Sunday, 22 November 2015

Toy Story, Cake and More.

I know it's winter when the setting sun reflects of the windows of these particular houses in that particular way.  It just doesn't happen in the summer.

The last three days neither of us have got out much because both T and I have had different things wrong - me a mysterious pain and swelling of my foot arch, and him with nerve pain from a tooth. I think they're improving now but in the light of what's been happening in Paris and elsewhere in the world we are not in the mood for complaining about them.

While feeling rather confined to home, we've been cleaning and clearing.   I thoroughly washed the head of this stuffed bird which Littlest A loves sucking the head of. It's just the right size to fit in his mouth. Here it is after washing.

T. has been clearing out his office so lots of eBaying, chucking out and donating to charity shops. Today after we'd dumped our bags of treasures in the British Heart Foundation I spotted a Thomas the Tank Engine toy which I thought Littlest A might like.

He's very keen on his board book of Thomas, even though he doesn't understand a word of it, so I got the engine - it was only £1.

But even with new batteries it didn't work. It just sat there doing nothing, so T decided to take it to bits, because he had spotted something interesting about it.... can you see it, below?

I would never have noticed it, but T didn't work all those years in the BBC without being able to recognise a microphone.  It's the round hole at the bottom.

Once he'd dismantled the train, he discovered that the microphone activates Thomas when you whistle nearby. Very ingenious. T put it together again, and it worked perfectly.  It probably once had a Fat Controller's Whistle but that's long gone... but.....

Littlest A's other favourite thing is this recorder

And it works perfectly at controlling Thomas!

So now the toys are waiting for Littlest A's next visit.

We went to our next door neighbour's house, to attend her daughter's one-girl craft sale. The WHOLE living room was full of stuff Amelia has made.   I know she is clever with her hands but she must have done nothing else except knit and sew for months.  It's all in aid of raising money to volunteer at the charity Elephant-Human Relations Aid in Namibia. I had never heard of it but apparently a lot of people from her school have gone and she says it does great work persuading subsistence farmers not to kill elephants -  which of course are encroaching on their land.

So I bought a couple of Christmas tree decorations which will now remind me of elephants (and Amelia). I discovered that among the other neighbours who had visited her craft sale that day, Littlest A had also turned up with his mother and had taken a great liking to one the stuffed animals. Apparently they put a lead on it and let him drag it around.  (I didn't dare ask if he had sucked its head.)

Before the tooth/foot pain got too bad we went to Hungerford, Berkshire to pick up our "new" (or, rather, new-to-us) car from the dealers we have used for years. They've gone to a lot of trouble to find this car for us, exactly the same as the old car except several years newer, and very low mileage.  In a rare burst of sun I was impressed by the way the raindrops on it were all lit up almost as parts of it were studded with Swarovski diamonds.

It was really nice seeing Hungerford again. My late parents lived there for many years.  We always go to look at the weird and wonderful antiques and curiosities in the Hungerford Arcade on the High Street. We know from experience that the Rafters Cafe there does very good smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast for a very reasonable price.

The cafe really is in the rafters, as you can see from the photo below. The Arcade is all one building now, but it used to be a kind of medieval market, and courtyards and other spaces were roofed in over the centuries.  The layout of the cafe is a bit odd, being built around a hefty old staircase clearly hewn from tree trunks some centuries ago. It also has great big beams running across the floor, which they do mark very clearly, but, well, shall we say they are "interesting" to navigate when going to order at the counter?

There are many other good antique businesses in Hungerford, but we like The Arcade best partly  because of its cafe, partly because of its junkshop section (selling curiosities that often need a bit of work) and perhaps mainly because of its books. There are so many treasures here at low prices -  if you can face sorting through them. Here is just one corner. And if you are reasonably tall, and haven't tripped over the beams on the floor in the Rafters, you can get hit on the head by the beams on the ceiling here. 

Went to see my mum and dad's old house and it's had a big porch built on it and an extension. I was so sad to think that they were no longer there, but I was also glad to see their house taking on a new lease of life. 

Finally, Nadezda, whose amazing Russian garden I always admire, has asked for the recipe for the carrot cake I mentioned in my last blog post.  It is adapted from one in the original Crank's Cook Book. I made a few small adaptations. The main change is that I used soft dark brown sugar for the icing, which gave the icing a caramel taste.

