Thursday, 5 December 2013

A dark day....and night


It's been a wild and windy day here in the UK, with rain, sleet and snow up north, lots of flooding around our coastline and much damage which has caused the deaths of two people already.

A dark day......

This evening, after three mini power cuts of perhaps 20 seconds each, there was another, lasting a hour and a half. A very quiet, reflective time. as I sat on the sofa watching the flames of the candles and tea lights.

A dark evening.....




And then as the lights came back on, and power was restored, we heard about the death of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

A very sad night indeed......

What a man, and what a legacy he has left.  I hope that his wisdom and his wish for peace,  reconciliation and working together  continue to shine brightly in his rainbow nation.

 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Back in the land of Richard III


Remember this scene?

Wednesday 12th September 2012...the scene in the Guildhall in Leicester as the archaeology team from the University of Leicester announced the discovery of a skeleton at the Greyfriars dig.

I can still oh so vividly recall the delicious tingle as I heard the evidence so far about their find.

You can see the back of my head in shot on the left hand side ...it looks as if the TV camera is resting on my shoulder....



Well, since then , millions of words have been written about the discovery of Richard III in newspapers and journals across the world, but I'm pleased to say that the two leading archaeologists involved have now written a book about the startling series of events before and after the discovery.

Their book "Richard III, the King under the Car Park" was launched two weeks ago yesterday at the University of Leicester, and books were literally being grabbed off the tables , money being thrown at the university bookshop sales and assistants, and the authors must have been getting cramp from all the copies they were signing.

One of the authors is the unassuming Mathew Morris, I remember meeting him first thing in the morning at the dig  the day the first announcement was made. I was with the radio car doing live broadcasts, he was quietly checking the site...and there was a security guard. Just the three of us...and it really was the calm before the storm...
 

It was great to see Mathew last Friday, enjoying the drinks and the canap├ęs, yet finding time to talk to everyone.
 


 

And of course Richard Buckley was there too...the project director and lead archaeologist for the Greyfriars project, as well as being the co director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services team. I can't remember how many times I've interviewed Richard, yet he always finds something fresh and interesting to say and he still hasn't lost a  genuine sense of wonder about the whole discovery.



 

 
And here's the book!



 

What I like about this is the way both Mathew and Richard have managed to straddle the difficulty of producing a book which satisfies their peers and yet makes this archaeological find so accessible to everyone. At a very affordable price and published by the University of Leicester, it's the first to tell the story from those who actually found the King, sharing  what happened at the dig, the mood there, and putting the find into context with mediaeval Leicester.

Luckily I managed to fight off others and buy some copies from a quickly dwindling pile on the night and get them signed.

Meanwhile in other Richard III news, the University of Leicester has received royal recognition for the excellence of the work on the discovery of the King, with the award of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. 
 
And there's more good news....yesterday,  the University of Leicester was also awarded "Research Project of the Year" at this year's Times Higher Education Awards for it's work on the discovery of Richard III.
 
 
But, and here's a big but, everything is not hunky dory in Richard III land here in Leicester. The legal battle over where his remains should be buried was adjourned at the High Court on Wednesday.

It's all getting very complicated. A judicial review will now judge whether the procedure which led to his bones being excavated here in the city was done correctly .

Before the dig even began, a licence to carry out the dig, issued by the Ministry of Justice, gave the authority to decide where to rebury the king to the university.

The latest hoo ha  still involves the Plantaganet Alliance...whose members want Richard buried in York Minister, and who are challenging the Justice Secretary's decision not to consult further before granting a licence to the University of Leicester to excavate the King's remains.

 They were given permission to bring  judicial review proceedings against both the Justice Secretary and the University of Leicester a while back by a High Court judge.....but now an adjournment has been declared so that the Leicester City Council can play a role too in the decision regarding what happens to the remains. (It was in their car park that the King was found.)

Well, I did warn you it was getting very complicated and long winded and it looks as if this is one story which just keeps running.

Meanwhile, this song has been running through my head as I've been writing this.....Finders Keepers by the Chairman of the Board from 1973 ....

