Friday, 29 April 2016

We visit The Shops At Dartington and find Totnes Community Bookshop

Dave was intrigued when he saw The Shops marked on the
Upcycled figure at The Shops 
map at nearby Dartington. Normally towns don't bother to announce their retail district so proudly so he investigated further. It turns out that The Shops At Dartington are part of something a bit special. The estate was purchased by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in 1925 and they 'embarked on what they called the Dartington Experiment to regenerate a rural community.' The Elmhirsts welcomed people who were interested in social change and reform - artists, economists, horticulturalists - and the estate is still very much a social enterprise today, ploughing any commercial profit back into local projects. There is a full calendar of musical, artistic, culinary and literary events as well as an arthouse cinema, beautiful gardens, restaurants and the eponymous Shops. Parking is pretty cheap and we also spotted a Sustrans cycle / walking route from Totnes.

We began wandering around outside this pretty venue
The Sustrans route leading away from the bridge 
which is all old stone and flowers. Lots of the trees were in full blossom and there are interesting details like the above upcycled figure near to the Restore shop. Restore is a voluntary enterprise, part of Refurnish Devon, which brings people together to learn how to repair and restore their existing furniture as well as upcycling individual pieces for the shop. Right now there's a nice gateleg table there!

We managed not to allow ourselves into the very tempting food shop and also bypassed another business selling fire bowls, outdoor pizza ovens and the like. A homewares shop had Christy towels at half price, but we don't have the space! Instead we spent our time (and money) in a greeting card shop which has a fabulous range of cards - special occasions, humorous, and arty. I especially appreciated their support of local artists and liked designs by Kerry Tremlett from Exeter and Sally Anderson from
Sally Anderson greeting cards 
Teignmouth. Our final discovery was a branch of the vegetarian Cranks Restaurant which Dave remembers as the first veggie eaterie in London. He even ate there in 1967 and we are planning to treat me to a birthday lunch at the Dartington establishment (on Tuesday, just as a by the way!) so I will review it next week. I think if we do find our perfect abode in Torquay, we will be visiting Dartington fairly frequently!

Another town we would be visiting frequently would be Totnes. We have already stopped by once and loved its hippy vibe. This time we hoped for another good DVD, but couldn't find anything promising that we hadn't already seen. My other aim was to find a cafe with a book exchange shelf because I thought Totnes looked a likely place. I wasn't able to google one either there or in Torquay - so if you know better, please let me know. But in the meantime, we made the wonderful discovery of the Totnes Community Bookshop in Castle Street. It officially became a community enterprise in March and hosts events such as open mic poetry evenings, author visits and acoustic music. I think all the books are second hand, but are in good condition and there's an excellent selection. Most of the paperbacks that caught my eye were £2 each so we chose five between us and, best of all, I got a £1 trade-in each on the three I had hoped to exchange. So if you want to read Daughter Of The Killing Fields, Fermat's Last Theorem (review blogged tomorrow) or The Amateur Marriage, my copies are now all at the Totnes Community Bookshop. Go take a look!

Photo from Totnes Community Bookshop FB page

Thursday, 28 April 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Aprils past

I have enjoyed joining in #ThrowbackThursday on Twitter
Shadows Of The Wanderer by Ana Pacheco 
for ages now, but it only recently occurred to me that I could do a similar feature on my blog. For those of you who haven't come across the hashtag before, the idea is to look back across the years and reminisce about what you were doing on the same date. Stephanie Jane (the blog) has been around since 2013 and I have posts on Theatrical Eastbourne back to 2012 so let's see what we were up to! All links go to my old posts, so do click through for the full story, and if you write your own #ThrowbackThursday post, pop the link in the Comments!

At the end of April 2012 I had just visited a Willie Doherty photographic and video exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. Doherty is from Northern Ireland and much of his work is an attempt to understand the daily fear, oppression and uncertainty of people living within a divided community. I liked the ambiguity of his work and several of the photographs got more frightening the longer I observed and thought about them.

A year later and April 2013 was all about the theatre. We
had returned from a fortnight's holiday in Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, to cold, grey, miserable England in March. Wearing all our clothing (not quite!) for two days while we tried to get the house back up to temperature was the genesis of our travelling idea - no more British winters! - but in the meantime I consoled myself with a cultural overload: three plays, a musical, a film, a storytelling workshop and an incredible Matthew Bourne ballet.

