Monday, 25 February 2013

Ben Fogle's Sarawak Adventure

A fellow blogger, Lucy at Family Affairs and Other Matters, has asked me if I would share a promotional video about presenter Ben Fogle's recent trip to Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo.

Lucy herself has visited the region and it sounds an amazing place for an adventurous, enlightening holiday: rainforests, waterfalls, beautiful beaches, the chance to spot turtles and see the famous orangutans.

I'm interested in this for two reasons. Firstly, some years ago, when my son Rory was at primary school, they raised money for the orangutans in Borneo. I remember the children did a concert to raise money and I searched all the local shops trying to find an orange T-shirt for Rory to wear. The children were all very much on board with supporting a charity in the region.

The second reason is also connected to Rory. His girlfriend is from Malaysia - she came over to this country about 7 years ago with her family. I know she's from Kuala Lumpur but I must ask her if she's ever been to Sarawak.

The clip below is the first of a series of videos made by the Sarawak Tourism Board and gives you a taste of what the area has to offer. Very tempting.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Gallery - Boys - Father and Son

There are two boys in my life; my husband and son. Rory is an only child, as is his dad, and I think that's why they have always been so close, such good mates. We are very much a happy family of three but I love to watch the two males in the family, jostling for position on the sofa, arguing about football teams and now, trying to compete with each other to answer the most questions on University Challenge (I pretend I'm doing something else so I don't show myself up).

The theme for this week's 'Gallery' is boys so I have spent a hugely enjoyable, nostalgic few hours flipping through old photographs to find ones which show Dougie and Rory together over the years, more often than not when we've been on holiday. My little boy will be 17 next week: he is still our baby, even though he is now a young man, the apple of his father's eye.

Top Row: 
1996 At home.
1997 Sa Coma, Majorca.
2000 Playing the tickling game, La Baule, France

Middle Row: 
2003 Lake Windermere.
2006 About to climb up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
2007 The Tango Boys kitted out for horse-riding in Iceland

Bottom Row: 
2008 Paris.
2008 Chilling out in matching towelling robes in Cyprus.
2011 Looking a lot like a couple of doormen outside Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.

For more photographs on the theme of boys, visit The Gallery.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Review: Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin

I have been immersed in all things Indian this week. I finally got round to watching the highly acclaimed film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and I read the debut novel from Manisha Jolie Amin, Dancing to the Flute

The film and the book both filled me with a sense of the colour, warmth and richness of India. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of a group of mature English individuals who find love, friendship and themselves when they are brought together in the confusion, noise and heat of India. Dancing to the Flute follows the lives of three young friends as they are growing up, finding their way in a tough world which can bring joy but also immense sadness.

Watching the film helped to create a sense of place in my mind which I'm sure added to my enjoyment of this novel. However I would have been just as captivated by Manisha's story without the help of the big screen because she fills each page with vivid descriptions: her writing has an ethereal quality which transported me to the harsh realities of rural India.

The book centres on the character of Kalu and how he is fortunate to be rescued from a life of poverty and disability because of his talent for playing the flute. Music is central to Kalu's life and is also the focus of the book itself. There is a rhythm to the narrative; the authors' words dance across the page as she educates the reader in the complexities of Indian 'raag' (mood) compositions.

The characters of Kalu and his friends, Bal and Malti, are beautifully described but so are the supporting roles such as  the colourful Ganga Ba and the playful, kind, elderly servant, Ashwin. All the characters have an important part to play in making this book such a delight to read, just as every note Kalu plays is essential to the piece of music he performs.

An excellent first novel which I can highly recommend, whether you accompany the read with a good dose of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or not.

Dancing to the Flute is published by Alma books in March 2013 and is available to pre order. 


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Cheer your afternoon with a macaroon

The older you get, the harder it is to learn lines. That's a fact which is proving all too true as I get to grips with the part of Mrs Overall in Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society's production of Acorn Antiques, The Musical. It's bad enough knowing I have to fill the shoes of the gloriously funny Julie Walters, aware the audience have a clear picture in their head of the character and how she should be played. I also have to make sure I spend at least some part of every day looking at my lines so that they hopefully become second nature by May.

I decided early on, having been given this role, to avoid fiddling about with it. So I am watching the DVD of the musical and blatantly mimicking JW; her voice, actions and comic timing. I have looked carefully at her stoop and realised it comes as much from the knees as from the back so have adjusted my stance accordingly. Her arms dangle a lot, her shoulders are hunched. She doesn't always speak in a Birmingham accent: it rises and falls, it drifts into 'posh speak' at times, she squeaks at some parts and is quite gruff in others. I keep saying the lines over and over, trying to get them just right. I'm even wandering around the kitchen at home with an old woman's gait. Daniel Day-Lewis has nothing on me.