Carrots, 175g 
Eggs 2
Vegetable oil 75ml 
Brown Sugar 100g
Wholemeal self raising flour 100g (I used half white and half brown plain flour, adding a teaspoon (5 ml) of baking powder instead)
Ground cinnamon 1 tsp (5 ml)
Ground nutmeg 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml)
Desiccated coconut 50g
rind of one orange, grated
Raisins 50g
Shelled chopped walnuts 50g.

Grease and line a 18 cm (7 inch) cake tin. Finely grate the carrots. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and creamy. Whisk the oil in slowly, then add the remaining ingredients and mix together to combine evenly. Spoon the mixture in the prepared tin. Level the surface and bake in the oven at 190 C (375 F, Gas Mark 5) for 20-25 minutes till firm to the touch and golden brown. Cool on a wire tray and spread with icing (frosting) when cold. 

Butter or margarine, 40g
Pale brown sugar 75g (I used dark)
Grated rind of 1/2 orange if liked
Shelled walnuts to decorate

As cakes go it is a "healthy" one and like so many recipes in that old cook book, it is really good and always seems popular with visitors. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

What I've been Up To

I realised that I hardly ever write about what I do day to day.  So today I thought I'd fill you in on some of the things I've been doing in the last few days.

Halloween came and went, and on the day itself we had an afternoon birthday party for our niece whose birthday had been the previous day. 
I made a birthday cake, wholefoody style because that's what our family likes. It was carrot, orange and nut with, diplomatically, just one candle...   

The next day, we went to Hertfordshire for a day out on the bikes, starting along the canal from Rickmansworth. There's nothing sadder than an abandoned Halloween pumpkin, is there? 

Some of the boat people were scratching their heads about where the oil you can see on the water came from.  

Our aim was to catch the last of the autumn colours. You get on the Grand Union Canal quite near the tube station, at Batchford Lock, where there's a Waterways Trust shop and info point, plus a nice outdoor cafe. We were aiming at the beautiful Whippendell Woods, towards Watford.  It is not very far, but we took it slowly and wandered off the route a lot. 

When we began, it was quite misty. 

Everything was still and silent, and this rope figurehead looked a little chilly in the mist.   

But the weather soon brightened up. Soon the fog burned away and it turned into a really perfect  Autumn day.

Canals  seem to attract residents who like to live life differently, and one day I plan a post all about the boats to be seen on an amble down the towpaths. But although many of the boats are highly original, I hadn't seen anything like this before. At first I thought the car was parked on the boat. 

but no...... .

We picked lots of very late blackberries, and what's more, they were tasty.  Usually the saying is that the witch spits on blackberries picked after 1 October, but she hadn't managed to get to these ones. Perhaps she'd lost her broomstick over Halloween.    I didn't want to break the web, which was covered in dewdrops from the mist.

Leaves and reflections

There's a nature reserve at Croxley common, with one of those bright, shallow rivers that you get in this part of the country. The common was dotted with all kinds of fungi hiding in the grass, some  startlingly decorative in the sunshine.

Judging from the number of rose hips, the area must be spectacular in June when the red, white and pink roses are out.

We didn't reach the woods till the sun began to sink, around four pm. 

but we cycled across the hill on a carpet of fallen leaves and got back to the canal, and thence to the station, before it got completely dark.  
At some point, another niece invited us to her birthday party which was at Save the Date cafe in Hackney, created by Ruth (below) and her partner James. It's an unusual place, hand built with a storage-container kitchen. It is a cafe with a mission, and uses exclusively overstocked// surplus food donated by supermarkets and other organisations.  Our meal was from the veggies that had formed part of the Royal Horticultural Society's autumn show. Really good!  

Our niece's buddy, who runs a company called Kookybakes, had spent hours doing her a golden birthday cake.  I never even knew edible golden spray existed!  Everyone loved this magical golden forest  - can you see the bears and pinecones?  

There were sparklers too, which are always fun.

Things haven't all been nice by any means.   Sadly, a friend also died last week, after a very long and difficult illness.  We will be going to her funeral on Friday.  We also had to cancel out of going to see the bonfires in Lewes, Sussex, on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, and there are various other issues, as there usually are with everyone, of course.  We've done lots of stuff around the house, loads of admin.and quite a bit of babysitting

But I cycled in to London yesterday and although I didn't spend long there I took a peep at Selfridge's Christmas windows, which are on theme of "Space" this year.    I will return and take more photos but I loved this embracing couple with heads like dandelion clocks

I think each window was meant to represent a different planet. I am not sure what this one was. 