And as far as I and thousands of other people, in this city and beyond, are concerned, Richard was found here, and should be kept here....






 


 









 


 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A what a bargain day

I nipped out at lunchtime the other day to buy some salad stuff from the market...the usual lettuce, tomatoes, some crisp celery, that sort of thing. That was all.

But as I walked away from the stall, I caught sight of a big mound of limes.....nine for 50 pence. Nine? For how much? Why were they so cheap? After all, in my local supermarket they are selling for thirty five pence each.  I took a few paces back, closely gave them the once over yet they were all perfect apart from one which was fine but a little yellow.

Two minutes later they were in my basket, despite the fact that I'd had no intention of buying a lime at all, let alone nine of them.

As I walked back to work, I began to plan some pork and lime burgers....an adaptation of a delicious Nigel Slater recipe, but what to do with the remaining eight limes...?




Then I thought of Lucy Cufflin's coconut, ginger and lime cake....which is an old stalwart from the time when we were both on a British Red Cross committee consisting of about ten women of all ages.  Every summer, some very generous people would open their garden in aid of the Red Cross, and we would provide the teas and sell cakes etc.

Lucy's cakes were always absolutely wonderful to look at and pretty tasty too. No wonder , as she is a cordon bleu trained chef, has her own food business and has written a cookbook, called Lucy's Food. so I'm going to make that cake later.

But what to do with the remaining seven limes?

Well, one or two of them will be used up tonight. In a delightful concoction. In a jug, with mint and alcohol.  Well, mint is still growing in the garden so I might as well use some....  




But what am I going to do with the remaining five limes?

I'd really like your suggestions please, so what are your favourite lime based recipes? I'd love to try out some of your suggestions.

And have you ever frozen lime juice? Does it taste good when thawed?

Today's track is by Jack Penate, which I've been singing along to at the top of my voice in the kitchen this afternoon. Boo and Winnie shot me withering glances. They don't appreciate my singing, but I'm sure you will love this song which is "Be the one"


 
 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Days of Remembrance


A very last minute post today....


Remembrance Sunday has affected me more than usual this year. It's always been a time to remember all those who fought in wars and conflicts since the days of the First Word War, and I've very personal reasons to remember especially those who fought and fell in Flanders...






Being immersed in the  world of the First World war for the last six weeks now at work, I'm finding some wonderful stories of heroism, such poignant stories which have been making me cry, and other stories of duty and devotion that just you just couldn't make up.

Yesterday I went to Coalville for the memorial service there, and it was a beautiful morning with the sun shining brightly and a good turnout to honour those who have fought and died .






There were veterans from every conflict and war since the Second World War...



The Gurkas marched too....







The long procession made its way to the town's very tall memorial


And as we sang, red paper poppies cascaded through the sky from the very top


And the band played carefully and reverently as different groups lay their wreaths....




What was so humbling that I knew as we stood there and remembered, this scene was being played out in locations all around the country, Europe and the world ...as we all remembered those who we loved and lost.



Friday, 8 November 2013

Days when Winnie comes to stay....

I hear you've already been told about the new whipper snapper called Winnie - the puppy who's joined the family.
See here  When we met Winnie

Well, I've seen quite a bit of her since she arrived three or four weeks ago. She even came for a sleepover during the first week, and she'd only been here about five minutes before she was trying to find something to eat in my bowl! I'm calling her Princess Pushy from now on........




Anyway, the first time her owners left her with us, I thought she might be slightly frightened...after all she was only eight weeks old. So I tried to jolly her along with a bit of a game....and she went bananas. Playing, jumping, biting my ears, and pulling on my beard....which was the last straw. I retreated for a while, but she was like a Duracell battery...she just kept on going.

Mrs Thinking of the Days decided that enough was enough , and sat us both on the sofa, and eventually Winnie and I went to sleep. Well, it was X Factor on the telly....

When it was time for bed, she was put in her cage, and I sat on my chair, but it was so strange to have another dog in my kitchen at night time, especially one that cried.

