Saturday, 31 July 2010

follow on from bridge murder

This is just a brief update, for those of you as horrified as I was that a man can stab his wife over 100 times because he considers her to be an inferior card player!

Steve Green was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment for the murder of his wife.  They had been married just over a year, having met each other at their local bridge club.

He stabbed her several times after he killed her, in what was described as "a frenzied attack".  Although he left home 3 times, according to CCTV footage, to visit his off-licence, he made no effort to inform anyone of Carole's death.  When Carole's father rang to ask if Carole was likely to want to play cards one evening, he simply said "I don't think so."

I hope he receives the same care and compassion in prison that he showed to his innocent wife.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Live music in a yurt

I don’t remember a time when music didn’t feature in my life. I recollect singing “hang down your head Tom Dooley, poor man you’re going to die”, or something very similar as a toddler, and giving solo renditions of Cliff Richard’s “Batchelor Boy” as a very young girl – is it something I should admit or keep secret that I still know the words? Unsurprisingly, then, one of my favourite discoveries at the narrow boat festival on the docks was a pair of bright green painted doors, about four feet in height. They were painted with a cheery, abstract design reminiscent of barge/caravan painting.

Why, I hear you ask, should such a pair of doors give me pleasure? Because they were the doors to a yurt, which housed Community Music, and promised “folky-type music”, due to commence in about a quarter of an hour! Naturally, we stooped and entered:-)

The yurt was quite spacious, and an assortment of plastic and wooden folding chairs formed two circles around a slightly rusty wood-burning stove in the centre. There were chopped logs ready to feed this tin dragon in close proximity to it – someone was well prepared for the vagaries of the British weather.

Talking of which, it was drizzling slightly outside, and also, as we noticed, slightly puzzled, inside. No, we hadn’t been drinking; it was raining inside the yurt. We gazed upwards, and noticed that a pane of glass was missing from the central boss, next to where a panel had been replaced so that the flue of the stove could exit safely. As the rate of rain flow increased, the yurt owner climbed up and replaced the wood-framed panel – the rain inside stopped, as if by magic.

Shortly afterwards, the music began. Four singers, whose names I didn’t catch, took turns to sing/play folk-type songs with, nominally, a watery theme in keeping with the water festival. It was a lovely discovery. Each performer delivered approximately a twenty minute slot, and this marked out the three hour performance.

As a free attraction you’d expect it to be really popular, especially in view of the rain, but I’m sad to say that at no point was the yurt full. It became warm and stuffy, so some juggling of the doors to admit fresh air but not rain was managed. The performers valiantly strove to be heard over the loudspeakers of the “plugged in” bands in the open air, and whilst we were there they didn’t use their own amplifiers, but remained acoustic.

It’s good to keep music live, and the warm, intimate atmosphere of the yurt really worked – we even joined in the odd chorus I’m pleased to say that some youngsters braved the sight of we oldies, and sat in with us, so great for the generations to share something pleasurable together.

Monday, 26 July 2010

… just messin’ about on the river …

Well, I suppose that, technically, it’s no longer a river when the Ribble becomes Preston Docks, but I feel sure you’ll allow me just that little bit of poetic license, won’t you?

A relatively new annual event took place this weekend, as the basin swelled with visiting narrow boat and their larger cousins, Dutch barges. There were also sailing vessels of various types, including one I spotted which claimed to be the smallest “tall ship” in England. Many people queued to pay for the experience of sailing out for three hours aboard this quaint vessel.

Colourful bunting was the order of the day, or weekend, and it fluttered (damply, at times, as this is England in the summer time, and the drizzle didn’t allow us to forget it) from high points on the variety of vessels. The homeliest of the barges boasted cheery baskets, or buckets, of bright flowers.

An open-fronted marquee-type thing kept rain from the live music performers, whose assorted musical offerings belted out from loudspeakers which, sadly, lived up to their name – even at home we were unable to escape the sounds, and I prepared food to a distinct beat that weekend!

There was a beer tent, obviously, we British seem to require a warm beer to enable us to enjoy a free music event, and a creperie van, children need a sugar fix, don’t they? So there was also a donut van, and an ice cream van. There was also a huge chippy van, so a good, healthy food selection fit for all.

A climbing wall arrived, so some energy could be worked off, and phobias conquered – no, not by me, I’m still afraid of heights, though, I admit, I would love to be able to say I’d managed to get to the top of one of those things – I wouldn’t mind that I was strapped in, in fact, it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t even attempt it unless I was strapped in!

