Friday, 28 September 2012

Bollywood days

There's always something new to see at Leicester's New Walk Museum.....I love it...from the Dinosaur gallery to the wonderful collections of paintings and Gimson furniture, to watching the lunchtime musical concerts held there.

Thousands visit there each year, but next year, the museum will be seen by millions. Why? Well, Bollywood came to Leicester this week . The stars Dharmendra Deol, plus his sons Sunny and Bobby were in town to film Yamla Pagla Deewana Part 2 ...which translated means Mad, Madder and Madder 2.

I was there bright and early yesterday morning to interview one of the producers and talk to a local councillor about the benefits of filming in Leicester.

It was very busy, and the camerawoman was everywhere....

Charismatic Bobby Deol, pictured below, plays a genius artist called Q - here he is just about to film a sequence with his adoring fans...cue a crowd of extras.....

I 'd finished my interviews and was getting ready to go when I was made an offer I couldn't refuse.....I was asked whether I would say a few lines in the film! Yes, I was shocked too....look at my face!

Jaswinder the writer gave me two lines....two very long lines to remember ...I was given my position right in front of my radio car....and then asked if I could interview a couple of the extras playing fans of Q.

Just ready darlings to do my bit....

 Well I managed the first line, fluffed the second and then did the film career over in a few minutes. I can't wait to see the film when it's released in summer next year.What's the betting I end up on the cutting room floor?

But I really don't mind...and besides, it was such a laugh. Then it was off to Police Headquarters to do a proper interview....

Sunday, 23 September 2012

days of making hay while the sun shines

We've had some beautiful sunny September days recently....days to walk Boo around the village ,which is looking so pretty in its early autumn finery.

Ours is a small village, with less than thirty houses and a few working farms....but last week, I was struck by the fact that Tom, Phil , Mark and Reg had all been very busy baling....

Reg was hard at it as I passed by....

Some were covered in plastic

Others were a different shape

Some covered with different coloured plastic

And some still waiting patiently in the field  down the lane from our cottage....

These may be everyday scenes from village life....but seeing these the other day made me realise that farmers don't have the luxury of procrastination. Jobs have to be done when the time is right without delay.

I've been faffing about with a project for a while...seeing all those bales ready for the winter has given me a much needed nudge (or "a boot up the bum" as some say around here  ).

I have work to do, and I know that now is the right time to get on with it. And,  as I write this, it has started to rain. Another nudge in the right direction. You see, you really do have to make hay while the sun shines.......

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Rutland Food Festival

Say the words " food festival " and I'm hooked. Especially a food festival on the banks of Rutland Water which is a favourite location of mine.

Add sunshine, some really interesting cookery  demonstrations, mix with  some of my favourite music tracks, and there you have it -the Rutland Food Festival.

A lovely walk first though to the site.....

The first stop was the cookery demonstration marquee....engagingly and expertly  compered by  Sean Hope, the Head Chef and Co Owner of the Olive Branch at Clipsham and the Red Lion at Stathern.

I got there just in time to see Julian Carter from the Hambleton Bakery. Now, I love good bread, and I've been buying his sourdough bread for the last year or so.

He's passionate about what he does, artisan bread ,and pulls no punches when he talks about the  bread industry and what we in our family call "plastic bread" .

And while he was making us laugh and think about what we eat....he was making a big batch of focaccia....little loaves to take on a picnic or have for lunch. He used a myriad of english breakfast with bacon and egg, roasted vegetables,  a ploughmans with cheese and pickle, and a pungent garlic focaccia too.

Within minutes ,the audience were hustling at the front to try them.....the roasted vegetables and ploughmans that I managed to taste were full of flavour with just the right texture.

But I hadn't come to the festival to sit down all afternoon. There were over thirty food stalls to look at and buy from....including Little Cakes.....whose orange blossom and almond cake was delicious....well worth the £2 per slice.
I found some wines I'd not come across before....and learnt something new....I didn't realise that the makers used grapes from Rutland, and from Keyham in Leicestershire. This particular bottle was £6.50 ....

Having tasted and bought quite a few bits and pieces,it was out into the sunshine to sit watch the dinghies race.....

..... wander around the rest of the stalls,  and then sit in the sun with a cold bottle of water and listen to the Atlantics perform so many classic tracks from bands as diverse as the Beatles, Kings of Leon, name them, they played them!

All in all , a lovely, laid back day out on the banks of the water.....with edible mementos of the day in my cupboards to eat in the forthcoming weeks, and a determination to try and make my own focaccia..

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The day they found King Richard III

A week ago today I was up early 4.30am to be precise. Up early to cover a story which has captured the imagination of the world's press......and at the centre of the story, a location two minutes walk away from the BBC studios.

That's why I was in all alone in a car park at 6.45am, radio car mast up, raring to go on a story which has made my heart sing. Was the body of poor, much maligned Richard III really found under a car park owned by Leicester City Council?



