Memories of Chelsea Flower Show

I exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show for many years – it must have been at least ten – it gets harder to remember exact dates! All the years blend into one long, happy memory and, somehow, you forget the back breaking work of being on the stand, cleaning, serving and then tidying at the end of the day – from about 6am until 10pm at night.

There are some pictures here (very amateurish – sorry not that talented with a camera over the years!) – we were always next to Constance Spry which was hugely important to me as training there was the catalyst that woke up my inner creativity and changed my life from wannabee lawyer to crafter! Our display won awards many years running which was a real thrill – and in the picture you can see myself in the middle (I never said I was a natural blonde!) my sister to the right and Margaret a great friend and ‘right hand person’ in those days, to my left.

No matter how many TV shows tell you about Chelsea and demonstrate how much hard work goes into creating the show, it will accurately reflect the life’s blood, sweat, tears and back breaking effort everyone puts in. I could often only stand in awe of the growers with staff of all ages sweating, lifting and endlessly tweaking to get their display looking amazing.

If you have never been to Chelsea then I would encourage you to consider going, but it does get so VERY crowded. I would recommend being there at 8 in the morning when it opens or after 6 when many have gone home. We used to wander around happily at 5am and get see everything really well – as no public were ever there – but during the day I stayed firmly on the stand!

Nowadays, while I wonder whether watching every minute of the TV coverage is enough enjoyment, I remind myself that at least I don’t have to handle the crowds!

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It’s British Sandwich Week – The British sarnie rules supreme

From the top: The man who invented the sandwich, the Lord himself. ‘The Sammies’ the sandwich industry’s annual awards. Copyright: The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association. A crab sandwich by a real fire – perfect!

Did you know that this is British Sandwich Week? No, neither did I, but then it’s hard to keep up to date with all these ‘national’ weeks and days… but this one struck me as worthy of a blog.

The modern sandwich is named after Lord John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. A dedicated gambler, his Lordship did not like to take time out from the card table to have a meal. He would, therefore, ask a passing servant to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread… and thus, the sandwich was born!

I was surprised (although nothing should really surprise me these days) to read that that the British sandwich industry even has its own annual awards ceremony… called ‘The Sammies’. Honest!

Given this household’s newfound passion for homemade bread (see my post about the new bread maker!), the sandwich is pretty high on the list of tasty snacks! I did a quick poll of family members to find out their favourite fillings:

Richard – ham and cheese on homemade white bread, with butter!

Emily – anything exotic you have never heard of, possibly with Acai berries and chia seed, or perhaps a weird Brazilian delicacy (she has just returned from a work secondment in Brazil)

Pippa – has to be Nutella. That’s it really… or, if very hard pressed, peanut butter

And me? I’d choose smoked salmon and avocado on rye bread or pumpernickel.

Thinking about this blog has made me smile as I recalled my parents’ choices. My father used to like peanut butter and marmite or marmalade as, when he was growing up in the Far East, they sometimes didn’t have any dairy products. My Mum, bless her, liked lots of things in sandwiches, but they always tasted nicer if they were cut in triangles and served on a plate with a lacy doily. Quite right!

So what’s your favourite filling? I’d love to hear your thoughts, do share…

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Eurovision – love it or hate it!

Copyright: https://eurovision.tv/story/ukraine-is-ready-to-celebrate-diversity-in-2017

There will be much excitement in our household this Saturday as it is Eurovision party night – woo-hoo! Rather like Marmite, Eurovision does tend to divide people into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps. I love it!

Yes, most of the music is awful and the costumes bizarre but it is so wonderfully naff and eccentric, I think it is a joy. Terry Wogan was, of course, the master of Eurovision but I have to say that Graham Norton makes a very good job of it too. Must be something about the Irish sense of humour.

The days of other countries voting for the UK seem to be long gone, but the spectacle of it all is still worth watching, not least because so many countries take it so very, very seriously. We Brits, with our ironic sense of humour, are able to take our ‘nul points’ with good grace. However, this year’s UK entrant, Lucie Jones is, apparently ‘one of the favourites’… we shall see!