On the Sunday, we watched four young men exhaust themselves demonstrating Shotokan Aikido (I think). It seemed to me that two of them ran through some moves in slow motion, to demonstrate what was about to follow, then the remaining pair “fought” using the techniques we’d just seen, which was a very effective way to illustrate the skills. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do something smoothly and accurately in slow motion? It’s actually very tiring, as you need to control your muscles very tightly, so they did really well.

A very tall, elegant mermaid, accompanied by a fierce pirate were to be seen parading the port's pathways.  We also watched an escapologist, who managed to make us smile at his wit as he extricated himself from, firstly several metres of heavy chain, then a tightly strapped straight-jacket. My poor old body aches just to watch performers like these, I certainly couldn’t hope to emulate them!!!

Playing cards is a dangerous pastime

A few years ago a friend at work persuaded me to take up the game of bridge.  I'd come across it in older novels, such as Agatha Christie's, but never played it.  She told me it was a cheap, interesting evening out, and lessons were due to begin at her club.  It seemed quite genteel, and gentle.

I loved it from the first evening lesson - I marvelled at the new language I was learning - how a simple couple of words could convey to my partner so much information, it was amazing.

I progressed and enjoyed the game, but then, moving from the shelter of lessons to the cut and thrust of the real gaming world, I discovered thinly veiled aggression awaited at many tables.  I experiences partners who would berate their partner for tiny slip-ups in bidding, or for failing to remember a conventional, ie not true to the bidding, bid.

At one club, a couple partnered each other regularly, and both were good, though he was better than she.  I remember seeing them walk out of the club room on a couple of occasions to "discuss" a point on which they disagreed.  Acrimony was often in the air, and it could be embarassing sitting at the same table - though that could be the case with many partners, not just these.

An article in a friend's newspaper caught my eye - the grainy photo of the lady's face looked familiar, if a little fatter in the face.  I found myself astounded as I read on.  This poor lady had been found dead - stabbed over a hundred times.  Her husband is accused of the crime of murder.

She looked familiar because she was the lady whose partner had often ridiculed her, and taken her outside to remonstrate with.  I find it so sad that a life can be taken over a disagreement in a game of cards.

It is only a game - it shouldn't need a health warning. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Dragon fruit - so beautiful to look at. Part of your five-a-day

We're all supposed to eat five a day, right?  The government "advises" us that it's the healthy way to live.

As a vegan, I tend to think I'd be hard pressed to avoid eating five a day, the same goes for vegetarians too, and anyone who follows a balanced diet.  We must remember to always have at least five different varieties, though, not, for example, three apples and two oranges - that only counts as two!  It's always fun to expand upon the normal range of foods, though, isn't it?

So, when I saw a dragon fruit marked down in price from £1.49 to 10p, I couldn't resist.  It looked such a glorious pinky red colour, and the small "scales" probably suggested the name dragon fruit.  I've never bought one before, nor tasted one - I'm afraid that to pay so much for one piece of fruit seems a little excessive to me.

Since it's a new fruit to my repertoire, I looked on the internet to see just what one is, and how to eat it - is that vivid skin edible, or is it so colourful as a warning?

I found an article by D Schmidt, at food, from which I learned that it's the fruit of a cactus.  To test for ripeness, you hold the fruit in your hand and squeeze gently, a bit like testing an avocado - they're the same sort of size, too.  Sadly, however, the pink skin is not going to grace my plate, unless it's as a container for the diced flesh, we're told to scrape off any residual traces of pink from the flesh:( 

Talking of the flesh, it's a great disappointment when you cut it open, as the flesh is a dirty off-white, and there are thousands of tiny black seeds, a bit like poppy seeds stuck in white blacmange!  The smell is fresh and slightly citrussy, sort of like a kiwi fruit.

You can remove the flesh from the skin in the same way as you could an avocado, simply run a large dessert spoon around between the skin and the flesh, and it will scoop out easily.

I diced the flesh, which was easy, as it's very soft.  Sadly, despite its beauty, the fruit lacks flavour, so I incorporated it into my breakfast fruit smoothie, along with some strawberries, a peach and some linseeds and a couple of cubes of crystallised ginger.

Will I buy another one?  Certainly not at full price, no, but if well reduced, then yes, as the variety and amounts of minerals etc all add variety to my diet:-)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

I graduated - hurray!!!