At that stage, we didn't know...the University of Leicester had issued a press release saying human remains had been found at the archeolgical dig hunting for the body of the King, and that there would be a press conference at 11am .

So for my first four pieces on air, all I could do was talk about the dig, describe the three trenches that had been dug by archaeologists,



give a potted history about the King, his last battle and his death, and reiterate that the remains found could be his.

But for the University to hold such a press conference, there had to be some real news, and I was so keen to find out. After eight, I interviewed Sir Peter Soulsby, the City Mayor of Leicester live on air...and all the time we spoke he was grinning from ear to ear with a barely suppressed excitement. He still wouldn't tell me whether it was Richard III 's body which had been found of course, but by now, I couldn't wait for 11am.

Meanwhile, it was still quiet in the car park....Matthew Morrison , the archaeologist who was there when they found the skeleton and a few of his team were there at 8am...but it was the lull before the storm.

Here's the exact spot where the remains were found



By half past ten, the beautiful, mediaeval Guildhall in Leicester was heaving with people, lights, cameras. Most of the daily newspapers had sent down  reporters, TV camera crews were there from all the major news networks here in the UK and from Canada.

A panel of experts, from the University of Leicester , led by Richard Buckley, were on stage to give us the news we had all been waiting for......that the remains appeared to be of an adult male.

The remains were found in the choir of the fransciscan friary, and that the Choir was the area reported in the historical record as the burial place of King Richard III.

There was a pause....then we were told the skeleton appeared to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma to the skull consistent with an injury received in battle, and a bladed implement appeared to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull.

Notice, at this stage we were getting a lot of "appeared to", but we were already on the edge of our seats. But Philippa Langley, an author, screnwriter and a member of the Richard III Society, told us, in breathy and emotional tones, that a ballad written just after the Battle of Bosworth claimed that Richard III died after being hit on the head with a poleaxe.

We were also informed that a barbed iron arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the skeleton’s upper back.

And then came the killer line....the skeleton found in the Choir area had spinal abnormalities and the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This was consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance.

There were audible intakes of breath around the Guildhall, and the panel were grinning. However, the experts are still hedging their bets, saying that they cannot confirm anything until the results of DNA tests.

A direct descendent of Richard III has been found...Michael Ibsen is a seventeenth generation descendent through the female line.....and his DNA tests will be compared to those of the body found under the car park.

I really can't wait to hear the results.

So after the press conference, it was back to the dig in the car park to interview Richard Buckley who is heading the dig and archeologist Matthew Morrison. ...which by now was crowded with people, camera crews, the City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and a couple of his bodyguards..



What a genuinely exciting day it was .....with a 500 year old mystery which is within a whisker of being solved.

Mind you, there's a more modern mystery connected with the find. Since the discovery of the body , there's a new account on twitter @richard_third

I don't know who's writing it, but the tweets are hilarious,  topical and make my day in a surreal sort of way.




There's another question which is already being debated - IF the body IS that of Richard III where should his body be reburied? Many say he should stay here in the Cathedral, a stone's throw away. But after 527 years in Leicester, could it be that Richard III could finally leave the city?

Today's track could be no other than this by Supergrass = Richard III!

Monday, 10 September 2012

greek style yoghurt...from Leicestershire

I love Greek yoghurt.....there's something about it's dreamy, creamy softness and freshness that never fails to hit the spot.

The first time I ate it for breakfast was in the Greek Islands years ago.....sitting squinting in the sunshine, the azure sea in front of us. Although before nine o clock, it was already hot, and the refreshingly cool sheeps yoghurt topped with thyme scented honey was the perfect start to the day.

From then on I would buy imported greek yoghurt to eat with honey, or to use as a base for a dip, or as a topping on tarts or crumbles.

So that left me in a bit of a quandary when I started my local eating challenge ...yes, I could easily buy locally produced yoghurt, but I hadn't found one with the tangy greek style taste I wanted.

Until about four months ago.  I bumped into  Peter Holmes from Manor Farm Dairy in Thrussington. Well, I didn't literally bump into him you understand, he was a doing a special tasting at a local farm shop, but one spoonful of the yoghurt, and I was hooked. I've been buying it ever since.

I went over to his farm a few weeks back to see how he, and his team make the yoghurt..... and you can listen here...

I went over early one afternoon, when over 200 cows had lined themselves up ready to be milked - between them they produce about a million and a half litres of milk which makes a quarter of a million litres of yoghurt.

The team of 5 or 6 people working in the dairy make both greek style yoghurt and low fat fruit yoghurts which are sold locally in small outlets and in five branches of Waitrose.

And guess what I had for breakfast yesterday morning , sitting in the sunshine ? Not topped with honey but with blackberries I picked from the garden a few minutes beforehand.....

I know in the current economic climate Greece needs all the help it can get, and the country does produce some exceedingly good yoghurt, but now, at least for me, local food rules.....


Saturday, 8 September 2012

A day of sunshine and a tear

Watching a rugby match when the temperatures are in the late 20's doesn't seem right. I'm not complaining though...far from it...