This year is the 62nd edition (wow!) and it is being held in Kiev in the Ukraine. One of the great things about the show is seeing all the participants backstage laughing and having a wonderful time together with no sign of any divisions or political argument, which has to be a good thing, surely?

And so, we will be getting together with family and any friends potty enough to join us, and cheering and booing and doing our own scoring of the 42 countries taking part… if we can stay awake that long! I have such fond memories of previous Eurovision parties organised by my wonderful Mother. One year, we all dressed up as our designated country (I’m sure someone came as the Eiffel Tower!) while Granny always concentrated on wearing the colours of the French or Italian flags. Ah, such happy memories…

Why not host your own Eurovision party? It’s a great opportunity for silly hats and themed food! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pizza! Perfect Eurovision fare!

    In tribute to France – garlic bread

  2. For Italy – pizza
  3. German sausage
  4. Some Danish bacon
  5. A few Belgian chocolates to round everything off!

But let’s remember one very important thing – if it wasn’t for this crazy annual music fest, we might never have discovered Abba!! Need I say more?

Five fun Eurovision facts:

  1. Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956. Of these, 25 have won the contest.
  2. The “Euro” in “Eurovision” has no direct connection with the European Union! Several countries outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia, in Western Asia, Morocco, in North Africa and Australia making a debut in the 2015 contest! How did that happen?
  3. Ireland has won a record 7 times, Luxembourg, while France and the United Kingdom have won 5 times. Sweden and the Netherlands won 4 times.
  4. Poor old Norway has ended last 9 times! They came last in 1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997 and 2001.
  5. In 1981 the UK act Bucks Fizz stunned viewers with their Velcro rip-away skirts and within 48 hours, Velcro had sold out across the country. Fabulous!
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Quirky museums for Easter holiday fun

The year seems to be galloping by and, tomorrow, it will be April! If you find yourself looking for a way to entertain youngsters during the school holidays, why not try some of the country’s more quirky museums? There are some amazing ones around – have a Google and you’ll see. I’ve picked out a few ‘interesting’ ones that you might like to visit…

(Click on the museum names to visit their websites).

The Dog Collar Museum

Copyright: Leeds Castle.

I absolutely had to include this museum! Leeds Castle (which is in Kent, not Leeds) has a unique collection of historic and fascinating dog collars that is now the largest of its kind on public display anywhere in the world.

The colossal collection of canine neckwear, spanning five centuries, is fun for children and adults alike. There are over 130 rare and valuable collars with the earliest dating back to the late 15th century – a Spanish iron herd mastiff’s collar, which would have been worn for protection against wolves and bears roaming Europe at the time.

Other collars range from 16th-century German iron collars with fearsome spikes to ornate gilt collars of the Baroque period, through to finely-chased nineteenth century silver collars and twentieth century examples fashioned from tyres, beads and plastic.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Copyright: Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Located in the picturesque Cornish harbour of Boscastle, this museum was started in 1960 and is now one of the most visited museums in the Westcountry. It claims to have the world’s largest collection of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult. Exhibitions change regularly so there’s always something new to see. 2017 boasts an exhibition of ‘poppets, pins and power: the craft of cursing’, which sounds well worth a visit! Being in such a lovely coastal setting, there’s plenty to see and do as well as explore this mysterious museum.

The Bakelite Museum

Copyright: The Bakelite Museum, above, and main header.

Anyone who has clocked up their half century will have come across Bakelite! The first proper plastic, Bakelite was a revolutionary material. It enabled mass-production and was known as ‘the material of a thousand uses’ and, in various guises, was used by everybody. The museum is an enormous collection of vintage plastics, from the earliest experimental materials to 1970s kitsch. It includes Bakelite objects in a huge variety of shapes, colours and functions – radios, telephones, eggcups, musical instruments, toys, tie-presses and even a coffin. There are also domestic and work related things from the Bakelite era, mainly the 1920s to the 1950s, and the whole collection is a nostalgic treat, a vintage wonderland and an educational eye-opener.