Today, among other things,  I made some marmalade.

And I'm reading this book, which describes how the wild and licentious 18th century changed into the unutterably stuffy, priggish Victorian age.  It's very well written and it's telling me some downright astonishing things I never knew before. So I can highly recommend it.

Finally, I have named the Malaysian stuffed monkey "Durante"!  And here is a photo from just outside World Travel Market on the day I got him. The fog was still there but the sun was breaking through.

So that's what I've been up to! 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

It's That Time of Year Again

Well, it's that time of year again - World Travel Market, one of the world's big travel trade fairs. It runs for 4 days and I usually go on at least two of them, because it's always fun. I went yesterday and today.  Today, the Docklands Light Railway wasn't running to the exhibition centre, so I took a different route. The Emirates Air Line - the Thames' cable car crossing - is not expensive but it usually costs something. however, today it was free as a result of the strike. And what a good idea it was. So much better than reaching the exhibition via that revolting utilitarian light railway.  Here is the view as your car is about to launch out over the Thames.  

The scene below is being furiously redeveloped, so it changes every time I cross.  Poor old London has been covered in fog for several days and that has now lifted to leave greyness. 

The big building on the left in the picture above is The Crystal. It's a little known exhibition by Siemens. the highly innovative German engineering firm. It's one of the world's most sustainable buildings, and the ground floor is mostly given up to interactive and imaginatively presented information about creating sustainable cities. It is much better than it sounds - and they have never publicised it properly, which is strange. I went round it once, but today I was heading for the EXCEL exhibition centre..   

I had a couple of useful meetings, but a lot of what I like about World Travel Market is the surreal effect of lots of different countries doing their best to market themselves in eye catching ways.  I love to just wander around and look at what is going on.

The Falkland Islands, for instance, is now trying to sell itself as a bird watching destination and they have come up with this rather depressed looking penguin as a mascot.  From all accounts, that woolly hat he is wearing will be essential in the windy Falklands. There was a free trip going there so I applied for it. I'm unlikely to get it but it will be an interesting experience if I do!

Sorry for the quality of some of the shots.  My camera battery ran out and so I had to use my phone. Its lens is not in good shape as the twins are fascinated by the phone and always grab it with their sticky little hands whenever they can. (One of them also likes sucking it )

I was very taken by this young man with bowler hat and umbrella,  walking soberly and silently around the show.  When I photographed him he solemnly gave me a card about various attractions in Belgium.  Do you see the reference to Magritte? It is the cloud covered face that gives the game away. 

Belgium was also publicising The Herge Museum, a mecca for all fans of Tintin the Boy Detective. I think is much bigger than it was when I last visited Brussels and I would like to revisit one day.   Which is your favourite Tintin character? The Thompson Twins are mine, (since we were talking of bowler hats....) 

I was so impressed by this fierce looking character below that I didn't note the name of the country he was representing, but it might have been Indonesia.  

And could these characters below have been from Costa Rica?  If so, I would dearly like to know the people they represent. They remind me a bit of the "giants" which are paraded around in parts of France and Spain at festival time, but they definitely weren't in the European part of the show. 

Oh dear, I'm not informing you very well, am I? But I can tell you for sure that this guy in the red outfit was on Costa Rica's stand, which was a very good one. He was sculpturing things out of some very tasty pineapples (which I presume are grown in CR) and also giving away free samples. 

This gent comes from Sibu Chocolate, also in Costa Rica.  He was giving away samples of the chocolate, (which certainly is superb), and also making and giving out the kind of drinking chocolate that people originally made in that part of the world.  It is flavoured with the various spices shown on the plate in front of him.  That includes a fair helping of chilli and I have to say it makes a delicious drink. Perhaps one day it will become popular in fashionable cafes - it's miles away from the sickly sweetness of commercial hot chocolate. 

It is very exhausting at the show. You always end up with loads of leaflets, carriers and free gifts and so in the past I have found the press centre to be a welcome haven.  This time, it wasn't restful at all, a bit like a railway station waiting room. I think this reflects the lessening importance of the press to the travel trade, (although that's only my guess.) It was even less restful when I happened to visit, since it was packed with dancers, singers and musicians. They were wearing such sensational costumes that I didn't mind giving up the peace and quiet, though. 