My special day has been and gone - yesterday was my graduation ceremony in the Guild Hall in Preston.  The  venue was packed with black gowns embellished with silver grey hoods boasting red linings embellished with the Lancashire rose.

Dozens of students of a variety of ages, all wondering if our mortar boards would slip from our heads as we proudly walked across the stage to shake hands with the very grandly garbed vice-chancellor.

At 56, I was one of the oldest graduates, but none the less proud of my achievement.  I was lucky that my daughter and son-in-law were able to share the day with my partner and myself, but, sadly, due to a confusion over dates, my parents and brother were unable to attend.  Between us we have plenty of photos and a short video to share with them, so at least they'll be able to see some of what went on.

The univesity orchestra played beautiful music, creating a splendid ambience for everyone.  Most of the faces were smiling, it was a very happy and proud occasion that we all shared.

So ... it's the end of one epoch, but thanks to my first class award, I shall be able to embark on my next academic journey courtesy of a bursary to cover the entire costs of the three year PhD.  I'm so lucky:-)

Not many photos for you, just a few to give you a little taste of my wonderful day. 

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Make a Jeans Handbag: clear instructions

I've seen blogs where clever folks have made handbags out of an old pair of jeans, and thought "I'll do that one day", as you do! Today, however, I decided to locate some instructions, and here is a link to Karen Weisman's fantastically clear set of videos to take you through the process step by slow and careful step:-)

So, find out an old pair of jeans, or buy a cheap second hand pair at a car boot sale or charity shop, grab your heavy duty scissors, your sewing machine, some strong thread and needles designed for denim or thick fabrics, and away you go! You can recycle an old skirt or dress to make the lining, or leave it unlines if it's just a general tote bag for shopping. I'd line it and put the zip in if you're going to use it as a handbag though.

You'll see that Karen has utilised extra pockets from the jeans and sewn them inside one of the bags, which is fine, but I think I'd rather use some of the dress/skirt fabric, as it's lighter in weight. You can measure your mobile phone and make a pocket to fit it - I'd make a simple flap to come down over it, too, fastened with a small piece of velcro. The number of times I've had to hunt at the bottom of my bag because my phone's slipped out of the pocket when I've put my bag down doesn't bear thinking about, so, if I'm making a bag, it's going to be practical!

I'd also sew on a smal horizontal strip of fabric which I'd catch down every inch or so, then there's somewhere to slip a couple of pens safely, too. If you make the strip out of elastic, you could use it to hold down a lipstick or two as well - there's no end to the clever things you could do.

I'm definitely going to give this a try - I'll show you the results when it's done, but, meanwhile, why not have a look at these short clips - you might feel inspired:-)

Make a Jeans Handbag:

A vegan and vegetarian menu just for us!

On Friday I met up with a small group of friends, we are all either vegetarian or vegan, and two of us have a wheat intolerance - we're the nightmare of all chefs!!!

However, I'd been to the Fusion Room on Friargate, Preston before, and spoken to the chef, Russell, who believes that all diners have the right to enjoy a special meal, no matter what their dietary requirements are.  If only all chefs had that attitude the world would be a far, far better place!

So, this is the menu he e-mailed me a few days before we were due to eat:


Carrot & Coriander Soup with basil oil
Roasted Pepper Spaghetti with herb oil
Greek Salad with feta cheese, red onion, cucumber
Brie Tart with pesto, salad leaves, roasted tomatoes

To Follow

Wild Mushroom Risotto with mushroom parcel, parmesan
Quorn Tagine with orange, lemon, cous-cous
Curry Lentil & Vegetables with rice, naan bread
Vegetable Stir-Fry with noodle’s, vegetable spring roll


Jam & Coconut Sponge with crème anglaise
Mixed Berry Cheesecake with mixed berry compote
Mince Pie Crumble with brandy cream

All main courses served with vegetables and new potatoes
two courses: £16.50
three courses: £18.95

Sounds mouthwateringly good, doesn't it?  We all enjoyed choosing our meal:-)  Last time I went, with other friends, Russell had baked fresh gluten-free bread rolls, which were served whilst we studied the menu, with tiny cubes of butter and a bowl of balsamic and olive oil dip.

