Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Woman in Black

Last night we went to Yvonne Arnaud Theatre to see a performance of The Woman in Black, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s best selling novel. This performance starred Sean Baker and Ben Porter, who played many parts between them. The sound effects were ear splitting and the set appeared deceptively simple. With the clever lighting and a minimum of props we were transported from an empty stage to the train; the village inn; the graveyard; and several parts of Eel Marsh House where the unfortunate Alice Drablow lived and died. We rode with Arthur and Hedgewick on the pony and trap; we saw the dog, Spider, who nearly drowned; we heard the ghostly rocking chair; and of course, we saw - the woman in black. Its a brilliant play and more information can be found at the Woman in Black website

Thursday, September 11, 2008

RHS Floral Celebration at the Inner Temple

This year, the RHS September flower show was something completely different – a Floral Celebration at The Inner Temple. As part of the Inner Temple 400th Anniversary, RHS returned to the Inner Temple Gardens after over 90 years. The shows held here were the forerunners of the Chelsea Flower Show, so it was quite special to return in such a celebratory fashion. We entered at the top of the gardens and the whole show was laid out below with marquee and ‘Turkish’ style tents for some of the exhibitors. Several Plant Nurseries were present with beautiful displays, hoping to win a coveted RHS Medal. There were the usual collections of Gold, Silver-gilt, Silver and Bronze. We saw a display of Balcony gardens, which explored the world of mixed pots and even some vertical planting especially aimed at the modern flat dweller. Soon we felt the need for coffee, but sadly this is where RHS let us down with just one small refreshment outlet that was totally oversubscribed. Nevertheless, we did manage some alternative refreshments at Hannah’s Country Kitchen stand. We think that it was maybe Hannah’s father, offering a delightful glass of Prosecco with Violet liqueur, which we sipped along with a couple of delicious violet and chocolate fairy cakes. This was a wonderful treat!
More looking around and suddenly we were being entertained by the Bollywood Brass Band. They were great – playing Bollywood hits on saxaphones, trumpets, trombones, sousaphone and several drums including the dhol. Certainly a new departure for the RHS. We listened for a while, then made our way into the marquee where wonderful displays awaited the visitors. These included ‘apple towers’ created by the Wisley fruit team, as well as ‘noisy’ dahlias and tranquil cottage gardens. Perhaps one of the most unusual displays was Cookoo Box Nursery’s Chillies. This was a rainbow display of chilli plants from almost black through red and orange to pale yellow – all edible and of varying degrees of heat. Made my attempts at growing black chillies look very amateurish! We also loved the display of heuchera with impossible names such as Tiramasu, marmalade and Georgia Peach. Maybe next year we can try growing some on our new chalky soil.
There was also an exhibition of RHS history in the Temple Church – yes, the one mentioned in the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s novel. So we left the gardens and followed the path round to the church. This is a beautiful building, the round part being the original Templar’s church, which was added to by Wren. The exhibition was mainly in the round part, put together by the RHS Lindley Library and the Inner Temple and exploring the relationship of the Inner Temple and the RHS . Around the edge were some magnificent floral arrangements by members of the National Association of Flower Arranging Societies, with suitable themes such as Knight, 400 years and so on.
But we were, by now getting quite peckish, and decided to walk round the corner to Somerset House for a sandwich and that long awaited coffee. We sat in the courtyard and watched the fountain dance away in the centre, as some knowing folk wound their way through the spouts. Only a couple were caught unawares as the spouts shot into the air unexpectedly!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mort, the Musical!

picture from YMT website

Terry Pratchett would be proud of the young actors who put on Jennifer Toksvig and Dominic Haslam’s adaptation of his Discworld novel, Mort. The company was the Youth Music Theatre and we were hugely entertained by their performance. All 35 young actors were stars along with the three members of the orchestra. We were lucky to catch this performance as it was the last night of what has been several weeks of hard work, culminating in a great show.
Jos Slovick made a great Mort and Marcus Dobson, the Writer, guided us through the plot with consummate ease. But Death was impressive – a huge caped skeleton operated by Daniel Hall. He visited Guildford Castle earlier in the week, with some bewildered reactions from the other visitors.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sauna at the Proms