It was glorious this afternoon in the sunshine having an ice cold drink with Frankie and Sally as we watched the guys run themselves ragged  round the pitch.

But there's something about heat and rugby which seems out of kilter here in the Northern Hemisphere. For decades, I've been used to wearing layer upon layer of clothes, looking like a michelin man as I've supported both my sons as they played.

I've shouted myself hoarse in the biting winds, the freezing cold, the lashing rain....stamped my feet to keep warm and and watched my fingers go blue in grounds all over the UK and Europe watching my sons today, it seemed odd.

And strange too to be fighting back a tear or two on such a beautiful day....but I was. My eldest son wasn't playing today....he's now the backs coach for all the teams in his local club.

He's not playing because within the last four months he's had two operations on his knee. He's had bone grafted from his tibia, muscle from his hamstring to fashion a new cruciate ligament. It's the second time he's had this operation.

It's three weeks since the last operation and so he's still limping, but this week he's managing without crutches.

He's walking, but he won't be able to play rugby again...if he does, he could be in a wheelchair in ten years time. It's hit my son hard. He's loved the game since he was eight years's taken him around the world playing to quite a high level. But not now.

I was there when the incident happened in November - there's more here

 I also wondered how that player is enjoying his new rugby season ,and if he's changed his method of play from last year.

So that's why there was a tear or two today....not for me, for my son,  while I watched him with pride as he urged his team on - from the sidelines.

He's had quite a few knocks over the last few years, not just on the rugby pitch either - and this is the song he sings ,as he faces the next challenge...

It's "That's Life "by Frank Sinatra.....

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The day five went to Green Knowe

Last week we went to Cambridgeshire for the day. When I say we....I mean  the five of us. We're all children's writers, but more about us later...

We were there to  visit The Manor at Hemingford Grey, the atmospheric setting for a wonderful series of children's books written in the 1950's by Lucy Boston.

 We approached the house, as most must do, from the River Great Ouse....

Turn left , and then we caught our first glimpse of the's one of the oldest houses in Britain that has been continuously lived in was built in the 1130's and still retains many of its orginal features. It's a house famous in its own right, but the four acre acres of gardens also attract many visitors each year.

Pictures of the gardens coming up, but first, The Manor.

In Lucy Boston's books the house becomes Green Knowe. In the first a young boy called Toseland ( Tolly for short) goes to stay with his great grandmother, and meets the spirits of three children who lived in the houses during the reign of King Charles 11.

It's a wonderfully imaginative book, where the house is one of the major characters., and the five of us were entranced as soon as  we walk through the doors. Our guide was the welcoming , knowledgeable and humorous Diana Boston, Lucy's daughter in law. But this is no ordinary guided tour of a historical house .., there were stories and anecdotes at every turn, of how different rooms in the house inspired scenes in her books, of life in the Manor through the ages , of how Diana's husband Peter illustrated his mother's books, and of a labour of love to preserve the house. This is still a lived in home, with photographs, coats, and the muddle of everyday  life everywhere. I love it.

Lucy Boston moved into the Manor in 1939, just before war broke out. The RAF were based nearby , and during the war, Lucy entertained hundreds of airman...who would come over for record recitals , played on an old gramophone with bamboo needles...

As we sat in that room the ghosts of the past seemed to be everywhere. Uniformed airman about to go on dangerous missions ,perhaps for the last Norman knights.....I can't explain the shadows that seemed to flit around the room as Diana played us a song on the gramophone...Merrie England, sung by Gladys Ripley.

(This photo above was taken by Julia Hedgecoe)

An inspiring hour's tour, and then it was time for the gardens....

This is the view from the children's bedroom in the attic looking over the path to the river.....

When Lucy bought The Manor, the surrounding four acres were mostly fields but one of the most striking things she did was to create the topiary coronation and chess pieces you can see in the picture.

There's also lots of old roses and irises among the herbaceous plants.

There's plenty to explore in the gardens....this is Alex Gutteridge  wandering through to the side of the house

On another side of the house is this statue of St Christopher, which features in the Green Knowe books....

The Manor's garden isn't grand at all,  there's some quaint nooks and crannies  to delight in the utilty areas of the garden too....

All in all, a fascinating morning at the's the sort of place that you can't forget, and can't wait to return to...

And I'm not the only one to feel that way....the five of us who went to the Manor have all read the Green Knowe books, and we all felt the magic....

From left to right....Josephine Feeney, Pippa Goodhart, Debbie White, Alex Gutteridge and me...

I urge you to check them all out on google, wikipedia...whatever. They are all brilliant writers and I love their work.... but you won't be able to check mine out, because my time slip novel hasn't been published yet, unlike all theirs....

All too soon, it was time to leave the Manor, back by the River....what a day, such emotions....and such a lovely time with such a truly great gang of friends....

Today's track? I couldn't play any track apart from this's Gladys Ripley singing Merrie England...a song that gives me a sense of place, a sense of time, which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up....