Sunday, 31 August 2014

Going for a vintage bus ride, discovering exotic foods and getting to see Bailey again

It has certainly been a weird few weeks. We are STILL waiting for our conveyancer to
Vintage bus Park and Ride to
Pevensey Food and Wine Fair 
exchange contracts - it was going to be last Tuesday, but nothing had happened by Friday so we're not moving out tomorrow after all. Maybe next Monday ... ? It is so frustrating! If you are planning to move house into or away from the Polegate area, do use Archer And Partners estate agents - they have been friendly and helpful. Unfortunately I cannot offer anything like such a strong recommendation for Hobson and Latham conveyancers.

We have done pretty well catching up with people before leaving though, some deliberately and some by lucky coincidence. A lovely evening was spent with Linda at Hailsham's Chapter 12 wine bar on Wednesday. We only meant to have a drink or two after work, but much nattering later, we'd missed dinner and were still in situ. Fortunately they serve delicious tiffin slices!

Friday night was spent in Eastbourne for a farewell dinner with the Procurement Team, my current temp contract. We went to Toreros on Terminus Road for an appropriately Spanish themed tapas meal. I was touched that they all went to such effort!

Yesterday, we treated ourselves to an afternoon out at the inaugural Pevensey Food and Wine Festival. Using the Park and Ride got us two journeys on the above pictured vintage bus. Now I know there are many buses considerably older, but this is just the sort that was trundling around Nevill Estate in Lewes where I grew up so it brought back memories to ride it again. The Festival was pretty busy and we spent an hour or so chatting with the Cajun Dawgs who were the opening band. I enjoyed going round the varied food stalls and bought a walnut sourdough loaf from Judges Bakery of Hastings, and an excellent Jamaican Goat pie from Brambletigh. Kush Cuisine had a stall there too and I've got a couple of jars of interesting looking spice blends to take away with us - Bajan Fish Spice and Cocoa Spice Rub. The only stall that was obviously missing was one selling decent coffees and teas. There were multiple wineries and breweries but, as is so often the case, no luxury non-alcoholic beverages. Maybe next year?

Today we've been packing more boxes. There are 21 already and we thought we had gotten rid of most our stuff. Not so minimalist after all then! We cleared some space by taking a few boxes of bits to Bailey and checked that everything seemed ok for us to move in. Fingers crossed for next weekend.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Who I Am by Pete Townshend / The Long Song by Andrea Levy / The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer

Pete Townshend: Who I AmPete Townshend: Who I Am by Pete Townshend
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Phew! It's a relief to click 'I'm finished' on Goodreads for Who I Am because I seem to have been reading Pete Townshend's autobiography for weeks. At over 500 pages, it is far too long for the amount of material incorporated which is a shame as a good edit down to around 300 pages could make this a far more gripping insight.
Instead we get some good Who stories early on, but once Townshend departs from his interesting supporting cast, all we are left with is an insecure boy apparently trying to fill the emotional vacuums in his life with sex, alcohol and endless shopping (houses, boats, studio gadgets). Full of grand ideas and wearying protestations of his own importance, Townshend cares little for any other people around him and is frequently dismissive of even the fans who have 'kept him in cheques' (nice one, Roger!).
For such an artistic and literate man, the writing is surprisingly basic, mainly brief disconnected chapters that offer little reward for the long slog of reading them all. A shame.

The Long SongThe Long Song by Andrea Levy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

The Long Song is set in 1800s colonial Jamaica and manages a wonderful duality in that it tells of a life lived through the last years of slavery and on into freedom, but without becoming another book about slavery. Our protagonist, July, is born to a field slave mother on a sugar cane plantation and is abruptly taken to the house at eight years old when she catches the missus' eye. Through her reminiscences, we are introduced to a outlandish social structure with many more subtle layers than just that of masters and slaves.

I love how Andrea Levy draws us into her characters' lives by way of gossip and chatter. The minutiae gives a fascinating illustration of their world and the device of the elderly July talking makes her story all the more real. Major historical events do happen, but just out of sight so this is always a novel of people not facts. I was completely hooked and read the whole book in just over a day!

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #5)The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Case Of The Cryptic Crinolene is the fifth book in its series, but the story is sufficiently self-contained that it didn’t really matter I hadn’t already read the previous four. Enough back story is explained that I soon caught up.

