Wednesday, 2 October 2019

NIGEL SLATER'S TOAST


I love cook books and prefer reading them over fiction, I have a stack by the side of my bed. I wouldn't however consider myself a 'foodie' and often stray from a recipe, using them as guidance and inspiration rather than gospel. I guess after watching the stage adaptation of Nigel Slater's Toast last night, it's something I have in common with his mother. 

“It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.” Says Nigel Slater in his memoir, and as we walked into the Malvern Festival Theatre, the smell of nearly-burned toast made us feel quite fuzzy and nostalgic, although in my house that aroma is usually accompanied by the sound of the over zealous fire alarm!

Toast is the most beautifully written memoir, and I must admit to being somewhat sceptical about it being brought to life on the stage, especially with an adult playing young Nigel, complete with short trousers as I'm really not keen on an adult playing a child on stage as it always feels quite weird to me but Giles Cooper led the narrative with a mixture of wit, pathos and absurdity on occasion too!

Of course the thread that weaves the story together is food - preparing, eating it, enjoying it - and director Jonnie Riordan has done the most wonderful job of adding an interactive element to the production which acts as a device to make the audience feel like part of the show, even mischievous when sweets are passed around the stalls and the ensuing 'naughty' rustling of wrappers as they are scoffed. I had a rhubarb and custard boiled sweet and was instantly transported back to my childhood. 

The character of Joan, played by Samantha Hopkins, was for me the best, with a cracking Wolverhampton dialect, sixties fashion and chain smoking, she had something of a Joan Holloway from Mad Men feel about her. She is, however, the baddy of the play, competing with Nigel for the affections of his widowed father, which culminated in the ultimate bake off. 

Having sons, it felt close to home, uncomfortably at times, especially with the passing of Nigel's mother. The mother we all aspire to be, adored by your children. I thought of the times I cook with the boys and I hope that I have given the same fond memories to my children as Nigel had of his mother. 

I would give Toast ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ perfect entertainment for an autumn evening and as nostalgic as home made apple pie and bird's custard. 

Thank you to the Malvern Theatre who gifted me two tickets to their beautiful theatre. All thoughts and opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

THINGS TO DO IN OCTOBER...


Saturday, 24 August 2019

CAMPING TRIP...


We spent the most gorgeous week in Cornwall this summer in the bell tent. It's our favourite place in the world, but we haven't been for a few years for a variety of reasons. We choose to camp at Trevedra Farm, near Sennen, a family run campsite, quite exposed on the top of Escalls Cliff, you can see the Scilly Isles on a clear day, and it's within walking distance of Gwynver and Sennen beaches. 


We pitched the bell tent for our week stay behind a Cornish hedge which is traditionally made of stone. 


We took only the bare necesseities for our holiday, but I managed to squeeze in a few sheepskin rugs to make it more homely. I take all the kitchen pots and plates in a crate which then doubles as storage in the tent. We have an inner tent for the bell that creates two bedrooms and a bit of privacy for the teenagers. 



Board games come too in case of bad weather, but we only got the monopoly on the first night as the boys quickly made friends. We visited our favourite beaches, stopped at roadside stalls to buy fresh fruit and veg and drove down our favourite road, the B3306, which now has a pop-up Moomaid ice cream stall in a container by the roadside!



We celebrated a birthday whilst we were there, sixteen already! *sobs* Although it would be fair to say he'd have rather spent it at home with his friends than camping with us.


I love this part of Cornwall, so rugged, with granite boulders strewn across the countryside and tiny field systems that haven't changed since neolithic times. It's hard living here, farmers diversify by turning their fields into campsites for the hoards of tourists that make their annual pilgrimage here each summer. I allowed myself to daydream about living here, pressing my nose against estate agents windows and wishing I had bought an old wooden beach hut twenty years ago before they were snapped up by developers and turned into huge New England style mansions. 


The wooden chalet (above) was built by an artist as her studio and sits perched above Sennen beach and accessed only by a footpath. I believe it remains owned by her family and I hope it always does. I would love to stay in it in winter, watching the storms roll in from those windows. 


Until next time Cornwall, we won't leave it so long next time.


Friday, 23 August 2019

FOUR DAFT TURNIPS GET FIVE STARS FROM US


As a parent, I am eternally wracked with parenting guilt about not being able to afford to do things with the boys. They have never been abroad for example - passport costs for five people alone makes it difficult to justify. I try to make up for it with as many camping trips and naturey adventures that I can, which are not only free but essential when raising three quite active boys! We have occasional trips to London to a museum, but cinema and theatre isn't something we dabble in as a family, especially the latter which if you look at the prices of the West End theatre, it really is quite crazy prices unless you sit in the gods.