On Friday a basket of gluten-free rolls was set before us, but we were obliged to ask for "normal" rolls, as only two of us have a wheat intolerance.  These were brought with a smile.  Sadly, Russell apologised, he hadn't had time to bake his own gluten-free bread on Friday, but he had gone to the trouble of ordering in some part-baked rolls for us, so we forgave him:-)

I chose to start with the red pepper pasta, which was delightfully rosy in hue, and peppery and warm on the tongue, with visible slices of red pepper, not simply a pureed mush.  Very tasty.  The soup was approved of, and the brie tarts were drooled over and every last crumb disappeared!

My friend's mushroom risotto was one of the best I've tasted - deliciously mushroomy and creamy.  The mushroom parcel sitting atop it resembled a large spring roll, and looked inelegant, which was a shame as it tasted good.  I enjoyed my Puy lentil curry, which was delicately flavoured and arrived surrounding a dome of rice.  The naan bread wasn't, to my mind, naan bread, but pitta, which let it down as pitta bread is much drier than naan bread, and there was insufficient liquor with the curry for the bread to soak up.  The tagine was declared a success, and looked tasty.

My vegan friend and I had pre-ordered the cheesecake, but, sadly, this was impossible for Russell to make on this occasion, but he offered us watermelon soup, with slices of three different melons served with a mixed berry sorbet.  Well, I have to tell you that this was my favourite dish of the night!  The "soup" was a glorious hue, and a thick slice of three different colours of melon constructed a tower in the centre of the bowl, with a sorbet full of flavoursome berries set in the centre.  Wonderful.

Two of my friends had decided not to pre-order a pudding, as they have normally eaten sufficient with two courses; but, as they watched beautifully arranged desserts being delivered to neighbouring tables, they changed their minds and ordered cheesecake.  They both agreed that it was delicious.

We'd enjoyed a lovely bottle of Peter Lehman Shiraz with our meal, plus water, and a bottle of alcohol free lager for the driver, and were happy with a bill which was under £100.

So, all you chefs out there, please heed our plea ... we may decide, for whatever reasons, not to eat certain items, but we certainly enjoy good food, and appreciate it when it's prepared for us and served with a smile.

We'll be back to visit the Fusion Room again, and again.  Thank you, Russell:-)

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Fantastic Indian vegan meal, making a tomato rose

Whilst we were away, housesitting, we went to Gloucester for the day.  On our way home we looked out for an Indian restaurant to eat dinner in.  I spotted a huge sign reading "Balti King - Bangladeshi and Indian Cuisine". so we pulled over.

The menu looked interesting, so we entered and sat down - we were the only customers - well, I supposed it was quite early, really, about six o'clock, not the busiest period!  It's not the prettiest of restaurants, so when my plate of food arrived I was amazed!!!

Doesn't it look good enough to eat???  I loved the tomato rose - so cleanly done, it looked really impressive.  Nunu, the manager, came over to make sure we were OK, and stayed to chat for virtually the whole meal - he's a lovely man.

I asked him about the beautiful rose, and he said the chef made them freshly for each customer.  I asked if I might be allowed to watch him, since the restaurant was quiet at the moment.  He disappeared, and re-appeared with Babu, the chefly genius:)

Babu kindly agreed for me to take a few photographs, and was delighted to know that he would be appearing on a blog post, he was a really sweet man, and, as you can see, very clever with his hands.

He stood before us with a plate on the table, and a tomato in one hand and a sharp knife in the other.  In no time at all, the tomato skin was pared away and spiralling down in front of him toward the plate.

He speedily gathered up the skin, coiling it round, then placed in on top of the tomato. 

Then he sliced the tomato horizontally, leaving the "rose" sitting on a pedestal of a half a tomato.  I'm sorry my photos don't do him justice.

And here is Babu himself - hi Babu - I hope you like seeing yourself in my blog!

So, if you fancy an Indian or Bangladeshi meal when you're around Gloucester, do call in and give them a try - I'm sure you'll find something to please you.  They weren't fazed by my vegan diet, nor my intolerance of wheat, and provided us with really tasty, good-looking food.  We'll certainly return another time.  Find them on

Not all car mechanics take advantage: :-)

Car mechanics are often given a bad name, aren't they?  We're told to be careful that we're not "ripped off" by them when our cars need servicing - to query any spare parts required, or repairs needed.

I've always been quite careful about where I've had my cars serviced, and I'm not aware of any serious overcharging.  I look after my cars - or, more accurately, pay someone else to care for them - and I keep them for years, until they pass away to that car graveyard where they'll spend a peaceful eternity.