At the end of April 2014 we had been home a month from
Books to read! 
our first European caravan travels - six months around Portugal and Spain - and I started what would become a frantic ebaying and freegling of everything in our house that wasn't actually bolted to the walls! We hadn't yet decided to sell up and embrace the nomadic life full-time, but I remember feeling claustrophobic back indoors and this was exacerbated by the sheer amount of stuff I had accumulated over the years. I didn't have a job to return to either so the clearout helped with cashflow. I still had reading time though so April 2014's memory is a roundup post of six book reviews.

This time last year we had been on the road for nearly
eight months and were beginning our UK summer tour. The end of April saw us in Norwich admiring the Ana Pacheco sculpture Shadows Of The Wanderer at Norwich Cathedral (pictured at the top of this post), buying local produce at the permanent market, and visiting a couple of excellent eateries. Dave found his very own Place too!

I've loved looking back over the past few years and am still amazed at how much we have changed our lives. I'll do another #ThrowbackThursday post at the end of next month remembering that date in years gone by.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Dead Girls by Jorge Ibarguengoitia / The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka / Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel

The Dead Girls by Jorge Ibarg├╝engoitia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the paperback from
Buy the Spanish language paperback from The Book Depository

I read The Dead Girls in August 2013 and this is one of a few mini book reviews from that time which never got blogged so I am rectifying the oversight now with this trio of reviews and a smattering over the next book review posts!

I found this novel in my local Oxfam bookshop in English translation. It was only £2 so I didn't have great expectations but was pleasantly surprised. The story, fiction but inspired by a true event, is written with dry humour in a style that often reads like police reports interspersed with witness statements. The plot is not that of a standard crime thriller and incorporates a lot of black humour. The characters develop as we discover more about them and all their actions are completely believable given the circumstances in which they find themselves. The Dead Girls is very readable and Jorge has great understanding of human nature and motivation. An enjoyable read and a satisfying novel.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

My first Kafka book which I approached with a little apprehension as I wasn't sure I would understand the story. My fears were unfounded as Metamorphosis is a very accessible story. I listened to it on audio and I think that hearing the words at speaking pace was good because I tend to rush when reading which, in this case, would have meant missing a lot of the more subtle meanings.

Gregor Samsa's transformation is the most obvious in Metamorphosis, but all the family undergo a change in their characters caused by his situation. I found myself able to identify with aspects of his sister's behaviour and his father's distance, as well as Gregor's sense of isolation.
Metamorphosis was an excellent introduction for me to Kafka's work and I shall seek out more of his stories.

Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Another surprisingly excellent book which was £2 in Oxfam! The story of how an isolated mountain village copes with the aftermath of war is horribly real and all too understandable. We see through the eyes of Brodeck who was exiled to a concentration camp at the start of the war. He returned to find his name on a monument of the dead, his wife mute, and his position within the community irrevocably changed. Brodeck's Report is a powerful book of the depths to which humanity can sink when driven by hate, by fear, or by power.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Monday, 25 April 2016

Dave eats 'the best cake in months' in Brixham

Yesterday, being Saturday, we didn't have any flats to view
Dave loved one of these!
Scroll down to see which and where ...
so thought we might indulge in a spot of sightseeing instead. I had stayed at a Pontins holiday camp near Paignton with my grandparents, probably twenty-five years ago now, and didn't remember the town at all and Dave says we visited Brixham with Chris and Marta, albeit a decade ago, and I can't recall that either. For those of you wondering at my terrible memory, it's always been like that. The acts of reading and writing tend to cement experiences in my mind so I can often remember books I have read far better than places I have actually visited. It's part of the reason I blog our travels so extensively now - recalling a blog post opens up memories that would otherwise vanish!

We began in Paignton with a stroll around and the
Demolition site in Paignton 
intention of checking out a few second-hand furniture shops. Since our Axminster visit last summer alerted us to the savings and more interesting styles to be found by going 'vintage', we agreed that this would be the best and most fun way to kit out any new non-travelling abode. To be honest, Paignton itself underwhelmed both of us. Elegant old buildings are in poor states of repair and the whole town felt quite run-down and unloved. We spotted pretty stained glass windows in this house pictured, but it is now just a facade, soon to be demolished like the rest of the building. On a more positive note, we found several pre-loved furniture shops, these best of which I think was The Bargain Box because everything was laid out with room to view. We also discovered a great little Asian supermarket, Siam, where we got more sweet chilli sauce and noted they have black rice for more of Kim's Rice Pudding. Our two-hour car park ticket was plenty here though and we drove on to Brixham.