Anyway, I'll get to the point. We were invited by the Bristol Old Vic to see The Three Musketeers last night a family comedy for all ages, to their press night. A perfect opportunity to inject a bit of culture into our lives and a great summer holiday outing! We drove an hour from home and managed to find road parking a street away for only £3.60. Bristol was buzzing, hundreds of people spilling onto the pavements enjoying a drink on a summer evening, I'd forgotten quite how lively big cities were and the boys stared wide eyed taking it all in.

We arrived at the theatre and it really is the most magnificent building having been recently renovated and restored, the foyer was heaving with people enjoying a drink pre-show and there was a real mix of young trendy Bristolians, theatre darlings and regular families too with young children.

Our seats were in the pit (or stalls) and we sat wondering at the set, a deconstructed treehouse, with stairs and platforms if you will. My youngest, aged seven, asked quite seriously if there would be real swords and if anyone would be killed - there were swords on the posters so I guess this is a quite reasonable presumption. As I sat waiting with the boys, my mind was racing "oh my goodness how is a seven year old going to sit through this!" and "the 13 year old is used to Giffords Circus, his standards are ridiculously high!"

The production began with the four members of the theatre company Le Navet Bete (which means four daft turnips) introducing themselves on stage and setting the scene. This was a great thing to do, they shared their ambitions for the production - four actors playing a lot of characters (I lost count - 40 maybe?), their friendship and this brought us into their world and part of the production. They were telling a tale of The Three Musketeers that most of us knew or had watched in our childhoods on TV on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The production was physical and fast, no pauses, and scene rolled easily into scene, their costume changes alone totalled 112 (this was in the programme I wasn't counting!)


There were slapstick moments, up to date language woven in, 'WTF', and an occasional fluffed line - which had the audience in stitches and I think added to the experience as the boys turned to me in absolute delight. There was audience participation, as soft toy ducks were thrown to the audience for a shooting scene and everyone had to throw them onto the stage when 'duck' was shouted! There was something for all ages - some saucy moments and such a pure 'in the moment' humour that the cast expertly played to their advantage - especially when D'Artagnan jumped onto a platform and rolls precariously towards the edge of the stage - his face was a picture and had the audience in stitches for a good few minutes, although maybe not the people in the front row on whose laps he would of landed!


There were stand out performers from each of the four main actors; Dan Bianchi, Nick Bunt, Al Dunn and Matt Freeman and they obviously knew each others traits so well that the characters they played were brilliant. Milady de Winter was a cross between Michelle from Allo, Allo, Cruella de'vil and Millicent Clyde in Paddington, an audience favourite as the villain of the piece. The design and costumes also played a huge part with capes fashioned from 1970's flowery curtains and the horses were 70's chopper bikes - I loved when they all rode them along to 'crazy horses' music blaring out!

We all thought the production was brilliant and both boys really enjoyed it and commented on how good the performers were - how rare and special is that moment of walking out of a theatre smiling having shared such an amazing experience and all in agreement? It has certainly given me the confidence to seek out other shows.

The only downside for the whole experience is the main bar, you have to queue for ages, there wasn't enough staff to serve everyone very quickly pre-show and in the interval and I hated the 'jostling' to be served - see I told you we didn't go out much! The staff they had were great but I guess it's difficult to staff for such a short and intense amount of time, my tip would be to seek our the kiosks on the other floors for children's drinks and ice cream and just use the main bar if you want an alcoholic drink.

We would give the production, location and whole experience 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟and will certainly seek out Le Navet Bete productions in the future.

Disclosure: We were invited to review The Three Musketeers at Bristol Old Vic in return for this review. The review is based entirely on our own experience and opinion. Photography supplied. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

THOUGHT OF THE DAY


Tomorrow this one will get his GCSE results, in fact there will be a flood of gushing parents on Facebook praising their children’s accomplishments and newspapers covering ‘record numbers’ of top grades. But I wanted to come on and gush on here first because I don’t care what grades you get as I am so proud of the man that you are becoming, a few numbers aren’t going to change how I feel and I am proud to be your mum. Whether you get grade 1’s or grade 9’s I want you to go into your adult life with a sense of adventure and determination to work hard and do well, whether you are a brain surgeon or a refuse collector. You can be and do whatever you choose my darling boy just do whatever you choose with passion and be happy x 

Sunday, 14 July 2019

WIGS, MAKE-UP & SEQUINS...


Work and home life has been full-on the last few months not leaving me much time to blog! It's such a unique job with so many challenges in an extremely niche market but it's definitely the most interesting, fun and rewarding job I've ever done. Things change at a rapid pace, the circus moves from town to town and you have to be on your toes and adaptable at all times, which isn't always the easiest thing to do when you have three children. 