The young adult adventure is set in the late 1800s. It seems pretty accurate historically – was SOS used that early? – and imparts a strong sense of the period and its social attitudes. Although obviously there is some steampunky unrealism in that the young Enola would not have been treated with the equality she frequently enjoys, this does not detract and the tale would be much the poorer with total realism!

I was a little concerned that Sherlock’s little sister was purely a marketing device and I still don’t feel that this ‘connection’ to the famous character is particularly beneficial. Enola is a great character in her own right and doesn’t need the overshadowing. Mrs Tupper is fun and the portrayal of Florence Nightingale is interesting, but other surrounding faces seemed two-dimensional.

The mystery itself has good pace and, as enthusiastically read by Katherine Kellgren, makes for an entertaining listen. It is detailed enough to maintain interest and does not overstay its welcome. I hope Enola’s other Cases are on audio too.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Giordano Bruno by Alois Riehl / Anne Of Green Gables by L M Montgomery / Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Giordano Bruno: In Memoriam of the 17th February 1600Giordano Bruno: In Memoriam of the 17th February 1600 by Agnes Fry Alois Riehl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This potted biography of the philosopher Giordano Bruno is from 1905 and was the ForgottenBooks book of the day some weeks ago. At just 100 pages, it is a swift read, giving an outline of Bruno's together with an overview of his remarkably accurate insights into the make-up of the universe.

Bruno has turned up in two historical fiction novels - Name Of The Rose and Prophecy - I read last year so this short book helped to fill in factual details for me. I think I now understand the main gist of his discoveries too. The writing is quite formal and old-fashioned, but once I got into its flow, the book was an interesting read and I was amazed at the modernity of the ideas being discussed during the time of Elizabeth!

The great shame is the fear with which Bruno's ideas were widely greeted and the religious intolerance that killed him. What other ground breaking theories might he have developed if allowed to live his full lifetime?

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but I can’t remember now how I felt about the book at the time. I am sure I must at least have enjoyed discovering so many long words! Revisiting the tale now, thanks to AudioSYNC, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable listen and this Post Hypnotic Press version benefits from the excellent narration skills of Colleen Winton.

Orphan Anne is delightfully infuriating and I also love Rachel Lind whose immense self-belief reminded me of Miss Mapp. We meet many Avonlea characters, all convincingly real people, and the clever portrayal of the changing seasons as Anne grows up makes it easy to picture how life must have been within the community. I do think the story loses some of its spark once Anne reaches Queens. I missed the interplay between her and the Cuthberts and that whole year seemed to go by too fast with hardly any of the detail that makes the earlier chapters so fascinating.

Much like Black Beauty, which I also not so long ago revisited, the writing contains an overwhelming amount of moralising and bold statements about correct behaviour. I suppose, reading some thirty years ago, I would have been so used to being told what to do day to day that this would have seemed normal. However reading as an adult, I was surprised at the sheer volume of rigid demands. I had not remembered Anne Of Green Gables being such a bossy book!

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Code Name Verity far more than I expected too and have even been eagerly anticipating my commutes TO work as much as those from, just so I could listen to the next 45 minutes of the story.

I was a little uncertain when the story switches viewpoints in the middle as I felt it had come to a natural close. However, within a few minutes we were swooping off again, surely much like being in Dympna's Puss Moth! The characters are great and brilliantly narrated in the Bolinda audio version I heard - thanks to AudioSYNC yet again. I loved the twisting plot which has its very dark moments, but is a joy as it begins to unravel, and Elizabeth Wein does a great job of making her locations both real and atmospheric. At the end, Elizabeth herself talks briefly about her inspirations and research and, believe me, that research shows through in the authenticity of her tale.

Code Name Verity is feminist historical fiction that manages to entertain and inform without preaching or being dry. Highly recommended to younger and older adult listeners/readers.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

I've been given a beetroot!

Which isn't something I get to say every day! Big thanks to Maisie-at-work for the gift from
her allotment. I'm looking forward to the eating of it in my salad lunches next week.

For anyone else who’s counting as well, I’m down to just ten working days to go already! I am a tiny bit torn as I’m enjoying Procurement and my colleagues seem to appreciate me. I got a lovely email earlier in the week from Alison-upstairs which really made my day: “Thanks so much for all your help Stephanie. I shall miss you when you go.” Alison is working on the Pevensey Food and Wine Festival and the Coast and Country Walking Festival, both of which look fun btw and we’re planning to be at the Food and Wine one on the Saturday. The Cajun Dawgs are playing around lunchtime!