The exhibits are displayed in an atmospheric 18th-century watermill, in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside between Taunton, Minehead and Bridgewater. Williton Station, on the West Somerset Railway, the longest stretch of restored steam railway in the country, is just a 20-minute walk away. They also serve Somerset cream teas – so what’s not to love about this museum as a great day out!

Gnome World

Copyright: Gnome Reserve.

Yes, really! This north Devon attraction promises ‘a completely unique 100% fun experience, simultaneously 100% ecologically interesting, with an extra 100% wonder and magic mixed in’.

Set between Bideford and Bude, the 1000+ gnomes and pixies reside in a lovely 4 acre-reserve, with woodland, stream, pond, meadow and garden. Visitors will be delighted to learn that gnome hats are loaned free of charge together with fishing rods and you are encouraged to embarrass the family with some truly memorable photos for the family album!

The House of Marbles

Copyright: House of Marbles.

I don’t know why most of these museums are in the Westcountry, I was looking nationwide… goodness knows what it says about those of us that live down here! Anyway, I absolutely must give a final mention to The House of Marbles, here in Bovey Tracey, Devon, owned by some old friends of mine. Whenever you look up unusual museums or great places to visit – the House of Marbles is up there at the top of the list. No less than three museums, an enormous marble run and the chance to see glass being blown, it’s a great place to visit whatever your age. Oh, and it also has a very popular restaurant and great shops!

Have fun!

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Surprise pies…

This week has been British Pie Week – the list of ‘national awareness days’ just keeps on growing! The past week has also been ‘National Conversation Week’ (and I do mean conversation and not conservation!) and the whole month of March is designated ‘National Bed Month’! But let’s focus on the all important Pie Week… I decided to do some Googling about pies and it was quite a surprise!

Pies have been around a very, very long time. Technically, everything used to be a pie. The pastry shell was originally nothing more than a baking dish and storage container for the filling. The Romans would use meats, oysters and fish in their fillings while a mixture of flour, oil and water made a sturdy shell, or case, to keep the filling in place. Not surprisingly, the pastry was tough and inedible and designed to be thrown away. Our wonderful west country pasty’s distinctive ‘D’ shape was apparently designed to enable hardworking miners and labourers, with grubby hands, to eat their meal more easily using the thick crimped crust as a handle.

It’s hard to believe a culinary dish can have a sinister side to it, but the pie does. As someone always on the look out for an ‘interesting’ way of finishing people off for murder mystery purposes (literary, not literally!), I was amazed at how often the pie has been used as a way of killing characters.

The evil Sweeney Todd has to be the most famous pie-killer. He and Mrs Lovett baked their victims in pies and sold them. A fictional character who first appeared in a Victorian ‘penny dreadful’, it has long been speculated that it was based on true events, but I couldn’t find any clear evidence. Even the bard himself, William Shakespeare, has turned to the pie as a weapon and killed off two characters with a pie! In Titus Andronicus, Titus wreaks revenge on Queen Tamora and her family for their evil deeds by baking her sons into a pie and serving it to her. Ugh!

That king of killjoys, Oliver Cromwell, virtually banned the pie in 1644, when he decided it was a ‘pagan form of pleasure’. It wasn’t a complete ban on pies though, just a ban on Christmas celebrations and foods that were associated with the ‘pagan’ holiday, such as mince pies and turkey pies. Fortunately, the ban was lifted, but not until 1660.

I think most of you will remember the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ that contains the rather worrying line ‘Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’. It seems that in 16th century England ‘surprise pies’ were all the range among the upper classes and live animals would jump out when a pie was cut open – extraordinary! All kinds of creatures were placed inside pies including frogs, squirrels, foxes and, as we know, large numbers of blackbirds. Some records even suggest that at a dinner attended by Charles I, a huge pie was put on the table and when the crust was removed, a dwarf jumped out! My goodness, we think there are some strange things on the internet these days, but it seems some people have always had a taste for the bizarre!

After discovering such a lurid background, I’m not entirely sure I shall ever be able to regard a pie as just a tasty thing to eat ever again!

Main photo: @britishpiesweek

 

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