My employers are extremely accommodating and I work flexibly to be able to meet the demands of both my job and family life. I have always been blessed to work for people who respect the need to be able to work flexibly and in by supporting my ability to work in this way, have always got the best out of me as an employee. It doesn't mean I don't still feel guilty when I leave at 3pm to do the school run, but they know later on I'll be on line answering DM's, emails and posting on social media. 

I met the lovely Anna Whitehouse a few years back whilst in a queue for the loo at the Cheltenham Literature Festival (apart from there wasn't a queue she was just taking a moment to check messages and I didn't turn the doorknob enough so stood there like a fool!) I have followed and admired her 'Flex Appeal' campaign for years and find it incredulous that employers in this day and age don't embrace flexible working, not just for women with families but just as importantly for men too who want to be present to raise their families. 

I did have a horrible moment a few years back when our whole pub adventure came to an end and I was faced with having to find a job. To find anything part-time or flexible is nigh-on impossible and I feel it's often something afforded to loyal employees rather than new ones. I believe the key to any businesses success is finding the right people, the one's who fit into an organisation's ethos and amibitions and are prepared to show up and work hard. So don't be put off by going for full-time jobs or jobs that don't mention flexible working, find out if they are interested in you as if they are they will listen to you and I hope would accommodate your needs. 

Saturday, 29 June 2019

FATHERS DAY FOSSIL HUNTING...


A simple Father's Day this year of fossil hunting in a local quarry with the boys. Instead of doing a Sunday lunch I thought steak sandwiches cooked al fresco would make a nice treat, so took the single hob gas stove with us to cook them on. Simply cooked with lashings of garlic butter and served in a lightly toasted ciabatta with a pint of beer. 


We found slow worms hiding from the drizzle and plenty of pyramidal orchids - or are these early purple (I can never remember!)




We watched onimously as the dark clouds rolled up the valley, until the drizzle reached us!






Happy Father's Day...

Saturday, 18 May 2019

EXAM STRESS...


I remember exams only too well and am not one of those people with a photographic memory that can retain a lot of facts and figures, I learn through doing so I found school a challenge. That said I chose subjects I enjoyed and the ones that had more course work over exam based grades. I was one of the first few years of GSCE's and I guess they suited me more. I am incredibly frustrated with how exam based GCSE's are now becoming, and how much harder they are than when I studied for them. I am sure my son has done more or less the same for GCSE English than I did for A-level English!

My eldest took GCSE statistics last summer, so all he has to do is get four more GCSE's at grade 5 or above to go on to A-levels or whatever he decides to do, so I'm just hoping he has done enough! This photo isn't of my eldest I hasten to add, it's number two son, who was more stressed about his end of year exams in year eight than his older brother was about his GCSE's!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

WILD GARLIC SCOTCH EGGS...


Went a bit mad for Wild Garlic Scotch eggs this season. Easy to make and the wild garlic just adds a little something extra when wrapped around the egg and chopped into the sausage meat. Perfect for picnic adventures. 



Saturday, 27 April 2019

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION...


I posted a picture of my son's birthday cake on Instagram this week and received some lovely compliments and lots of likes. I always try and create a special and unique cake for the boys birthdays  but they are never expensive as necessity really is the mother of all invention. 


I am always worried trying to think of an original idea but no matter how early I start thinking the idea doesn't often come to me until the day before, I guess my brain just works better under pressure!



This year we made a plain chocolate sponge, nothing fancy, and iced it all over with chocolate buttercream. Then the main idea - a treehouse, an idea that seemed simple but I tried three versions before one actually worked. I got the main stick from a hazel that we chopped down in the garden and then cut up a fruit crate to use as a base, and made the treehouse from an old wicker basket that had broken. A bit of moss, a swing made from a lego tyre and a ladder made from cardboard completed the treehouse. 


The 'icing on the cake' was a number thirteen laser cut from wood from The Bespoke Workshop, that was simple especially for a child that didn't want too much fuss but certainly appreciated the effort! 

Saturday, 13 April 2019

{AD:GIFTED} WHICH CAME FIRST THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?


We were invited by Simpsons Fish & Chips in Cheltenham (they also have a shop in Stroud too) to sample a fish and chip supper followed by their Easter Special - the deep fried Cadbury's creme egg. Yes you heard that right, the much-loved creme egg, but with a Simpson's twist!

Simpsons Fish & Chips is situated outside the town centre and dare I say in the less glamorous part of Cheltenham. However this has not stopped this dynamic business that only opened in 2009 build up quite a reputation and attract locals and tourists alike to enjoy their award-winning fish & chips - they won the coveted 'Best Fish & Chip Takeaway in Britain' award in 2016.

