Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Mum's Going to Portugal...very soon.

I don't think I was ever cut out for budget travel, backpacking or slumming it. As you can see from previous posts I tend to choose hotels based on the thread count of the Egyptian cotton sheets and the presence of a Nespresso machine. So it should come as no surprise to hear we're off to Portugal this summer, to the 5* Martinhal Resort where I can park my lazy behind on a sunbed and I won't have to mop the floor every day or bring my own bedding (what were we thinking, having a  holiday in a mobile home last year!?)

This isn't my first trip to Portugal. That was in 1983 while I was at University. I was reading Geography at Cambridge and signed myself up for a field trip to the Algarve. Bloody hell, I thought, that sounds like a lark. I pictured myself lying on the beach all day, maybe taking the odd photo of rock strata, possibly noting the cloud formations above, while supping Mateus Rose and eating sardines. It came as quite a shock to discover that while we were staying in the sweet village of Burgau, in a small cottage overrun with ants, we had to actually do some field work. We had to climb hills, measure valleys, take river samples, all in the pissing rain. The weather came as quite a surprise: I had envisaged wall-to-wall sunshine, albeit we were going in March.

As you may notice from the photo above, I really wasn't dressed for the tasks. I'm sure I had some walking boots for the day up the mountains, but on one jolly sightseeing trip to a winery (that's more like it) I wore fetching blue tracksuit bottoms and cream stiletto sandals. Yes, really! Have a closer look. That's me posing like a complete eejit on the right with my friend Helen, who managed to bag herself a Portuguese waiter during the week, so that was a plus.

My second visit to Portugal was in 1986 when my boyfriend and I made up a foursome with another couple, Sarah and Mark. A very pleasant week in a villa in Armacao de Pera. But I was summarily dumped a few months later so I'd rather not talk about it.

So I'm returning, en famille, to the beautiful Algarve and, fingers crossed, this time it will be memorable for all the right reasons. My only reservation is that, although I knew that as we were staying in the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe, dubbed by the Portuguese 'Fim do mundo' (the end of the world) centuries ago, I didn't quite anticipate how windy it's likely to be. Apparently the last few weeks the wind has been so strong, diners have been given blankets to wrap up in on restaurant terraces. I should have known, for heaven's sake, I'm a geographer, I can read a map...ish. Though maybe the fact that the national windsurfing championships are taking place on our beach this weekend should have given me a clue....


Monday, 25 July 2011

60 Day Makeover - The Kitchen Reveal

I think you've waited long enough. I wrote about the upheaval of putting in our new kitchen some weeks ago and apart from a few little photos showing how things were progressing, you haven't had the chance to really have a good nosey at what we've done.

I recorded a short video showing our old kitchen the day before the fitters arrived - early May I think it was. Have a look at it so you can see what we changed.


The new kitchen and utility room took about six weeks to complete before we could then start to put everything back in. It's not completely finished as we're waiting for some window blinds and we're still experimenting with where things should live, but today seemed as good a day as any to let you have a poke about....



Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Gallery - Vintage - The Mystery of the Danish Dish

When my father died in February this year I began to read his memoirs; they are written in an old lined book, stories of his childhood, National Service and university days. I read about his two visits to Copenhagen which he took in the late 1950s as part of his study of architecture at Cambridge. I wished I could have spoken to Dad about his trip but thought the next best thing was to follow in his footsteps and take a trip there with the family.

We had a fabulous holiday in Copenhagen at Easter, thanks to some great advice from Emma at A Scandinavian Sojourn who sent me a detailed email with ideas for canal trips, restaurants and the sights worth seeing.

On our return my mum was talking to Dad's sister who said that in the 1950s Dad had brought a piece of pottery back from Copenhagen as a gift for his mother. When their mother died in the 1970s, my aunt kept the dish but now she knew of my interest, she was more than happy for me to have it as a memory of my father.

A few weeks ago the black, shallow dish, 30 cm in diameter, was given to me. It was quite water-marked as it had been used as a plant stand but I managed to clean it up. Maybe I'm biased, but I think it's a beautiful simple piece, typical of the clean lines and unfussy Scandinavian design that my dad loved so much.

The mystery of who made the dish still remained. To try and establish its provenance I enlisted my blogging friend, Emma, to be my detective in Copenhagen. I sent her these photos, showing the distinctive lettering on the base, and asked if she could help.

Yesterday I received an email from Emma: her husband had managed to track down the make. He had received confirmation from Danish ceramic experts that the distinctive mark was that of Herman August Kahler.