What does help is the fact that the script, written by Victoria Wood, is stuffed full of very funny lines. I have a fair few of them and, if they are said with the right cadence, at just the right time, then I should have a chance of doing them justice. There are gems such as:

"I was giving the postman a mouthful of something tasty by the scullery door, and he filled me in very thoroughly".

And, of course, it being a musical, I have to sing. Mrs Overall has one hell of a solo, 'Macaroons', which is fast-paced, long and rather rude. The gist of the number is that the world should stop using drugs, alcohol and sex to deal with stress but eat lots of cake instead: "Bit of Bakewell tart, lightens up your heart". After the intro, the song has three distinct parts, each commenting on a celebrity and their propensity to indulge in things other than carbohydrates.

This is where I need to work hard to remember the words and, as many of the lines are rhyming couplets, I have to be careful not to jump a few and miss out a whole chunk. So I've come up with a solution for my ageing brain. I'm creating a 'mind map' which is creating images in my head to match the words. Ozzy Osbourne, according to the song, is 'a stranger to the benefit of oven bottom cake'. As the next line urges him to drink milk and eat muffins, I have created a picture of the man ensconced in a comfy chair eating said cake and then moving onto the muffins and milk.

It gets more complicated with a line which for some reason I keep forgetting: 'Take fellatio, cut the ratio'. The line before it is 'You could catch a chill in a trice'. I have discovered the best way of remembering the fellatio line is to imagine, while I'm singing about the chill, someone donning a hat, scarf and gloves in order to perform the sexual act. It's quite a vivid image.

Our musical director has been very helpful to me with my song, going through the sheet music and pointing out the symbol called a 'fermata' which indicates a pause when I sing without accompaniment so I can take a breath and the band will wait until I'm ready to go again. He uses the word 'vamp' to explain this - the band will vamp apparently until I remember the next verse. They could be vamping indefinitely.

As you can imagine, the show is an absolute joy to do. We have a great team; director, MD, producer, choreographer and all the backstage crew are making the rehearsal process a real pleasure. The cast are having such a laugh, especially as everyone has such cracking lines. One of the main characters, Miss Babs, has some corkers so let me leave you with this one, said in a wonderfully plummy voice (just like Celia Imrie, who played the role originally) as she picks up the phone in the antique shop:

'Acorn Antiques, how may I help you?........Clarice Cliff? She's not in, I'm afraid.'


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Review: The Knackered Mother's Wine Club by Helen McGinn

I first came across the author Helen McGinn in April 2010 after her blog, The Knackered Mother's Wine Club, was chosen as the British Mummy Bloggers' (now BritMums) 'Blog of the Week'. I popped over for a visit and ended up with a trolley full of Fiano and Chablis on my next trip to Tesco.

Helen used to be a supermarket wine buyer and now, three children later, runs her own wine business. Her approach to giving advice on wine has always been down-to-earth, sensible and cost-conscious. No wine snobbery here: Helen is happy to suggest, in her weekly 'white in the fridge' and 'red in the rack' tips, supermarket offers which are worth a second look.

It came as no surprise to discover Helen's blog had been spotted by publishers Pan Macmillan and she had been asked to write a book which is about to be published on 14 February. It is a book designed to gently help those of us who have a wobble while standing at the wall of wine in the supermarket, who don't know the difference between a Merlot and a Malbec and assume anything half-price must be worth a punt.

This book is a real gem. It isn't a weighty tome full of confusing tasting notes or with photographs showing rows of vines and gnarled farmers ankle-deep in grapes. It is a funny canter through the year, suggesting wines for summer parties, Sunday roasts and winters round the fireside. Helen shares anecdotes as she goes in a warm self-deprecating style. Readers can pick up suggestions on what to serve adults who are hanging around at kids' parties (a punch made from Moscato d'Asti and lime served in Hello Kitty paper cups) while laughing at her comment that children only ever eat the top part of Iced Gems.

Having devoured Helen's book this weekend, I am ready to face the supermarket with renewed vigour and a decent amount of knowledge. I now realise that Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape, only from different countries, that bag-in-a-box wine is nothing to be ashamed of and that a juicy Spanish red is just the thing to accompany beans on toast.

Helen sent me a copy of The Knackered Mother's Wine Club. It will be published on 14 February.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Gallery - Noses - a Big Conk for #TeamHonk

How's that for a big nose!

To celebrate 25 years of Comic Relief, three of our blogging parents - Annie from Mammasaurus, Tanya from Mummy Barrow and Penny from Alexander Residence - have been invited to Ghana to see the difference the money has made to progress in Africa. You can read about what they witnessed on each blog and also on their website, #TeamHonk.