The first thing to note about Brixham is the distance from
View from Brixham harbour walk 
the harbour car park into the harbour itself. We had just started to be concerned that we had missed the turning when we found it. The road gets very narrow and I bet it is great 'fun' in the height of summer! Walking back in along the harbourside was picturesque and I loved looking over at the pretty painted houses on the opposing hills. Brixham certainly is charming! We stayed mostly around by the harbour, wandering through the last of the Arts And Crafts Market, peering in at the touristy souvenir and homewares shops, and wondering how on earth seventy-one men managed to live together on the Golden Hind for months at a time without all murdering each other!

Ultimately, coffee called though and we decided on The Bay Coffee Company to patronise. They have three shops in Brixham and the enticing cake display pictured at the top of this post. (I have 'borrowed' their photo from twitter as I forgot to snap one myself.) I had a slice of Lemon Treacle Tart which was lovely if not particularly lemony, and Dave's 'best cake in months' comment was for his Yogurt Topped Raspberry Flapjack - shown far left on the middle shelf. So now you know - and when Dave compliments food then it must be excellent! I picked up a loyalty card as I think we may well return.

Let them eat fish - a real Banksy? 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

I hit the Google Adsense threshold and we go flat hunting in Torquay

I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Google Adsense on Friday morning letting me know that they had sent me a payment! I have finally hit their £60 payout threshold and it's only taken four years of blogging! Thank you to everyone who has visited and especially to those who have clicked on advertisements. You might remember back in August last year I posted about the monetisation avenues I use here. Well, that Affiliate Window payout and this Google one brings my total blog earnings up to £81.69. (It's a good thing I write for the love of it!)

In other news, our search for a new permanent base has begun in Torquay this week. Dave has been intensively researching on Rightmove for months to narrow down locations after our UK tour last summer and the Torbay area seemed like a good place to start. It was interesting to learn that the lack of contrast meant he hadn't been anticipating our winter travels with such excitement this year. For the previous two winters, we had exchanged house living for our caravan lifestyle. Departing in October 2015, we had already been in Bailey for thirteen months.

We have only seen eight flats so far but they are beginning to blend together so it's hard to remember exactly which features we liked from each! One in particular did 'tick most of our boxes' (I hate that phrase), but we're not yet completely convinced as it is very near (i.e. over) the top end of our budget. So in the meantime, if you know of a spacious two bedroom flat in good decorative order on the first floor with no other flats above it, which has interesting architectural features but isn't Grade Anything Listed, has double glazing and an outside space such as a balcony or low-maintenance garden or terrace, with off-road parking and ground level bicycle storage, that would be a secure lock-up-and-leave in a quiet and pretty area with a shortish walk to good local shops but with no loud children or yappy dogs within earshot, could you let me know?!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Frankfurter and apple pasta salad recipe

Frankfurter and apple pasta salad 
I thought it was a while since I had submitted a Credit Crunch Munch recipe and, checking back through old posts, I saw that it has been three months. The last was my Smoked Salmon Pie recipe back in January! Credit Crunch Munch was devised by Camilla at FabFood4All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours. It's a great monthly resource for good food on a budget and April's host is Sarah at From Plate To Pen.

This month's Pasta Salad is great for using up part packets and could be infinitely varied to suit whatever you have to hand. I had two frankfurter sausages left from a previous hot dog lunch and a few ounces of French macaroni curves that Dave wasn't keen on, so rummaged in the fridge and cupboards to fill out a whole salad that would provide a couple of lunches me. Dave doesn't DO salad!

100g (ish) macaroni
2 frankfurter sausages
2 Cox apples
Small tin sweetcorn
2 tbsp mayonnaise
A good slug of Mustard flavoured salad dressing

Cook the macaroni according to its packet instructions then drain and rinse under cold water to cool it down.

While the pasta is cooking, cut each frankfurter into four pieces, then each quarter into four lengthwise sticks.

Peel, core and dice the apples.

Drain the sweetcorn.

Put the frankfurters, apples and sweetcorn into a large bowl - remembering it must also be large enough to add the pasta later (yes, oops!). Stir in the mayonnaise and enough salad dressing to taste. We've still got a bottle of a French Bouton d'Or creamy mustard dressing in the fridge at the moment so I used some of that. We've also got pesto which I think could have been nice too.

Stir in the cooked and cooled pasta. Serve either just as it is or with a big handful of fresh green salad leaves.