The Kahler ceramic company began in 1839 with his father, Herman J Kahler in Nestved, Denmark. The son, Herman August (1846 -1917) introduced the HAK signature which continued to be used until the factory closed in 1974. Herman was famous for his glazed ceramics but as yet I don't know whether this piece was one of his or, more likely, a later piece made in the 1950s at the time my dad was in Denmark.

I am now trying to find out a little bit more about the dish, armed with this fantastic news from Emma and her husband. However, no matter what I discover, this piece of pottery will always be treasured. My father, a young man in his early twenties, chose it, wrapped it and carried it carefully home to his mother over fifty years ago. It's my turn to look after it now.

The theme for this week's Gallery is 'Vintage'.


Monday, 18 July 2011

Dr Dougie's Guide to Duct Tape

Many of you will know about my other half's love of the silver grey sticky stuff. You may remember from a previous post of his expertise in fixing lethal barbecues, wobbly frying pans and burst rubber rings during our holiday to the Dordogne. The photo (left) also shows how he tried to rescue our over-burdened plum tree with a good strapping of gaffer tape.

But is it duck or duct tape? Let me allow the good people who make 'Duck Tape' explain its history (info taken from this website here)

"The first name for Duct Tape was DUCK. During World War II the U.S. Military needed a waterproof tape to keep the moisture out of ammunition cases. So, they enlisted the Johnson and Johnson Permacel Division to manufacture the tape. Because it was waterproof, everyone referred to it as “duck” tape (like water off a duck’s back). Military personnel discovered that the tape was good for lots more than keeping out water. They used it for Jeep repair, fixing stuff on their guns, strapping equipment to their clothing... the list is endless.

After the War, the housing industry was booming and someone discovered that the tape was great for joining the heating and air conditioning duct work. So, the color was changed from army green to the silvery color we are familiar with today and people started to refer to it as “duct tape.” Therefore, either name is appropriate"

So now you know.

My husband, a mild-mannered country doctor, loves his duck tape and at home it is used to tape up a broken shower, hoover attachments, curtain poles cut too short and various bits of pipe/gutter. He also uses it to strengthen his knees before playing volleyball, by wrapping tape under the patella. I think he's supported his post-sprain ankle with gaffer tape too.

Dr Dougie's speciality is duck tape on cuts. If he cuts himself at home he immediately reaches for the superglue in the garage to cauterise the wound then keeps the edges of the wound together with his trusty duct tape. I do hope in his surgery he would treat patients with proper medical glue and steri-strips. Though to be honest his skill with that isn't much better. I remember when he glued a wound on a little girl's forehead and accidently glued his rubber glove to her head. In the end he had to remove the glove and, as it dangled from her head, he cut it as close as possible to her head so she left the surgery with a closed wound but with an attractive flower of white rubber as an adornment. Thankfully she and her mother thought it hilarious so she wore her rubber flower with pride until it eventually dropped off.

You can imagine his excitement, then, when he read an article in one of his medical mags at the weekend which referred to a study suggesting that duct tape is significantly better at treating warts than cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen). My man was quite delighted to have a genuine medical reason for using his tape and I suspect he will keep a few rolls of it in his medical bag now and issue it on prescription (well, probably not the latter).

It led us to thinking of other ways he could use duck tape in his work. Our top three are:

Broken limbs - use with piece of wood to make a splint
Weight-reduction - tape fridge door
Contraception - tape legs together (that was my idea)

So, readers, any suggestions for me to pass on to the doc and save the NHS some money?


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Gallery - Travel - This way to the Devil's Arse

This week's Gallery theme is 'travel' so instead of trying to pick a favourite destination I've trawled through my digital albums to find a selection of holiday photos which will hopefully put a smile on your face. My mantra for travel is to find the absurd and have a good laugh...usually at my husband's expense.

Let me know which one is your favourite or why not improve on my captions which, you will note, are particularly lame so that yours will look even better!

Very true (Derbyshire, UK)

I do hate it when people damage the spines of books (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Superhero gone to seed (Madrid, Spain)

Compare the Meerkats (Sirmione, Lake Garda, Italy)

Apparently it's Danish for 'final sprint/end of sale' (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Look, no hands! (Paris, France)

It's been a hard day (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Prehistoric Man...and a statue (Dordogne, France)


Monday, 11 July 2011

Bisse Racing in Bardolino


Thanks to Colin Nicholson's article, 'Next Stop: Venice' in the Sunday Telegraph's Discover section, I was transported back two summers to our fabulous holiday in Lake Garda, Italy.