I was also given a free gift of this charming proboscis monkey from the Malaysian Tourist Board. I am not a fan of soft toys as a rule but I fell in love with him. I'm now trying to think of a name - any suggestions? 

I specially like seeing the the smaller and less well known places and companies which exhibit at the show.   I'd certainly like to go to the Soviet Lifestyle Museum,in Kazan, in Tatarstan, Russia.   Kazan had a beautifully laid out stall that included this garrment-with-a-story. 

A father wanted to create a fashionable jacket for his daughter, but, as was common in the days of the Soviet Union, he couldn't acquire enough materials to do the job. So he patiently assembled 120 identity card holders - which were easily available - and created the jacket out of them. 

Mongolia had a delightfully pretty and well arranged stand full of artistic displays of felting in the most wonderful colours.  (This link describes Mongolian felting, and I specially like the song accompaniment.). Also check out this site for some wonderful pictures. 

Apart from the monkey, my favourite free gift from the show was a DVD from Kazakhstan, entitled 

If you read Russian, please tell me what it says! [** PS, Nadezda has now kindly translated in her comment on this post, below. Thank you , Nadezda!]   I was of course baffled but the photo intrigued me so I took it and played it in the evening, after getting home. (I returned via the Emirates Air Line, of course - I do recommend this trip). 

The five films on the DVD have English subtitles, and although the translation wasn't good, I could understand enough to know what they were about, and I was gripped.   They are made by an outfit called +362. They explore the Mangistau region of Kazakhstan, which is largely wolf-ridden steppes by the look of it, and they take photos and make films, and , guide "extreme tourists" on enormously challenging expeditions. They also run slightly less fearsome projects with local young people, camping by the shores of the freezing sea, horsing around, and generally having a great and uncomplicated time.   

They don't try to glamorize or sugar coat their trips, or make them look cool, but simply tell the experience like it is, and this gives a feeling of great authenticity.  I now feel I know a bit of how grim, austere and hard it is even if you have a car and modern communications - but also why it is fun, how good it is to work together, take risks, be resourceful and brave and push yourself to the limits. Your reward is the chance to see and explore wonderful sights that few other people ever get to see.  Because believe me even if you go by car it is no picnic, since even roads are in fairly short supply in the region.  

There was a lot more to see but as ever I don't want to go on for too long.  Here to finish  here are the explosives sniffer dogs which now roam the exhibition halls. They look a bit fierce but they are lovely dogs and their owners seem devoted to them. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Bekonscot Autumn

The minute the clocks change, it starts to feel like Autumn. The leaves I see from my window have gone yellow and red apparently overnight ... but rather than showing you what's around the corner, I thought you might like to see autumn in Bekonscot Model Village.  I wrote about it here, in 2011,  so if  you read that, you'll find out a bit about it, and will know that it's just outside London.  It's been a favourite with the children in our family for years and years.  

The planting of the village is delightful and although this weekend is almost at the end of their season, and the flowers are starting to look a bit faded, the bonsai and dwarf trees are marvellous. Enjoy these photos and imagine yourself to be visiting an England of 1910, 1930 or 1950 - for modernity has been kept at bay in Bekonscot. 

Here's the aerodrome

The harbour

One of the many faithfully observed railway stations. Many of the buildings must be exactly copied from life.

Below, a gang of 1930s workmen can just be seen toiling on the railway line, with the market hall behind them. 

What a super old peoples' home, run by the Church Army,  It could be almost worth being an old person to sit out on such pleasant lawns and drink tea.  Can you see a man and his horse-drawn lawnmower to the right?

A pleasure pier. Its posters advertise George Formby and Gracie Fields, stars of the 1930s. 

The gypsy encampment looks charming in this sheltered grove.

This fellow has sheep in his back garden

And is that a cement works?

I just liked this little corner with its stream.

No landscaping has been done yet in the newest section of the village, which is under construction, but we all recognised the art deco gem the  Hoover Building  (or something very like it) because we'd passed it on the way from London.   By next season, this section will be landscaped.

Here's the Bekonscot website in case you want to go. It's only open selected weekends over the winter, but from mid-February it will be open daily again.   I'd add that since it is operated by the Church Army, prices are reasonable and profits go to charity.  And I'd also recommend the cafe (which has a large play area) which does simple, inexpensive kid-friendly food, some of it home made.  The boys appreciated that!

Blog Archive