Alison’s comment reminded me of one of the themes in Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s autobiography, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. You might remember I listened to this on Audible a few months ago. He spoke of aiming to “be a zero” in any team situation; the options being to be a minus-one (causing more work than you do), to be a zero (neutral), or to be a plus-one (always positively contributing to the team). Obviously actually being a plus-one is the ideal, but Chris gives great examples of when his over-enthusiastically striving for this led to generally being a PITA to colleagues! Now he believes that aiming for zeroship is the most effective way to work and his explanation is inspiring. The best impressions can often be made without rocking the boat. Hopefully my colleagues will remember me as a zero too!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Closing the musical circle

Blues skies again after the rain
Dave played guitar regularly at the Six Bells Folk and Blues Club and at White Horse Folk amongst others up until a couple of years ago and it was due to these Sussex folk club gatherings that we initially found each other. At the beginning, I was nervously singing a cappella and Dave is an amazing guitarist so a mutual friend suggested we make sweet music together! I gave up on the singing fairly soon afterwards – too scary! – but some eleven-and-a-half years later, our relationship is still going strong. Awww!

I mention this because were invited to an unusual party yesterday which was also attended by several friends who have been around since ‘the beginning’. The party was unusual for two reasons: firstly because the hosts, our friends Simon and Lesley, rarely give big parties; and secondly because the venue was a dramatic Moroccan-style marquee erected in their paddock. (The ponies were relegated to a corner of their normal space, but didn't seem to mind too much!) For me, the event seemed particularly apt as the closing of a circle, this part of our lives being marked by similar music and company to its inception. We weren’t sure who would be there but as it turned out, we were given the chance to say our goodbyes to people we might not otherwise have seen before we departed. Dave hardly left the stage for the first couple of hours. He was in demand to accompany others and I was so proud seeing and hearing him play.

Dave Greene and Simon Watt playing the marquee

Monday, 11 August 2014

Spiced poached pears recipe

I mentioned our never-ripening pears a few posts ago and, in order to prevent them being
Pears poached in red wine 
all blown to the ground by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, we've started poaching them this week. This recipe is very simple - basically everything in one pan and then leave it to simmer. The ingredients below will generously serve two and the pears are just as good eaten cold as warm.

2 firm pears
1 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp honey
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Put them into a saucepan with all the other ingredients, bring to the start of a boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for about an hour.
If preferred, you can then remove the cooked pears and boil the sauce down to a thick syrup. Serve with cream or ice cream.

The great thing about poaching is that it seems to work better for unripe pears than for ripe ones. I like to use Conference pears because they still keep their flavour even through the wine. If you don't eat them all straight away, the reddened quarters look fabulous on an upside-down cake or in a tarte.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

I do like to be beside the seaside

We had a lovely day out in Hastings yesterday, wandering along the shingle by the fishing
A view from Hastings beach 
boats and doing our own trawling in the multitude of antique shops and independent boutiques. I saw the most gorgeous long beaded waistcoat which fitted and was only £18. I couldn't decide when I would ever wear it so it is still there - if you're looking for one?

We made the trip because Dave's daughters were visiting for the weekend. I was impressed with Southern Rail's Groupsave ticket which gor the four of us from Polegate to Hastings and back for £19.60 without any delays, and without having to risk our new car's suspension in that ramshackle car park past the Stade. I was less impressed by the Buskers Festival which I had seen advertised for the whole afternoon and thought would be entertaining. We had imagined four or five little acoustic areas, each with a roster of invited players and maybe a variety of stalls in between. What we actually got was a couple of acoustics balefully attempting to be heard over the PA from a single stage where, as we arrived, a woman was murdering the Skyfall theme. There wasn't even any audience seating in front of said stage to encourage us to hang around. We wandered on to see actual fishermen on actual fishing boats - I love that Hastings is a working fishing town and long may it remain so. I was briefly reminded of Alvor harbour which has a similar sized fleet.

We lunched at Isabella where we were served excellent Turkish meze dishes. Our first choice of Harris' Tapas restaurant has sadly closed down, but they recommended us to Isabella and I'm so pleased they did! Make sure to have the Saksuka if you visit. Then more wandering including buying a handful of greetings cards from a tiny gallery, and a couple of gorgeously almond-scented soaps. Dave spotted a divine vintage picnic set in its own case with delicate china plates and metal cutlery. We would have needed staff to carry it around for us, together with table, chairs, linen and appropriate foods, in order to do it real justice though. Maybe in another lifetime!