My "new"car I bought nearly 5 years ago, when I was still working three days a week.  After I retired, when she was about a year old, it seemed logical to hold on to her - I still travelled, just less regularly, and reasoned that since she's lost a huge chunk of value as soon as she left the forecourt, I'd keep her.

So, we have occasional outings, some short, others to Yorkshire or Gloucestshire.  She has just tipped the 8,000 miles mark, so you can see how little she's used!

Imagine my discomforture then, whilst we were away house-sitting, to find that she was misbehaving!  I know!!  We were en route to Cirencester for the day, but she kept kangaroo-hopping, then refusing to pull away at roundabouts, slowing down when she felt like it, really bizarre behaviour.

So, we turned around and headed back to Stroud to find a garage who could take a look at her.  There is no Nissan dealership nearby, so we took her into Olympic Cars Ltd., in Stroud to ask their advice. 

The young man drove her over to the service bay, but told us she seemed fine to him.  When we insisted that she wasn't running properly, they kindly agreed to run a diagnostic check on her, which would cost about £40.  This I was happy to pay to discover what was wrong.

We were taken to a seating area at the side of the showroom, and told to help ourselves to free tea/coffee/water/hot chocolate, and shown the fridge where milk was kept by two different people.  There was a large TV to watch, with the remote control to hand, so we settled down to wait for the verdict.

After about half an hour our young man came over to tell us that the tests had shown a possible slight malfunction, but there was nothing for them to do.  I offered to pay and was told that there was no charge, as they were unable to fix anything.

So, there you are, not all car mechanics or dealerships are "out to get you".  We were visitors, over a barrel, so to speak in a strange town, and they could no doubt have invented some minor thing to "repair" or replace, since we were the ones saying that there was a problem, but they didn't.

Good on them, we really appreciated it.

Next day, an orange light appeared on the dashboard.  It stayed.  There's a fault in the electrics, but my handbook assured me that I didn't need to stop driving the car, or get it towed to a garages, so we carefully drove her all the way home - never going over 60 mph all the way!!!  It should have improved my fuel efficiency, shouldn't it??

Mr Badger the Bully

I mentioned a few days ago that I was lucky enough to be able to watch a pair of badgers from my (temporary) bedroom window, and take some photos.

What I didn't tell you was how aggressive and bullying the male could be.  Often he appeared in the garden first, and his mate followed.  He was also, usually, the first to leave, she remained to get whatever he'd missed, or couldn't be bothered with.

One night I watched in horror as he attacked her; they fought a minute, scrapping and growling, then he cuffed her, forced her down to the ground then laid his body over her head, curling his body round slightly so that he could eat the peanuts from this position, whilst she was obliged to remain immobile. I wish I was more accomplished at photography so that you could see more clearly, but this is the best shot I got!  You can see the stripes of her face partly obscured by his flank.

Once he'd sated his appetite, he upped and left her to scout around for any titbits he'd overlooked.  Poor lady, I felt really sorry for her.  However, she stayed quite a while after he left, and seemed to find quite a bit to occupy her, so I hope she didn't return home hungry.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

quick vegan supper of fresh leaves and left overs!

I opened the fridge to see what was in there to make a quick supper ... there wasn't a lot!  However, the garden is producing lots of lovely leaves at the moment, so when it came to finding something to bulk it out, I was spoilt for choice:-)

From the fridge I took some left over cooked carrots and green beans, a half jar of vegan red pesto sauce and some mushrooms.  I grabbed a large shallot from the basket, and a tin of cannelini beans from the cupboard.  The garden provided, from top left - pea shoots,  red and white chard, perpetual spinach, large rocket leaves, and a couple of spikes of purple sprouting broccoli.

I chopped the shallot, chard stalks and broccoli stems, then sliced the remaining leaves and mushrooms.
Fry the shallots and stems in a little sesame and olive oil until softened.
Add the leaves, mushrooms and broccoli head.  Stir for a couple of minutes.  Add a little water to steam the veg.
Toss in the leaves and stir briskly, they will wilt down very quickly in the heat.

Add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of minutes

Stir in the left over vegetables, then add the pesto sauce and a drop more water so that everything gets lightly coated.  Finally, stir in half a can of beans.

I think the colourful medley looked bright and cheerful, and, more importantly, it was really tasty:-)