In Cheltenham the takeaway has an adjoining restaurant serving fish and chip dishes throughout the week. We ventured in on a Saturday teatime, slightly daunted by the amount of football traffic we passed (Simpsons is situated not far from Cheltenham Town Football ground), but it was easy to park and not too busy inside. We arrived at the same time as some groups, a large family group occupied one table with parents and grandparents passing around babies, another table had a large group of children who guessing by their attire had been to the football match and were all gathering for tea. The relaxed environment and babble of excited children being treated to a fish and chip supper made for a lovely atmosphere.

Mel greeted us with a big smile, wearing the Simpsons retro uniform of MAC Ruby Woo red lipstick and headscarf and quickly seated us with menus. We sat in a diner style booth and hungrily eyed the menu, choosing fish goujons from the children's menu, a chicken burger, haddock and homemade fishcakes all with the promise of an unlimited supply of chips.


Despite the restaurant being full our food arrived quickly, something fairly obvious when the kitchen is the takeaway kitchen, but when dining with children it's something I do appreciate and never take for granted. The portion sizes were generous and food delicious, my homemade fishcakes were perfect and accompanied with homemade tartare sauce. The chips were spot on and in my humble opinion the perfect chip shop chip, not too crispy and made from seasonal potatoes so they actually taste of potato! The haddock lay across the whole of the plate and was not shared - a certain sign that it was good and not one of us could manage any more chips!


For the finale and the bit that we were most looking forward too, the deep fried creme eggs. Mel presented them to us in an egg cup accompanied by vanilla ice cream. Probably not the most attractive looking dish covered and misshapen in batter, but we overlooked that and quickly sliced the top off and scooped out the chocolatey gooey insides as if we were eating a boiled egg. The youngest boy was not too keen on the batter, but luckily for him, I was there to step in and mop up any bits he couldn't manage in an act of pure selflessness! They really are quite something to eat and very unusual but for novelty value and family entertainment I would highly recommend the whole experience, we have certainly been talking about it ever since and am sure they'll feature in the six-year old's stories when he goes back to school - although I'm not sure what the teachers will make of it or even believe him!



Deep fried creme eggs are available for a limited time over Easter - find out more information here www.simpsonsfishandchips.com and do book if you want to eat in the restaurant, it is really popular.

Disclosure: we were invited as a family for supper and to try the deep fried creme eggs in Simpsons Fish & Chip restaurant, Cheltenham in return for this review. The review, however, is entirely our own words and opinions. 

FINDING A SENSE OF BELONGING...


I’m not very good at making friends and am terribly self conscious and awkward. Social situations in general make me nervous but something most curious has happened since I arrived at the circus. 


I started working there at probably one of my most difficult times when I was feeling really low, with no confidence and was facing a lot of challenges in life. Circus people treat you for who you are, there is no pretence, no delusions of grandeur, you are simply accepted and everyone is the same. 


I was in awe of this new family who were unlike anything I had experienced before and they all swept me up, accepted who I was - warts and all and provided me with a place where I could be me, without being judged, and flourish by doing what I do best. 


The older (& wiser!) I get the more I believe everything happens for a reason and I think that it’s no coincidence that I came to the circus when I did. I absolutely adore working there and being a small cog in a truly huge wheel, it doesn’t feel like work, in fact some of our most stressful times bring us closer together as we laugh through our woes. Anyway I digress, what I wanted to say is that after 18 months working these I found myself in a period of reflection at the company party the other night and I realised that I didn’t feel like the awkward new girl anymore, I felt at home, I had a sense of belonging and was surrounded by the most amazing, wonderful and ever-so slightly bonkers people in the world and I felt truly blessed. For the first time I don't feel that I have to pretend to be something I'm not. 


Some people who know how much I adore the circus warned me about working at Giffords Circus would loose its magic but actually there is more magic behind the scenes than you see in the ring. The circus is a mini metaphor of life, people come and go, some stay a season, some remain in your life longer, but you make the most of all the little moments and opportunities as you don’t know when they might happen again. This is so true of life - who knows what's around the next corner and I believe there’s always something no matter how big or small waiting to challenge you especially when you least expect it! 


When I originally posted this on Instagram someone said in the comments that when you feel very self conscious some people push you further into a corner, whilst others bring you out and that choosing to spend time the right people is what it's all about. That and being open to change I believe is the key. 


Who knows what the future holds? I might only be at the circus for a short time or I might be there for years ahead, but I know one thing, I'm not going to stop being grateful for my circus family and enjoying every single minute. 
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