the cinema with Nick and the girls and frankly I don’t know who was more excited about the prospect. (Obviously we introduced them to the joys of the muppets at an early age as part of their cultural education.) So when it was released a few weeks ago, we made plans to see it the next weekend.

Having looked forward to it so eagerly, it was almost inevitable that I would not have my expectations met. While the film was laugh out loud funny at times, it turned out that the trailer that had made it look so unmissable was basically a montage of the only good bits in the movie. The bad bits: a very slow and unfunny start, corniness to the point of vomiting that only an American show can achieve (this element clearly passed me by at the age of 10) and travesty of all travesties, the star of the show WASN’T EVEN AN ORIGINAL MUPPET.

source

Although it wasn’t terrible, I left the cinema with a vague sense of disappointment, not just at the muppets but at myself, that perhaps I was lacking something intrinsic that would have enabled me to enjoy it unreservedly. Slowly the awful realisation dawned: had I finally become too old for the muppets??

chocolate and paprika

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Since redoing our kitchen I have been doing a lot more cooking than usual (and yeah, I know, that’s not difficult, WHATEVER). I’ve made meals for the girls that I’ve never tried before, with predictably varied reactions. I’ve made roasted tomato soup for a Saturday family lunch, pizza with dough that didn’t rise (although it tasted good) for a Friday night in and any number of salads with various ingredients for my evening meals. Then of course there’s the baking. Have I mentioned the baking?

Although I have a home library of cookery books to choose from, courtesy of my self-confessed food-loving husband, I’ve always collected recipes from other sources; magazines, old favourites my mother used to cook, and more recently the internet. I bloody love the internet. I used to write these recipes in a notebook, which grew to a folder of magazine cuttings. But when I got my iPad I knew it was time for a change.

That change was an recipe manager app called Paprika. I could extol its virtues at length, but if you’re really that interested, just have a look. It was everything I needed as well as many things I didn’t even know I needed. Like the ability to download a recipe directly from an in-app browser. That’s the kind of technology that makes me feel like I’m living in the future.

So anyway, back to the baking. You didn’t really think I’d forgotten, did you? In my quest for new recipes, I stumbled across smitten kitchen, a cookery website that is beautiful, witty and smart. And contains this recipe for cheesecake brownies (genius combination), which quite frankly would have been enough to hook me by itself. Into Paprika it went, and I broke my no weekday baking rule to make it for a friends’ visit on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately this also meant we had to share them with our kids, but don’t worry, there were enough left to last the rest of the weekend. Just.

Whether you’re a cheesecake and/or brownie fan or not, I urge you to make these. They are quite easily the best brownies I’ve ever tasted and even Nick, who is more in the ‘not’ category, thought they were good enough to polish off a couple himself. Mmmmm, food and technology, my favourite combination.