I did expect this salad to be more colourful - I do love brightly coloured food - but the mayonnaise muted the yellow sweetcorn and pink frankfurters so it does all look at bit magnolia! It tastes good though and I liked the sweetness of the apple against the mustard in the dressing.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng / The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain / Saloon War At Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson

Daughter of the Killing Fields: Asrei's Story by Theary C. Seng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the paperback from

I found Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng on the book exchange shelves at Camping Casteillets in France. Knowing little about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia other than what I had learned from The Killing Fields film which I watched years ago, I thought it would be interesting to read an account by someone who actually lived through the regime's rule. Dave attempted to read this book before me and gave up fairly early on because he couldn't get on with the writing style and I also found it difficult to identify all the different people about whom Seng writes. There is a family tree diagram and glossary of Cambodian honorifics at the front of the book, but names seem change depending on the speaker which is tricky for my Western mind to grasp.

Seng was only four years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power so this book includes her own memories as well as information gleaned from interviews with surviving family members and other Cambodians. Their stories are horrific especially considering that these events were just forty years ago. I wasn't reading about ancient barbarity, but recent history and this is particularly shocking to consider. Seng writes about how her father was deceived into walking to his death, her time in prison before her mother vanished, and her years of rural peasantry. What shines through her memoir is the ingenuity and strength of these people, their struggle to survive but also their quiet acceptance of the inevitability of death. Perhaps a professional writer might have created a more accessible book overall, however there was a certain raw power in knowing that the person whose words I read had really experienced these incredible years.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I received a copy of The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain from its publishers, Gallic Books, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

The Red Notebook is a deceptive novel in that it seems quite light-hearted on the surface, but actually explores some pretty deep philosophical questions. Is it possible to glimpse what might have been? Can we influence coincidence? Where is the line between harmless curiosity and creepy stalking?

Returning home late one night Laure is mugged on her doorstep and her designer handbag stolen. Injured in the attack, she seeks refuge in a neighbouring hotel, but is later rushed to hospital. Next morning, bookseller Laurent finds the bag and, as a good citizen, takes it to the police. However they really aren't interested so Laurent undertakes his own amateur detective mission in order to track down its owner. The Red Notebook of the title is in the handbag and contains Laure's comments and thoughts on her life. There's nothing written there to identify her, but Laurent becomes so fascinated that he begins to cross social boundaries in his determination to find her.

I loved the gentle and very French style of this book which makes it a fascinating romance where, as readers, we never quite know whether Laure and Laurent will ever meet. And if they do, will their realities match up to their imaginations? Laurain has a deft touch and a lovely way of portraying his characters which comes through perfectly, even in translation. I was rooting for Laurent all the way through the book, even when his behaviour did start to get a little creepy. In the hands of a different writer, this could have become a sleazy or even a chilling book, but Laurain cleverly stays just on the happy side of the line. Yes, on reflection some of the coincidences are just too coincidental to be truly believable, but that didn't matter to me as I was so swept up in the romantic potential. I liked that both Laure and Laurent were independent people with pasts, cautious but open to possibilities, and Laurent's daughter is a great creation. I squirmed at the cafe scene! Laurain doesn't rush to his conclusion and often diverts into literary discussion or other asides. These do slow the pace, sometimes adding to its tension, but occasionally seeming like unnecessary padding. However The Red Notebook is still a relatively short book which I easily read in a few hours and I came away from it feeling uplifted and very satisfied with the tale.

The Saloon War at Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from

Having enjoyed The Bordello Kid, the first book in Kendall Hanson's Farr And Fat Jack western series, I was happy to download this second book, Saloon War At Seven Rivers, when I saw it advertised in the author's e-mail newsletter. Farr is still working for Fat Jack's mother providing security for her boarding house and Fat Jack performs much the same function in a saloon up the road. French Kate, who had been badly injured in the previous novel, is making a good recovery, but trouble ensues when her former boss tries to 'encourage' her to return to work.

Saloon War concentrates more on the action than it does the characterisations so I didn't feel the same depth to this story as I did its forerunner. I was disappointed by this because it was what I particularly liked about the first book. We learn a little more about Farr's unconventional upbringing, but newly starring characters such as the Olsen family and the gunman Graver never become fully rounded creations. I liked the overall story arc and, again, we have a satisfying ending, but Saloon War felt too short and I think more space could have been given to scene-setting and description. The will-they-won't-they between Farr and Kate is nicely done, but I found it difficult to fully understand the actions of other characters as I didn't know enough about their motivations.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads