Thursday, 28 May 2015

To Manchester! for murals, trams and The Car Man

In a change from hill walking, we jumped on a NorthenRail train today to
Blue tit mural in Manchester 
briefly visit Manchester. Our reason for going was the Matthew Bourne ballet, The Car Man which is playing at The Lowry this week. It is fantastic! Not as light-hearted and jokey as Sleeping Beauty which we also thoroughly enjoyed in Wimbledon a couple of years ago, but with the same level of inventive choreography, loads of stunning dancing and superb set design. This is now the third Matthew Bourne ballet we have seen and we were trying to decide if we have missed any or if that's all of them. A brief google later, we learn that, fortunately, we still have Edward Scissorhands and Lord Of The Flies to look out for. I do love his work! The Car Man does have strong 'adult' themes, so not really a half term treat for the kids, but if you aren't so encumbered, there might be some good tickets left in Manchester and the tour then moves on to Sadler's Wells.

We didn't have any sightseeing time in Manchester other than what
Steampunk style sculpture on
top of something 
flashed past the trains and the excellent Metrolink tram network, plus what we saw on the short walks between the two. I loved the blue tit mural pictured above and also this steampunk-style dragon. I didn't find out why either were created. Do you know? Dave got new paintbrushes in a dangerous shop called Fred Aldous - multiple floors of art and craft supplies for all budgets. They even had the scraping foil picture kits that I used to love doing as a child! We both liked the mix of ultra-new and vintage industrial architecture that we saw from the tram out to The Lowry. In common with many cities I guess, the old industrial areas are being reimagined as modern housing and flats. Some here are metal and glass towers and others are created within old factory walls. I thought this gave a real sense of energy to the city without losing its sense of heritage. There was quite a lot of work still being done, especially along the tram lines which must be irritating for those travelling every day. But it will look fabulous when it is finished! We have decided that we would definitely like to return to the Peak District again for another few weeks - perhaps next year. I would also like to return and see more of Manchester when we do.

On a different note, SumOfUs emailed me this afternoon with the below petition that, while it only affects El Salvador, a small country on the other side of the world, at the moment, could have far-reaching effects for all of us if El Salvador loses its fight:

"In just a few weeks, a World Bank tribunal could decide whether the tiny
Central American nation of El Salvador will have to dish out millions to a Canadian-Australian mining giant - just for rejecting a destructive gold mine. OceanaGold is suing El Salvador for a whopping $301 million under investor laws that allow corporations to shamelessly sue countries.

El Salvador has the right to reject the mine to protect its water and people - 90% of the country's water is contaminated already, and OceanaGold’s mine would ruin its last remaining sources of clean water. With a decision coming any day, now is the time to pile on the pressure. Let's raise an outcry the World Bank can't ignore, and convince it to throw out this deeply unpopular case."

Please sign this SumOfUs petition telling the World Bank to throw out OceanaGold's case!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson / Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin / Here In Harlem by Walter Dean Myers



I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Horror fiction isn't my usual fare, but when I saw a narration of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in an Audible 2-for-1-credit promotion I thought I would give it a try. Written in the 1950s, the story is a classic and I assumed that, being of that vintage, it would not be as graphically gory as modern tales. In this I was right. There are flashes of horrific violence, but what made I Am Legend brilliant for me is its creeping dread and its overriding sense of loss.

Our protagonist, Robert Neville, believes himself the last non-vampiric human alive and lives an isolated existence boarded up every night in a home besieged by his hunters. My Audible version was narrated by Robertson Dean who does a great job. His world-weary tones perfectly suit Neville's predicament so it was easy for me to get past the unreal element and accept the world as Matheson created it. Set in the then future of 1976, the summer is not especially hot - was it in America or just Europe? - but the library contains actual books and I liked how Matheson has Neville take home volumes to study.

Without, hopefully, giving away too much of the plot for anyone like me who hadn't even seen one of the film adaptations, the flashbacks to Neville's previous family life are sad and reminded me at times of the panic and chaos of Jose Saramago's Blindness. The dog is particularly heartrending and I loved the final twist which is so unlike standard narrative fare that I didn't see it coming. Brilliant storytelling and I'm glad I took a chance on it. I think I will learn how to wire up a generator though - just in case!

Buy the audio download from Waterstones.



The Luminous Life Of Lilly AphroditeThe Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite was recommended to us by Dave's daughter Carrie. He bought it for his Kindle account which I can access via Amazon's newish Sharing function for Kindle which is a great idea. This is my seventh review for the Read Scotland Challenge.

Like Midnight's Children, Lilly is born at the beginning of a new era - in her case the beginning of the 20th century. Through her eyes, we see the desperate poverty suffered by many people in Germany in the period from 1900 until the end of the Second World War. Another of my recent reads, Life After Life, touched upon this era and I was interested to learn more about it.

Orphaned very young, Lilly grows up in an orphanage under the care of her beloved Sister August, a Catholic nun. Befriended by an older girl, Hanne, Lilly is encouraged to climb the walls at night, selling roses in seedy bars before she is even ten years old. Hanne is the only other person who does continuously return to Lilly's life, whereas practically everyone else leaves her or she leaves them behind. Despite eventual good fortune, which is revealed through intriguing flash forwards before each chapter, this theme of abandonment and loneliness runs throughout the book and must have been the norm in a time that encompassed not only the two World Wars, but also the Spanish flu epidemic and a civil war, and the complete wiping out of the German currency caused by First World War reparation payments. Although the Nazi Party's actions will always be horrific, novels such as Lilly Aphrodite do allow some understanding of how a people could find themselves choosing such a path.

Beatrice Colin's research, inspired apparently by a great-aunt, was obviously thorough and her efforts pay off. Her prose brings Berlin alive and it is easy to believe in the characters she creates. I love the vivacity of her writing and will certainly be looking out for more based on the strength of Lilly Aphrodite.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.



Here in Harlem: Poems in Many VoicesHere in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am very happy that the AudioSYNC programme of weekly audiobook downloads is running again this summer. Last year I got the opportunity to hear several books that I might never have heard of otherwise and it looks like that will continue this year. Not all the books are downloadable to the UK so my first two for 2015, actually from Week Three, included Here In Harlem, a poetry collection by Walter Dean Myers.

Myers created his collection by remembering the people he used to live alongside when growing up in Harlem and writing around them. Dozens of people each have a short poem or prose piece allowing us insights into their lives, beliefs, passions and friendships. Women, men, girls and boys, of all ages and occupations all line up to speak and, with the audiobook, thirteen different narrators bring their words to life over appropriate music and sound effects. Whoever added the music certainly did an excellent job as this makes the atmosphere real to the listener.

I found the poems themselves a bit hit and miss. Some had strong characters behind the words, but I couldn't always find the person behind others. Perhaps brevity was at fault because most poems only allow the speaker one minute to project themselves. As a whole though, Here In Harlem gives an interesting overview of the district in its jazzy heyday.

Buy the audio download from Waterstones.


View all my reviews


Monday, 25 May 2015

Lose Hill to Mam Tor - our iconic Peak District walk

On Saturday we chose to attempt one of the most popular Peak District
Looking out from near the top of Lose Hill 
walks, one which takes in Lose Hill, Back Tor, Hollins Cross and, finally, Mam Tor. Much of the land through which the walk passes is now maintained by the National Trust and we were able to do the whole nine miles directly from Bailey without needing to drive anywhere. This was particularly helpful as, unsurprisingly, everywhere was busy on the first Saturday of half term week with a Bank Holiday thrown in too! This was our first walk with lots of people around, we think, ever. It was nice to feel part of 'something' and the majority of walkers exchanged smiles and hellos.

The hardest part of the whole walk was definitely the long, steep ascent
Looking up Lose Hill wondering if
turning round already would be wiser 
up Lose Hill from Hope. We both needed to pause a few times to catch our breath although it was encouraging that we didn't look in any more distress than others doing the same ascent. We even overtook a group of teenagers! The uphill had started pretty much from our campsite - all our best walks start with ups - but with a gentler gradient, and then it got steeper and steeper. This photo is of the final incline, presumably paved to help against erosion, and I was considering calling the whole thing off! But, as you can see, Dave (in the white t-shirt) was already ahead of me and I wasn't going to let him beat me to the top! The views once there were outstanding and almost made the effort worthwhile. As you can see, we didn't have a perfect day so I guess we might be able to see even further without the haze. There is an engraved metal 'compass' which gives the distances to other hills and significant local places.

Compass on top of Lose Hill 
The walk from Lose Hill to Back Tor was gentle by comparison. We managed to outpace to the toddler who had made up almost entirely under her own steam. The path here is unevenly rocky and sandy again. The descent from Back Tor slowed me down again. It was nowhere near as scarily scree-ey as such paths can be in Spain and I noticed that my feet didn't slide inside my North Face boots in the same way as they had in my worn-out Karrimor ones so I felt far more stable.

It's Dave again!
The Back Tor descent 
I don't know why Hollins Cross is called that. There wasn't a cross at the top so maybe it is like Hope Cross and indicates an old crossroads here rather than a religious site. We were being joined my more and more walkers as we continued. Goodness only knows how busy it must get up there in July and August! Mam Tor was our final of the four hills. The name translates as Mother Hill and apparently this is due to one disintegrating edge which has fallen away to create a number of smaller hills at its base.

Mam Tor 
When the light is right, we can see this view from our campsite and have been looking up here for a week, looking forward to standing on the top but I forgot to try and see Bailey from up there. I doubt I will return to rectify this! In the ground on the top, I saw what looked like a metal bangle embedded in concrete, but it was so busy I didn't take much notice. On the way down though, I saw this metal reproduction of a pot fragment also embedded in concrete so I think they must be National Trust commemorations of archaeological finds. I don't know if there are any others.
Pot fragment on Mam Tor 
We passed Treak Cavern, one we haven't visited yet, on our walk to Castleton. We weren't tempted to stop but I did see this poem inscribed onto a bench seat beside the path just beyond the cavern gift shop. Thwe words are by Judy Meetham, about whom I haven't been able to find out anything, and I think the bench was installed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Peak District Ranger Service in 2004.

Bench with poem by Judy Meetham 
The day trippers in Castleton made the hills feel positively secluded. We joined in the fun by queuing at a shop doing a roaring trade in Bradwell's dairy ice cream. I can recommend the Rum and Raisin flavour and Dave enjoyed his Midnight Mint. The sun had come out by now and it felt like a proper Bank Holiday weekend. Wearily, and with still an hour's walking to go, we wended our way home to Hope for a well-earned Lamb Pie dinner!
I took this final photograph on Dave's proper camera, rather than overtaxing my phone which doesn't cope well with big views. Dave is on top of Lose Hill with our path to the three remaining peaks stretching away into the distance.

Gorgeous! - and the view is nice too ;-)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Leftover-Lamb Pie recipe


I saw the Credit Crunch Munch logo on twitter the other which reminded me that I hadn't joined in with one of these blog hops - as opposed to just borrowing the recipes - for ages. It was longer than I thought - my Chicken and Chorizo Stew in March 2013! The Credit Crunch Munch idea was first thought up by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla from Fab Food 4 All and this month's host is BakingQueen74.

We bought a delicious small-half shoulder of lamb from Watson's Farm Shop a few days ago which Dave slow cooked to perfection! There was, however, some good meat left over so, instead of just overeating, ww decided to save it to make my Leftover-Lamb Pie. I think this was originally a wartime recipe and I first saw a version of it in a vintage copy of Meat Dishes (500 Recipes), but the skills and ingredients are basic so it's probably one that every household used at one time or another. You could use bought shortcrust pastry instead of making your own, and both the cooked meat and the vegetable ingredients would be interchangeable to use up whatever is to hand!


Pastry Ingredients:
Leftover-Lamb Pie with braised red cabbage 

4 oz plain flour
2 oz butter
3 tbsp cold water
1 egg (for brushing over top of pie)

Cut the butter into small pieces and gently rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. I used salted butter, but if you have unsalted or margarine, you could add a pinch of salt here. The slowly add the water and mix it in with a palette knife (or similar) until you have a soft-but-not-sticky dough.

I made the pastry first, then wrapped it in clingfilm to rest in the fridge while I made the pie filling.


Filling ingredients:
Splash of rapeseed or olive oil
1/2 onion
1/2 tsp Kush Cuisine Cocoa Spice Rub
1 tbsp white flour
3 white mushrooms
2-3 oz cooked lamb
200ml beef stock

Finely slice the onion and fry in the oil until softened. Add 1/2 tsp of any warming curry-type spice blend you have. My Kush Cuisine jar is still going strong from the Pevensey Food and Wine Fair and is perfect for this, but something like Garam Masala would do as well.

Stir in the flour to make a thickish oniony paste, then slowly pour in the stock, stirring continuously, untill all the flour lumps have dissolved. You might not need all the stock if you prefer a thicker sauce filling.

Dice the mushrooms and add to the pan.

Cut or tear the lamb into bite-sized chunks and add to the pan. Stir to combine and simmer until sauce is desired consistency, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. 

Remove pan from heat and pour filling into pie dish. I actually used the inch deep lid of a pyrex dish.

Preheat oven to about 200c or a little hotter.

Dust a worktop with flour and roll out the pastry to be large enough to cover the pie dish. Beat the egg in a cup. Dab a little egg around the edges of the dish to help the pastry stick. Carefully lift it over the pie and crimp the edges. Trim any excessive overhangs.

Brush the top of the pie with more egg to ensure a golden crust and make a couple of holes to allow steam to escape.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately.

And while your pie is baking, we can look at all the other great Credit Crunch Munch recipes ...


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Past Habitual by Alf MacLochlainn / The Turning Over by William McCauley / Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Waterstones have a special offer for the late May Bank Holiday weekend: an extra 10% off when you spend £25 (or more) simply for entering the code MAY10 when checking out. Click here to take advantage! The offer ends on Tuesday the 26th May at 12pm which I think means midnight, but might mean noon so don't spend too long browsing!


Past Habitual:StoriesPast Habitual:Stories by Alf MacLochlainn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Past Habitual from its publisher, Dalkey Archive, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my twelfth review for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

Past Habitual is a collection of some twelve short stories all of which are set in Ireland. Alf MacLochlainn uses a variety of writing styles and, judging by the extensive bibliography at the back of the book, has incorporated a lot of real sources and events for his tales. Unfortunately I found that this has resulted in a lack of cohesion. I did enjoy three of the stories: 'A stitch in time', 'Why did I volunteer to kill the kittens' and 'Squitlings of memory or imagination on the Upper Shannon'. The remainder however either were difficult to read or lost me completely because of long tracts of dry historical or technical information, or long dialogues. I did encounter some moments of vivid description where MacLochlainn's Ireland suddenly sprang to life, but there was little in the way of strong characterisation. The synopsis intrigued me but I was disappointed by the resultant book.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.



The Turning OverThe Turning Over by William McCauley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Turning Over from its publishers, The Permanent Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my thirteenth review for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

I have made a few Kiva loans to Sierra Leone but, other than a vague awareness of the vicious war there, know little about the country so I jumped at the chance to read The Turning Over when it was offered. I didn't at first realise that the book isn't exactly new. I believe it was first published in the late 1990s and has been re-edited for a 2015 reprint.

The Turning Over's great strength is in its portrayal of the minutiae of life in 1980s Sierra Leone. Ex-Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Kelley has stayed on in the country working in paid employment at a fisheries project. The project is now losing its support and he must turn it over to a corrupt local official, knowing that this will be very bad for the people dependent on it. I loved McCauley's descriptions of houses and livelihoods, the differences between both Sierra Leonans and white ex-pats, and also between different groups of Sierra Leonans. He manages to convey the desperation of the poorest people without judging, and contrasts this against the affluent white life.

While Robert, as our protagonist, doesn't really do much and is often a pretty unsympathetic character, he does allow the reader to view the moral conundrums posed by The Turning Over. Although when finally overtaken by what seems the outbreak of civil war, his river escape is exciting. I wouldn't recommend The Turning Over to fans of action thrillers, but as an insight into an often unrepresented country, it is a very interesting novel.



Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my sixth review for the Read Scotland 2015 challenge.

Having not been particularly impressed with my first Kate Atkinson read, When Will There Be Good News, I have had Life After Life sitting on my Kindle for months unread as I kept overlooking it in favour of other titles. What a mistake! Atkinson has created a incredible premise in Ursula's reliving of her life and executes her idea with wonderful skill.

I particularly liked the strength of the surrounding characters and found it easy to imagine Pamela and Maurice, Sylvie and Hugh, Teddy, Bridget and Mrs Glover and the irrepressible Izzie as real people. Their speech and behaviours seemed always spot on for their portrayals. Most fascinating however is Ursula's fluctuating character as the events which shape her future life either do or don't take place. Episodes such as Spanish influenza are so sad and shocking. This is not a relaxed read as it is impossible to guess from where the darkness will next fall.

Atkinson's impressive research carries the tale, without getting in the way, and I appreciated her viewing of the Second World War from both sides. Perhaps the end few chapters are a little too much 'must have a happy ending' for my tastes, but for sheer inventiveness and keeping all those plot twists logical, Atkinson deserves high praise indeed.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


View all my reviews


Friday, 22 May 2015

We see a hare and a Roman hill fort and a Yellow Wagtail - in that order!

We saw a hare yesterday evening nonchalantly running across the
Edwardian footpath signpost 
campsite field, under gate and then - sticking to the footpath as signed! - down the neighbouring meadow until we lost sight of it by a stream. I think this was the very first hare I have seen, other than on TV, and Dave remembers seeing one only once before, back in the 1970s. We were both pretty excited, but of course had no cameras at the ready!

Today we've been walking from Hope to Bradwell and back. Bradwell has a very different feel to the touristy villages like Hope and Castleton. Several shop fronts were empty and the houses didn't have the same cutesy picturesque quality. It would be interesting to know if Bradwell feels run down because it's not on the main tourist route, so receives less revenue than its neighbours an hour's walk away. It certainly has potential with the centre having lovely old stone bridges and mill streams. We were pleased to watch a Yellow Wagtail on one bridge for a while. Perhaps the inhabitants prefer their peace to having muddy booted tourists everywhere!

Edwardian footpath signpost 
The Anavio Roman hill fort remains are near to Brough and the footpaths to the site are still indicated by the elegant Edwardian signposts pictured. Both are from 1909. The hill fort is less well preserved. There's a bit of a slope around the relevant part of a cow field and these stones are lying in the very centre of the raised area.

Roman hill fort ruins 

I can tell you're impressed!

After an early tea, we're off to Sheffield this evening, not that we will be wandering around much of it on a Friday night! Chris Smither is playing at The Greystones and, if you're a local fan too, we might see you there? If not, we will be back at the same venue on Tuesday for one of our favourite singer-songwriters, Slaid Cleaves. And the arty culture doesn't end there. Thanks to Gemma's glowing review of the Matthew Bourne production, The Car Man, which she has just seen in Bristol, Dave pootled online and saw that its tour is coming to The Lowry in Manchester next week. We loved his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake productions and there were still good matinee seats for the Thursday so now we're going to the ballet as well! Woo hoo!

If you'd like to celebrate our good fortune at home, why not take advantage of this new offer from the English Heritage shop: 6 bottles of their wines or meads for the price of 5. I do love a mead! The offer runs until the end of May.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Devil's Arse is quite a sight!

Now that title got your attention, didn't it?! 
Path to the Devil's Arse 


Today we enjoyed the second part of our Castleton caves joint ticket by paying a visit to The Devil's Arse, also more politely known as Peak Cavern. The more interesting name apparently came about due to local folks in historical times believing that the sound of gurgling water that sometimes heard from within the cave was actually the Devil himself farting. Although no water gurgled today, our guide did imitate the sound and I could understand why superstitious minds made the connection! The renaming was a hasty decision for Queen Victoria's first visit, a question of decorum!

The mouth of Peak Cavern is massive, so massive in fact that I couldn't get far enough back to capture its expanse in a photograph so you've got the dramatic cliffs overshadowing the path instead. Within the entrance cavern, we were treated to a demonstration of ropemaking - from fragile flax to sturdy rope - which we both found fascinating. Parts of Hailsham are named for the ropemaking industry there, but I had never thought through its practicalities before. I now understand just what that statue outside Hailsham Tesco is doing! Troglodytes lived and worked in Peak Cavern as ropemakers from the 1600s until 1915, amazingly, and we saw what I presume is a replica of one of their tiny dwellings

Peak Cavern does have some low overhangs, but is far less claustrophobic than Speedwell Cavern and is completely walkable - no boat rides here. We were shown rock formations including flowstones and unusually dark coloured little stalactites, the result of water trickling through volcanic rock above. Another change for Queen Victoria, this time for her second visit, was the blasting through of a short bypass tunnel at one point, high enough for her to walk through. Previously visitors had lain individually in a 'boat' that looked suspiciously like an unlidded coffin and been shoved through a very small aperture along a short stream. It looked horrifying so I was glad of the manmade alternative. Most of the Cavern is still natural though.

Approaching Peak Cavern through Castleton 
Speedwell Cavern and Peak Cavern could easily both be visited in a single day, although it is possible to book a joint ticket that lasts six months. This is what we did, taking advantage of the early bird discount which didn't actually require us to get up especially early. Booking is advised for Speedwell and we got lucky with Peak Cavern today as there were only six people on our tour, but a whole school party arriving as we left! Do allow time to appreciate the pretty walk to Peak Cavern. From the car park, we walked along narrow streets between extremely cute little cottages and alongside a small river with arched stone bridges. All very picturesque! There were even Shetland ponies in a field (with the obligatory sheep).



On a different note, an urgent 38 Degrees appeal for action:
Our bees are in danger again. Toxic chemical companies are trying to get
their banned pesticides back on UK fields. On Tuesday an application was submitted to the government asking them to lift the ban on bee-killing chemicals for some crops planted this autumn. A huge petition will make it clear to the environment minister, Elizabeth Truss, that she still needs to protect our bees, not the toxic profits of bee-killing chemical companies. Please sign this 38 Degrees petition.