Last weekend the World Sauna Championships took place in Finland. The winners came from Finland and Belarus, with the Brits nowhere in sight. They had obviously not looked for competitors among the stalwarts of the Proms Season now on at the Royal Albert Hall. Last night we attended Prom 40, a concert made up wholly of Janacek’s music; played by the BBC Symphony orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez. We also sampled the delights of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing the left handed piano concerto known as Defiance; the organist Simon Preston and four world class soloists in the Glagolitic Mass. Why, you may ask do promenaders qualify for the Sauna Championships? Well, a couple of hours in the circle of the RAH is a pretty hot and sweaty experience on a warm summer night. The Champion Sauna Sitter lasted 16 mins and 15 sec at 110oC, whereas we were in the RAH for a couple of hours – at an unknown temperature!
The concert was very exciting despite the nodding head of the woman sitting next to me. It all began with the Sinfonietta; a piece in five movements that requires ten extra trumpets. The fanfares they play are so typical of Janacek’s music. Apparently the flute theme in the last movement is famous for being the signature tune to Radio Free Czechoslavakia in the Second World War. The stage was then set for the Capriccio for piano (left hand) and wind instruments, Defiance. This piece was written for Otakar Hollman who lost his arm in the First World War. It was to have been a solo work, but Janacek decided to have an accompanying ensemble. This is made up of two trumpets, a euphonium, three trombones and a flute/ piccolo. The pianist worked really hard playing with only his left hand – but we did notice that at some points during the performance, he was holding on to the side of the piano with his right hand!
After the interval we settled down to hear the final piece, the Glagolitic Mass. The name refers to the obscure Church Slavonic text that the mass is written in. The BBC Symphony Chorus and the London Symphony Chorus performed wonderfully, along with the soloists: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet soprano, Anna Stéphany mezzo-soprano, Simon O'Neill tenor, and Peter Fried bass. Simon Preston, the celebrated organist, played his solo with great gusto.
What a very enjoyable evening, but we were glad to be out in the fresh air again, heading for the tube to Waterloo and the train home. Two more proms to go, then the summer is over – where has it gone?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Dinner at The Farriers

Last night we decided to have a break and eat out. Our choice of restaurant was the Farriers at the top of the High Street. Upstairs they have a great restaurant, under the care of head chef Remi Remeau, who trained at the Ivy.

We ordered a bottle of Louis Jadot Fleurie (2006) to savour with our meal and our tap water was well presented in a glass carafe with ice and lemon. Our starters were potted shrimps with toast, and figs and parma hamwith lambs lettuce and a balsamic reduction. I thought the butter with the shrimps was a bit lemony, but that's a personal thing as I remember potted shrimps from a very early age and they didn't have a lemon near them then!

It wasn't long before our main course plates arrived - a braised ham hock served with broad beans, new potatoes and mustard sauce; and pork tenderloin on celeriac rosti with braised fennel and calvados jus. Alan couldn't finish his ham hock, but said it was delicious. My pork tenderloin was also excellent, although the rosti was slightly overtanned and I could have done with some more jus!

After a little break, we decided on dessert - a caramel, walnut and chocolate tart served with creme fraiche; and iced berries in a white chocolate vanilla sauce. These were extremely tasty and a scrumptious end to our meal. Not wishing to stay awake all night we opted for their tea selection - chosen from the special tea box of the Mighty Leaf company. This box contains several glass vials with corks. Inside are the different teas, which you can uncork and sniff, to help you choose. In the end I had Ginger Twist and Alan, African Nectar. These were served in tall tea glasses - silken pouches of herbs in hot water and totally different colours - a bit like comparing single malts!

We enjoyed our meal at the Farriers; the pleasant staff and ambiance - we will be going again!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Sunday visitor

The Zantedeschias are looking fabulous. When I went out to photograph them I found this wonderful shield beetle visiting these deep pink flowers. It was very interested in the camera, which was quite close to it, and sat up waggling its front legs in the air.

Growing peppers

I've always wanted to grow chillies since seeing some amazing plants in the glasshouses at West Dean. Each year they have a chilli festival where some amazing chilli plants are on display, as well as suitable dancing and food. This is a picture of my first attempts at the incredible black chilli. I don't know how hot it is, but maybe we will try it out - - - sparingly!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kitchen a la cherry sauce

I planned to make a special meal – from Raymond Blanc’s Foolproof French Cookery, Duck breast with cherry sauce. I’ve made it before and it is a delicious dish and as there are lots of local cherries about it seemed an obvious choice. But I hadn’t taken into account that I’m not cooking in my own kitchen. First of all my cherry de-stoner was at home along with some of the spices required, not to mention the port. So we had to nip up home and root them out of the packing. I start with the cherry sauce as I can make this quietly in advance. All went well, apart from the last cherry which squirted its stone straight at me. Thank goodness for the apron!
The cherries are poached in a reduction of red wine and port with some spices, so that’s what I did. When ready, you remove twenty cherries, then blitz the rest before sieving. This I usually do in the Magimix or Kenwood liquidiser, but they haven’t come with us to the borrowed kitchen. Well you can’t take everything! But I had seen one of those handheld soup blitzer thingies in a cupboard, and I’ve often wondered what they were like to use. So this was my chance and I got it out, plugged in and lowered it into the pan. This is the moment when it all went wrong – the cherries did get chopped up, but they also got sprayed over the cooker, me and the wall! It was like forgetting to take your finger off the button as you lift the Aerolatte out of the coffee, only I hadn’t lifted the blitzer out of the pan – how could it do that? The finger was off the button in a trice, but the damage was done; my lovely sauce was dripping down the wall, resembling a chain saw massacre. It’s amazing how a little goes a long way!!
It all cleaned up, of course; and there was plenty of sauce left to push manually through a sieve; and the dinner was really tasty. But I wont be buying a hand held blitzer – not to use in my new kitchen!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our first Prom of 2008

Last night we attended our first prom of this season - Prom 6, which is pretty clever as the proms only opened on Friday. (They do have more than one concert some days.)
We set off to arrive at Carluccio's, South Ken for our pre concert dinner. We ordered the tuna steak with courgette jam followed by the poached figs and ice cream; and to drink there was a glass of Valpolicella each. We were finished in plenty of time to walk up to the Royal Albert Hall to take our seats.
We entered by door 9 and found entrance O, which brought us into the auditorium just beside the righthand side of the orchestra, 5 rows back. What a view! We commented on the unusual arrangement of the orchestra, and read that the second piece of music was for wind, brass and percussion, hence the small number of seats on the podium. This is how BBC describe the concert

"A double opportunity to celebrate Olivier Messiaen's instrument, the organ. Olivier Latry, who teaches at the Paris Conservatoire (as did Messiaen), presents two faces of the French organ tradition - solo Messiaen and Saint-Saëns's much-loved 'Organ' Symphony, a work written for London.
Between the two organ works comes Messiaen's Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, a magnificent memorial to the dead of two world wars, and a haunting exploration of instrumental colour. A leading interpreter of Messiaen's music, tonight's conductor took part in the first performance of Messiaen's posthumously completed Concert à quatre (see Prom 45), of which he is the dedicatee.