Still, she's here every weekend now....and I have to say Winnie is growing on me. But when we play, even though I've shown her that we don't really bite or hurt people,  she forgets, and as she has the sharpest little teeth, I sometimes have to growl at her.

However, what really gets my goat, is how she invades my space. Nowhere is sacred...even my computer chair, where I sit right beside Bridget when she's tip tapping away at the computer.  I make my displeasure known of course but Winnie takes no notice and just goes to sleep.



And sometimes I have to give in otherwise I wouldn't get a moments peace.



She doesn't sleep for long though, and although she's become sort of house trained, she still leaves quite a few puddles on the floor. I'm calling her Wee Winnie at the moment....

And the other week, she had the audacity to pull down my hand knitted blanket, a gift to me from Mama, onto the floor and dragged it under the table, on the edge of one of those puddles, and sit there like Lady Muck. I was just about to tell Winnie her fortune (and it wasn't a good one) when I was stopped by Bridget. You can tell I'm not happy though, can't you?




 

 
These sleepovers seem to  becoming a regular thing....which I'm quite enjoying now....especially on a Saturday night in front of the telly.
 
 
 

I wonder whether Winnie is coming this weekend?

 Here's a video of Winnie and I - you see what I'm having to put up with?

 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Days of gardening questions


I've always liked listening to Down to Earth on BBC Radio Leicester. It's the longest running gardening programme on local radio and has been broadcast every week for over 45 years, and that's no mean achievement.

Geoff Amos chaired the programme for many years, and Dave Andrews has been the popular presenter for the last decade. But this year, I've had a chance to present this programme too while Dave was away on holiday, and had some extra time off. It's been wonderful fun, and great to meet so many BBC Radio Leicester listeners out and about in the county.

Here's one programme in Huncote we made earlier this summer...on the panel left to right are :Chris Gutteridge, a garden designer who won a silver gilt medal at Chelsea last year; Ray Coombes, who is the most knowledgeable man I've ever met when it comes to seeds and vegetables and Josie Hutchinson, who is a former lecturer at Brooksby College and so warm and chatty.


 
 

They are just a few of the panelists who turn each week to either record programmes at churches, community centres, village halls and pubs, or to appear in the studio for a live phone in.
 
They're wonderful, all of them...Derek Cox is a former nurseryman who has been appearing on the programme for about 46 years, and still has a wicked glint in his eye as he teases other members of the panel, the audiences and me. John Smith owns a fuschia nursery and has also been on the panel for over 40 years, and the very helpful Mike Salotti from Brooksby Hall is another regular.
 
The two youngest on the panel are nursery owner Helen Osborne who has the most raucous laugh and a great sense of humour, and Ady Dayman, all round good egg and extremely talented cheeky chappie.
Another great stalwart of the programme is the sound engineer Maclolm Pugh who's been in charge of recording the outside broadcasts for over 30 years.
 
 


 

So as you might guess, I've had such fun presenting these programmes and learning so much about gardening from them all.

But there's another gardening programme which I love to listen to and that's Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.



The programme is recorded each week in a different location, and about ten days ago, the team came to the University of Leicester . Eric Robson was in firm command in the chair,  Anne Swithinbank and  Bob Flowerdew were on the panel with Matt Biggs who received a large cheer from the crowd - he grew up in Leicester!)

 I went to watch with Ady Dayman...we were very interested to see how the programme was put together, and sat on the back row like naughty schoolchildren. Well, there was nowhere else for us to go, the hall was packed.



We noticed that as well as Eric chairing the programme with his posh script, there were two sound engineers and a producer....we only have one engineer, and I'm afraid I have to produce myself.

 
 
Apart from staffing, in essence, it's exactly the same as Down to Earth...those who ask questions are placed on the front row, they ask what they want to know - "Could the panel please tell me why...." and all the panel  seem to have different ideas on way to deal with a query or a problem.  Many of the questions cover similar topics to those in Down to Earth, such as squirrels in gardens and getting rid of slugs and snails , which seem to have been popular this year!
 
Anne Swithinbank radiates calm, Matt made everyone laugh and Bob Flowerdew became quite poetic about a certain plant..."When gorse is out of flower, love is out of fashion."
 