The article was about the gondola regatta which takes place on Saturday evenings around the lake during the summer months. We noticed when we were staying in Bardolino, on the eastern side of the lake, that 'bisse racing' was going to take place but had no idea what it was. That evening, sitting outside at a lakeside restaurant, the air gently cooling as the sun dipped a little, we could hear music, drums and a general heightened excitement before we saw the teams walking past us, accompanied by flag-bearers dressed in traditional garb.

Following them down to the lakeshore, with all the other tourists and locals, it took some time before the racing began as they had to punt/row/gondle? into position. As you can see from this photo on the right, it was quite a breathtaking sight with the setting sun casting a pink glow across the water and the mountains. It was quite dark when the race actually began but the thrill was still palpable, though as tourists we had no knowledge of how long the race was, how many circuits they had to do and, in fact, were not completely sure who had won each heat. Random clapping and cheering ensued.

The telegraph article explains why gondoliers row standing up. Apparently in Venice in the 13th century, the gondoliers needed the extra height to see over the mist and although today's competitors use both hands, they would have traditionally rowed one-handed because they were holding a fishing rod in the other. I'm wondering whether that reason would fit with punting in Cambridge. From my time there, I can vouch for misty mornings but, as punting requires two hands, probably not much fish to be had.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Review of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It's a cliche to say 'Don't judge a book by its cover' but I'm afraid we all do. The original book cover for this novel is on the left and it appeals to me as it conveys intrigue, something a little vintage and there is a sense that this is a book of substance just with the words 'a novel' neatly printed after the title (yes, I'm a sucker for marketing).

Water for Elephants has now been made into a 'major motion picture' so the whole book cover has been given a revamp, complete with actors in soppy pose, an elephant to remind us it's about elephants, twinkly lights and a random trapeze artist swinging about in the background (or is it a monkey? I can't be sure).

It was this second version I was asked to read as part of the Love A Book online reading group initiated by Cara at Freckles Family so I was a bit ambivalent about it. If I'd been given the original book I would have lunged straight in.  However, despite the lack of lunging, I was well and truly drawn into the unfolding drama from the first page.

It is a love story, set in a travelling circus during the Depression in America, but it is so much more than just the tale of two lovers. Very enlightening, a previously unknown world of circus life at a particular time in history is brought to life. We are shown the exhausting, perilous existence of those working behind the scenes, away from the glitter and sequins of the performers. 

Jacob Jankowski, a young vet who hitches a ride on the circus train, tells the story from the confines of his nursing home. He is now a very old man, but the circus is in town and his memories are sparked.

The pace of the story, rattling along like the circus train itself, makes for an effortless read but that is in no way a criticism: the author chooses her words with such care and precision there is no need for unnecessary description. I felt it lost its way a little in the second half (but I may just have been tired and picked the wrong time to continue reading)  but the ending was far better than I'd anticipated so I was left feeling very uplifted to the degree that I may well have cheered out loud.

I'm not really an animal lover, can't think I'm much into circuses either but the vivid cast of characters, both human and animal, plus the excellent narrative by Sara Gruen, make this an unexpected pleasure to read. Give it a go this summer and transport yourself to the Big Top.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Gallery - Grandparents - Grandma Eileen

My mum and my son - what a combination! The huge love I have for my mother is amplified when I see her with Rory.

When my son was born the bond between the two of them was very obvious. On the day I brought him home from hospital she was there for us both, wrapping him up tight and shushing him to sleep when I was tired and fraught.

She may live 200 miles away but every time we visit my boy is showered with gifts and her undivided attention. In the early days Dougie and I would be allowed a lie-in while the toddler Rory would wander into my parents' room, knowing she would have bought an endless supply of sticker books. He would snuggle in between Mum and Dad, sticking away to his heart's content.

He may be 15 now but he still adores his Grandma Eileen. She sends him daft texts on her mobile phone and now she has a laptop and is au fait with the internet she sends him silly emails and links to YouTube videos.

Over the years I have had to avert my eyes as sweeties are handed over and sigh when a tenner is illicitly folded into his eager palm - "That's spending money, don't tell your mam!"

Pop  over to Tara's Gallery today to find more special grandparents who are loved and cherished too.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Seeing Double in Majorca

Some of you may have seen the picture on the left before. It was featured in an article in Prima magazine about Mediterranean holidays of my childhood. I wrote about it in a post about a year ago. Here I am, aged 8, being plied with wine on a family holiday to Majorca in December 1972. A happy holiday; we took my grandparents with us that time and Grandma showed us up by trying to smuggle a bottle of Advocaat in her suitcase, wrapped up in a pair of huge knickers, all because she fancied having a snowball at Christmas.

So what about the photo on the right? Well, this was sent to me by a lovely lady, Marion, who now lives in Panama. Marion has been reading my blog for a few months now and she got in touch some weeks ago to ask where I had bought the anorak I was wearing in my Iceland photos. We have continued to keep in touch. This is what she said in the email:

"After enjoying several am-dram/country specific articles from Mum’s Gone To …… I click on one called Prima. Whooooah, wait a minute, I know that chap in the photo – what does that sign say, Son Amar – I’ve been there, done that. Off I go to root through an album of old, old photos and lo and behold there it was. Can you believe this, the same chappie. Only difference in the photos is the age of the recipients of the wine from El Porron. Even the neckline of the dresses are somewhat similar. My photo was taken around 1973 and I’m at least 18 years older than you (think I was around 23 or 24 at the time). But even at your young age you are much more controlled than I appear to be – I doubt if I could possibly have opened my mouth wider, I look as if I am making an attempt at an impression of the entrance to the Queensway Tunnel. Obviously I was a trainee lush in my younger days even before the trials and tribulations of this world wore me to a nubbin of my former self.....

Can you believe it? Sitting at virtually the same table in a huge restaurant, the sort where the tour companies organise bus trips to, probably only a few months apart, being served by the same chap (minus his cardi in Marion's photo as it was probably the summer then), both of us happily knocking back the wine. Forty years later the beautiful woman in the second photo comes across the young girl from the first photo and that one moment is re-lived.

As Marion said for both of us, "My flabber was well and truly gasted".

Note (added 5 July 2.30pm) - Have since worked out that we must have gone on this holiday in December 1972, not 1971, so have adjusted the post accordingly. Mum was reminding me today that my brother and I, nicely oiled with Spanish plonk and always happy to take centre stage, entertained everyone on the bus on the way back to the hotel, with a version of Chuck Berry's 'My Ding-a-Ling'. As this was a UK hit in November 1972, the date of our holiday could be settled once and for all.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mum's Gone to Quebec with Wills and Kate

Rory and Dougie in Quebec City
This is my final post in my special guide to Canada for the royal couple. Final because after Quebec today I have no knowledge of the other bits of Canada so best shuffle off and leave them to it.

All I can say is I do hope William brushes up on his French now he is in Quebec as this story below is a warning to him:

An hour or so into the journey from Ottawa to Quebec City and it seems hours since breakfast so we start looking for somewhere to eat. As usual we drive past plenty of suitable dining options because we're "not sure" until we're desperate and plump for a place not half as nice as the dozens we've already passed. However this place does look cheap and cheerful and has signs saying PIZZA so it will suffice. Having had a week's worth of smiling "How can I help you, Sir?" americanised charm, we suddenly realise we're in French territory now and a Gallic shrug is our welcome. Rory decides he would like a hotdog and that seems simple enough: the international language of fast food should help us out here.

"Un hot-dog, s'il vous plait", I say confidently.

"Oui", says our waitress at the counter, then follows this up with an incomprehensible question which sounds like "schrweeveeooroowerstee?"

I'm flummoxed. I have no idea what she's saying. She stands and looks at me and just repeats the question, with no attempt to make it easier with any hand gestures. I seem to recognise the word "ou" in the middle of the phrase, it being the French for "or", so I presume she is giving me some sort of choice pertaining to the hotdog.

"Maybe it's with or without onions?", Hubby offers.

"No, it's not that, I know the French word for onion, it's oignon!"

"Avec une baguette?", I say, wondering whether she's asking if he wants it in a roll or not.

"Oui, avec une baguette, mais schrweeveeooroowerstee?"

Not being that knowledgeable about the intricacies of hot dog cuisine, I'm at a loss. The waitress then turns to the three evil-looking cooks, brandishing their pizza cutters, and asks if they can translate. All three of them look at us as if we've questioned their parentage and say, "NON".

I'm about to give up and just order a pizza when a knight in shining armour gets up from a nearby table and says,"How can I help you folks?". My hero, an English-speaking Canadian who isn't about to boil me alive. I explain the dilemma and the watiress repeats her question."Oh, she wants to know whether you want your hot dog steamed or roasted?" To be honest, I'm still unsure how to reply and have to ask this nice chap what is the more usual method of hotdog preparation. Apparently it's steamed! So steamed is what we order.

Pretty street in Quebec City
Our helpful diner then tells us that we're off the beaten track, they never get English speakers in this part of Quebec state and certainly never people from England itself. Dougie is not happy staying here a moment longer than necessary as we're not "local people" and he reckons we could be lynched. Rory's schrweeveed hotdog is shoved down his gullet at speed and we hot foot back to the car, turn the SatNav back on and follow her bossy directions to Quebec City by the quickest route possible.