For Tara's Gallery this week, in celebration of all the good work that's been done, and to support our friends who return home today, the theme is Noses. So I thought I'd pick the biggest nose I could find (and what a satisfying 'pick' that was).

The big conk belongs to a character on a carnival float in Nice which we visited on a trip to the south of France in 2009. Their annual carnival is a spectacular event held in February each year. There are parades in the daytime and at night: crowds fill the street armed with cans of silly string to squirt all over each other. The floats are huge. To get an idea of the scale, see if you can spot the person with the green wig poking out from the puppet's armpit.

To see more noses, take a look at the selection at The Gallery 


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Around the World in 80 Minutes

"I've managed to book a week off around Easter," husband announced last week.
"Great," I replied, fingers poised over the keyboard ready to start browsing, "where do you fancy going?"
"Not sure, maybe somewhere warm for a change?"
"Ok, we're talking end of March, beginning of April: too early for the Med. How about the Canaries?"
"We've done Tenerife a few times now. Last time it wasn't that warm at Easter."
"Maybe we were a bit unlucky. Lanzarote?"
"Lanzarote had a lot of dogs on the beaches...and it was windy."
"Right, let's not bother with the Canaries."

"There are flights and hotels open in Cyprus?" I suggested.
"Hmm, Cyprus was great last time, but expensive with that hotel you booked. And it was nippy in April."
"Egypt would be warm," I offered.
"Everyone I know who's been to Egypt comes back with diarrhoea," replies Dr Dougie with conviction.
"Ok, Egypt's off the list."
"Actually I'm not sure I want to just lie on a beach anyway."
"Ok. Let's start again. Copenhagen was wonderful at Easter. Fancy a city break?"
"Yes, that's a better idea."
"Any criteria before I get started?"
"East Midlands or Stansted. Maybe Luton. Can't be hassled travelling any further just for a short break."
"I'll search on Skyscanner, see where we can go."
"Oh and I don't want to have to get up at some ungodly hour."
"Not at all picky are you! Skyscanner suggests we can go to Amsterdam, Budapest or Prague."
"I think Rory would prefer going to Amsterdam with his mates in a year or two. The other two are possibilities."
"I'll check with my blogging friend, Libby. I know she's been to Budapest and Prague"

Having emailed Libby, I am now armed with more information.
"Libby enjoyed both cities, her husband preferred Budapest."
"Do you know, I'm wondering whether we should just stay in this country."

I'm staying remarkably calm throughout this exchange. More internet browsing ensues. Eventually I think I've cracked it:

"I've always wanted to go to Dorset: Lyme Regis...Durdle Door...Lulworth Cove."
"No, we can't go there," says Rory as he saunters into the room and sprawls on the sofa.
"Why not?" I whined, those images of Meryl Streep and her Scottish Widows cape beginning to fade.
"That's where I'm going for our Geography field trip later in April. You hadn't forgotten, had you?"

I had.

I was becoming a little frustrated by now, so wandered off, muttering to myself. I picked up the pile of Christmas cards which were still on the coffee table, waiting for me to transcribe change of addresses, emails etc into my address book. Out popped a letter from one of my oldest friends, Marion. Marion and I met on our first day working for John Lewis, in Oxford Street, in 1985. I read the words "Yet another year and we haven't managed to tie up. Would love to catch up with you all." Perfect. Why hadn't we thought of this before? Marion and her husband Henry now run a shop/delicatessen which is part of a the Mains of Taymouth Estate in Kenmore, Perthshire: luxury self-catering cottages and apartments on the edge of Loch Tay. The chance to have a few days in Scotland, stay with Mum on the way there and back, and connect with an old friend I haven't seen for about 8 years. They have two boys, both teenagers, and I know Rory will enjoy meeting them again.

"Scotland. Perthshire. Two-bedroomed first floor apartment. Three nights. Booked"
"That'll do nicely," said the boys.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Feeling hot...

In my last post I promised you a photo of the purchased copper radiator which was deemed a bit off-the-wall for the cappuccino-coloured bathroom but just the ticket for the kitchen. The fitter has plumbed it in today so here it is, It's about 6ft high, feels very smooth to touch and warms my bottom beautifully when I lean against it. I think it looks good, positioned on the wall near the hall, linking in with the exposed brickwork. Each sheet of metal is apparently individually etched so every radiator is unique, so I'm treating it like a piece of art. Even the fitter, who initially thought we were off our rocker, has grown to appreciate it and is less inclined to cart it off to see how much it would get for scrap.