 
All in all, an enjoyable evening, especially afterwards when Matt Biggs, Ady Dayman and I went for a pint. If we're being pedantic, they had pints , I drank a mojito and we all had a great chat about gardening, broadcasting and more besides.
 

 
 


 
 
Today's track is an old favourite....beautifully paced, it's off the seminal album by Neil Young, "After the Goldrush."
 
 I wonder where my old vinyl copy went to? Still, the track has a very appropriate title which is "Tell me why"

 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Blackberry Days Part 2

I honestly thought that the blackberries had all but finished, but I saw my friend Susie yesterday on the lane between our two villages, picking merrily away whilst her two terriers waited patiently. To be fair they weren't the most perfect of specimens, (the blackberries, not the dogs)  but as Susie says, they would be fine for blackberry vodka.

Blackberry vodka? Oh no, I don't do vodka....ever since the olden days.. since the first Christmas after leaving the convent school, I got drunk on a number of vodkas and lime. You will note that the exact number isn't mentioned. That's because I'm unsure of the number - it may have been four or five. No more though...

My first hangover. I thought my head and stomach  would explode, and I vowed never to drink the stuff ever again. I couldn't even stomach the smell of Roses's lime cordial for years either.

So the thought of blackberry vodka even after all these years was distinctly unappealing. Until yesterday.

I blame my friend Laura. I was whizzing down to her place to get something to knit a gash on my arm, which kept splitting open. Another incident down at the allotment in case you were wondering....

Ever efficient, she had a well stocked medicine cabinet cleaned, the wound and patched me up...but unlike my local doctor's surgery ,she also offered me a wee glass of blackberry vodka.

She's made quite a lot this year as well as other fruit vodkas and gins.



I smelt it first, fruity but clean. I took a tentative taste...and I began to smile. Bursting with blackberries, it also was so smooth, I polished the glass off faster than you can say "Hallelujah". My decades long aversion to vodka was cured in a couple of minutes.

On my way back up the hill, I bumped into Susie, who was still blackberrying. I think she's out to outdo Laura in the quantity stakes....they'll be getting a still next.


So guess what I was doing this afternoon? Walking Boo around the village , picking about 500gms of  blackberries to make a bottle 's worth.






Which I have done, and which will now be put away until Christmas. Or perhaps not - depending on my willpower.

Today's track is from Josh Kemp, a Midlands musician in his early twenties, who I met the other week at the launch of Oxjam. He's a engaging songwriter, with some gorgeous love song lyrics, but he's also such  a good guitarist. What's more, he really made me laugh with this song taken from his new EP Sofa Surfin.

His hangover was far more extreme than mine ( I just lay in a darkened room) ....but I expect it strikes a chord with many....



 

Friday, 18 October 2013

days spent back in World War 1


You'll have to forgive me, I've been a little emotional since the beginning of October.

I'm spending most of my waking hours in the early twentieth century working on the biggest project that the BBC will broadcast to mark the centenary of the First World War next year.

It's a special  project across all local radio Stations called World War One at Home.
My job is to search out local stories which will surprise, show the huge impact World War I had on us here at home, and remember those who gave their lives between 1914 and 1918.

It's fascinating work , and I'm coming across interesting, heart warming, desperately sad, and riveting stories which will be broadcast next year. Those stories just won't appear on local radio though, they'll be across the BBC website too, and they will be archived for posterity at the Imperial War Museum.

For someone who's loves history as much as I do, this is a dream project to be working on, to make sure that what happened won't be forgotten by today's generations and those in the future.

Last week, I went to Belgium, to visit the area around Ypres, or Ieper as it's also called.  The name became synonymous with destruction, trench warfare, and the slaughter of half a million soldiers in the battlefields nearby during the four years of the war.

The Flanders Field Museum in Ypres...





Ypres was destroyed by German troops during the war,with a hardly a building left standing. But it was rebuilt, recreating the layout of streets and the buildings.



The sacrifice that so many British and Commonwealth soldiers made there is remembered every night at the Menin Gate Memorial at a very special ceremony which takes place at 8pm sharp. The ceremony, and the names of 58,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers commemorate those who died but whose bodies were never found.