Messiaen L'Ascension, for solo organ (24 mins)
Messiaen Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (31 mins)
Saint-Saëns Symphony No.3 ('Organ') (36 mins)
Olivier Latry organ
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Myung-Whun Chung conductor "

The organ solo showed the full range of the RAH recently renovated organ; from quiet passages to hugely loud parts that reverberated around the hall. No-one was falling asleep during this piece. It ended with a long, long note, which gradually died away leaving the audience momentarily silenced.
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum is a piece in five parts, each with a bible quotation as its title. It brings quite a different sound to the auditorium; and discussing it afterwards we were both reminded of the deep sounds of the long horns we have seen and heard in Bhutan. The percussion involved a whole range of gongs - like the temple gongs, as well as three sets of 'cow' bells and also tubular bells. The full range of wind and brass instuments were also played - providing those deep notes as well as the more usual ranges. It is a magnificent piece and the tolling gongs at the end were relentless - even to the point that one of them got knocked off its moorings! The conductor was superb, keeping everything together with a minimum of fuss.
(click here to read the BBC programme notes)
Finally after the interval we heard a great favoutite, the Saint Saens. It was wonderfully played and the orchestra and condustor obviously thoroughly enjoyed themselves. At the end, the audience showed just how much they had enjoyed the performance with customary Proms applause - including the stamping and clapping. Mr Chung made a gracious speech and turned with baton raised. The Orchestra responded by launching themselves into Bizet's Carmen, after which Mr Chung led them from the podium to rapturous applause.
It was a wonderful evening.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Mahogany Mice

We feed the birds. We give them peanuts and sunflower kernels and also some thistle seeds, which the goldfinches, siskins and redpolls love. We need to keep a supply, of course, which we mostly store in the kitchen cupboard, but we have recently been able to buy sunflower seeds at a discount for two large sacks, one of which we decided to store in the garage. Lo and behold a small hole appeared in the base, so we transferred it to an old flip top bin. No problem.
Now we need to fill the feeders at least once a day, so we do get through quite a lot of bird seed. Soon we were into the second sack, using it from the bin. But the seeds seem to be leaking out of the sack – more on the outside of it than in it! So we emptied the sack into the bin.
Then one morning, A went out to fill the feeders and called me into the garage. As he lifted the lid off the bin, there in the corner, in a sea of seeds were two of the smallest, mahogany coloured mice. They looked up at us, huddled together in the corner, a picture of innocence! But, it was obvious that having got in – by leaping into the seeds from the edge of the lid, they couldn’t get out again! In emptying the seeds out of the bag, we had ‘cut them off’. Only one solution, take the bin into the nearby woods and let them out!
Off we set carrying the bin. Once into the woods, we tilted the bin onto its side. No.1 mouse was soon leaping away through the leaf mould, quickly disappearing from sight. No 2 found it much more difficult, scrabbling against the side until we tilted the bin even further over, being careful not to spill the precious seeds, but soon it was on its way.
We walked back to the house, thinking that they would probably be back home before we were, although they had scampered off in the opposite direction. The seeds are now inside, but where are the mahogany mice?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Norway for Christmas 7

The plan was to have a lie in – but I was up quite early and watched the dawn gradually beak over Stavanger. It promised a lovely day, if a little cold. Soon the rest were stirring and we planned to go for a walk after breakfast. Eventually we headed out to the beach at Hellestro; and several hundred Norwegians had the same idea. It was fabulous, though and we managed some great photos looking into the low sun – as well as some mad shadows and crazy people doing crazy things! At last the sun was setting and we had to get back to the car and make our way back to the flat. Tonight we had tagine and couscous for dinner and we watched the History Boys, at last. What a good film. It must have been very good on the stage in the West End.

Wednesday saw us taking M to the airport for the mid morning flight. D had to go to the office, but we arranged to collect him and make a last walk using the red markers in the afternoon. This time we trekked up Bjorndalsnuten, which again gave us wonderful views across to the mountains and their snow, as well as islands in the fjord. Coming down, we took the alternative route, which entailed a couple of extra ‘peaks' and scrambling down the hillside by a steep path, and then around the hill to the car park. A good work out.
Back at the flat, we dismantled the Chrissie Tree, cooked dinner, packed the cases and watched the Devil wears Prada – or most of it. I’ll have to see the ending at another date. Tomorrow we fly home after a memorable time in Norway – as usual.