 
 
 
 
Wreathes and crosses are left there every day by visitors, well wishers, and families of the dead
 
 


And as my eyes scanned the rows and rows of names, and where they came from, my heart grew heavier and heavier, my throat grew tight , at one stage I felt as if I couldn't breathe as I realised the scale of the slaughter around here.


 
 
 Of course it's difficult to see each name, but in each pillar, there's a niche
 
 
 
where there are books listing the names of everyone commemorated . 

 



 
 

Traffic is usually streaming under the Menin Gate, but at 7.45pm, it is halted, and the crowds stand ready








 The Last Post is played by men from the town's fire brigade, wreaths are laid, and then everyone moves quietly away at the end of the simple fifteen to twenty minute ceremony, all moved by the
experience. 
 
The traffic begins to flow again under the Menin Gate, and Ypres come back to life once more.
 

 
 
 
 
 
There's no track today, but here's the link to a feature I made about the ceremony and the people I met there..... please listen....
 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jwlgc

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The day I drove the happy accident to her new home....

There's a new addition to our family.....and even though she wasn't exactly planned , she's absolutely adorable.

Her name is Winnie and she's eight weeks old. She's a dog, not a grandchild...in case you were wondering.

My eldest son and his gorgeous girlfriend moved into a cottage in the country a few months ago, and were desperate to buy a new puppy. They came across Winnie, and that was it, they fell in love with her.

Today was the day to pick her up...unfortunately my son's girlfriend was in the Cotswolds earlier, so I got the chance to help bring her to her new home.

Here she is in the car...



Isn't she cute? Now, you may be wondering what breed of dog Winnie is...and I wouldn't blame you. And thereby hangs a tale.....I shall call it the tale of the happy accident.

Winnie's mother Roxy is a scruffy terrier of dubious heritage. There's obviously some patterdale in her , but what else, I haven't a clue. Border terrier perhaps? Anyway, she's black and grey in colour, and when I say scruffy...I mean it, her wiry fur stands up as if she's been plugged into an electrical socket and she has a tail like a bristly brush. A loo brush. Having said she's quite dainty, if a little forward if you get my drift.

About seventeen weeks ago , Roxy's owners went on holiday for a few weeks, and parents were drafted in to look after her. Well they did, but Roxy was in season...and in a moment of lust, madness, call it what you will, she escaped into next door's garden. In the garden was a randy cocker spaniel who couldn't look this gift horse in the mouth. A female in season coming to call...well ,he wasn't going to say "No" was he?

The result was Winnie, her brother and two sisters...none of whom look alike ,although they do look like spaniels. Scruffy spaniels...

Here she is with her new owner....







Winnie is mainly black, with brown paws and a few white flashes,  but when I first saw her from behind, I thought she'd sat in a bowl of porridge. Her bottom is a fawn colour , a round fawn shape, which if you had a bow and arrow , would make an excellent target.Very unusual, but I have to say she's the sweetest little puppy, very affectionate and playful.

Here she is with me - have a closer look at her....her face, not her bottom!


Winnie has already melted my heart...indeed, she really is a happy accident who will bring so much joy to my son and his girlfriend. And if she's not a pedigree dog, who cares? We certainly don't - we love her for who she is.

The only one who might be slightly wary, and even sharp with this little bundle of loveliness is my dog Boo, who is sitting next to me here at the computer, as if butter wouldn't  melt in her mouth......



She's very protective of me and may be slightly territorial or snappy when this little whippersnapper comes to call. When I came home this afternoon, she knew that I'd been holding another dog. She sniffed, she cried, and looked at me as if I was a traitor. But Boo is going to have to get used to Winnie, because she's coming for a sleepover in two weeks time. I'll let you know how they get on.....


Today's track is a song I had swirling around in my head this afternoon thinking about our happy little accident and how if Roxy hadn't have snuck into next door's garden, Winnie wouldn't be here...

It's by  Counting Crows , one of my favourite bands back in the nineties and it's called "Accidentally in Love".