Sunday, 29 September 2013

Quiet days

Until the New Year, I'm going to be very busy work wise. I' m starting a new which will last three months, mean lots of extra work and I'm sure it's going to be very emotional. I can't wait!

Next weekend will be busy at home, with friends and relatives staying and a big meal planned ,then  three days later I'm going on an action packed trip to Belgium. So this weekend, I promised myself a quiet weekend at rabble rousing or staying up all hours, oh no.

And I've kept my promise -just quiet days in the countryside making the most of these, warm, sunshiney days which are left this year. They seem so very precious.

Early Friday evening, Boo and I walked went for a hour long walk up a dusty track

To one of Farmer Phil's fields....And while Boo sniffed out the hedgerow, I took these snapshots, anxious to preserve these beautiful moments...

And how pretty the pastel wrapped bales look....

As I looked over the fields,  I was struck by the horrible thought that within another eight to ten weeks, it will pitch dark and cold by this time of day.

I spent the whole of Saturday in the garden ....pruning, hacking and slashing  at the wild undergrowth, and yanking out weeds with relish. The brambles fought back mind you, and I smelt of eau de TCP as I dabbed away at the scratches. This was only round one in the current battle to stop the garden looking like I was on the film set of The Day of The Triffids.

 At least one corner of the garden has been slightly trimmed, if not tamed.

So,  lots of work to be done over the coming months in the garden, but by yesterday evening I could do no more, and it was time to sit out in front of the ha ha with a glass of wine, and Boo sitting at my feet.

 It was about six thirty ish,  the temperature began to drop, but we sat for another quarter of an hour, drinking in both the view and another glass of wine. Well , at least I did...

There's lots more to do though....this garden looks fine from a  distance...if you get too close, you see weeds, plants that have no right to be where they are....they've just seeded themselves where they please, thank you very much.

And today has been another beautiful day spent in the garden, pottering, picking blackberries and enjoying some quiet, solitary time. I suppose I should go back into the kitchen and get a groove on with the Sunday roast. But the sun is still out, and there's some more sitting out quietly in the sunshine to be done....making the most of it before the winter steals it away....

Today's track is by the wonderful John Butler Trio's called "Better than"....
It's from the " Grand National " album which came out in 2007, which formed part of the soundtrack to my first trip to Western Australia.....and I only have to listen to this to be transported back to vivid blue skies, all year round outdoor living and having fun with my son and daughter....


Sunday, 22 September 2013

a day of beauty

I've heard the word "beautiful" used to describe everything from a dress to  a pint of lager in the last week. 

I haven't heard the word "beauty" so often though. So what is beauty? I know it's in the eye of the beholder....but it's defined as a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially sight, or a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense.

And last Thursday I was surrounded by real beauty in such different forms.

Early that evening I'd been invited to the launch of the flower festival at Leicester Cathedral. This year's theme was the motto of King Richard III .."Loyalty Binds Me"

 Now, I have a very soft spot for the cathedral...I work about sixty paces away, I've spent much time there, but have never seen a  flower festival there.

In fact, I've never really appreciated or "got" a flower festival before. I prefer to see flowers growing gardens, in parks, in the countryside. Or if they must be inside, I like them  arranged naturally, artlessly in a jug, not dressed up to kill in  contrived designs.

But beauty was all around the cathedral lit up at twilight, with the glow of the patina of polished pews in the candlelight, and flowers everywhere.

There was beauty of the flowers themselves, beauty in the creation of the displays, and such clever interpretations of Richard's motto.

It really was fascinating walking around the cathedral, admiring the regal and moving displays. Richard Buckley, the Director of the University of Leicester archaeological services was guest of honour ad the whole event seemed like a marker for a much more historic event which hopefully will take place next year, when Richard III is interred here.

But it was then on to watch the incredibly talented Kathryn Williams who was appearing at the Musician in Leicester. There was real beauty in her amazingly pure voice which effortlessly and quickly steals my heart again every time I see her perform.

There's beauty to admire in her clever lyrics of love, loss and everyday connumdrums which are so pleasingly partnered with just the right chords.

And I 'm moved by the beauty of the cello playing and arrangements of Ben Trigg...which complement Kathryn's vocals so well, as they performed old favourites such as Jasmine Hoop and Soul to Feet, as well as new songs from her new album "Crown Electric " which is released on 30th September.

So, what a brilliant night, being surprisingly beguiled by beauty all around.

Which means today's track has to be by Kathryn Williams doesn't it? This is the video for her latest single "Heart Shaped Stone"......please watch right until the ending....which made me laugh in sheer delight...


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The day when the beans fought back...

I planted my French beans and runner beans  earlier this year at the allotment with such optimism....but the first lot were decimated by slugs and the wet weather of early summer.

I wasn't deterred, I wanted beans...and lots of  them. "Bung slug pellets everywhere " I was told by friends and fellow allotmenteers. But the thing is, I don't like using slug pellets. Granted I hate slugs even more ...slimy, ugly things they are...but no, slug pellets were out of the question.

"Try putting egg shells all around them as a barrier" I was then advised. Dutifully, I saved we breakfasted on boiled eggs, scrambled eggs plus I made frittatas a couple of times for lunch. There still weren't  weren't enough eggshells to put around my bean plants...and by now, I was becoming egg bound.

That's when I remembered reading about coffee grounds being a deterrent, so I started saving those...and drinking more coffee. I love coffee, but you know when you've had too much of now I was losing sleep and getting rather twitchy. So, feeling cheeky, I went into Almeida, the lovely little coffee shop right by the BBC studios where I work, and asked if they would save me their coffee grounds.

They said yes...and I was taking home carrier bags of the stuff...the car smelt divine...and I threw the lot around my newly planted beans. And do you know what - no slugs have been seen since. What a result.

Which means of course, my allotment and I are now full of beans!

This year I grew Firestorm runners from Thompson and Morgan..I've not done so before,, but definitely will do so again next year. Vigorous, lots of beans, with a really good flavour. As for the French can't beat Cobra....these were from Mr Fothergills Seeds - perfect to look at, quick to grow and by golly there's lots of them.

So the other Saturday, late afternoon, I was at the allotment with Boo the dog. She was running around the perimeter sniffing everywhere, and I was squatting on my haunches picking some runners at the lowest level. There were quite a few pounds of them, but as I stood up, the ligament on the side of my knee snapped..just like an elaggy band. My leg gave way and I ended up on the floor in an ungainly heap. I know I groaned, and I may have possibly uttered a few swear words. Actually, there's no possibly about it,....I definitely did. It was bloody painful.

The next day, I was driven into work to present the gardening programme followed by the local history programme, followed by a trip to hospital to get the knee checked out. It was. Knee was very swollen and stiff .Friends and colleagues asked how I'd injured it. Skateboarding, running and other physical activities were just some of the guesses but no one guessed that beans would be involved.

So no driving for four days....and this weekend at the allotment I was very careful only stopping to pick the beans and raspberries and get Mr Thinking of the days to do the watering.

There were pounds and pounds more beans to freeze and eat.
I took some of them into the courtyard to top, tail and slice while I sat in the courtyard enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Then there were more....

With so many, it took a while and became quite thirsty work.....

So that evening we had the french beans, boiled until tender, drained, and then put back on the still warm hotplate, with a couple of slices of taleggio cheese thrown into the pot. This magically melted on impact with the beans, into a delicious sauce .

Today's oldie but still a goodie and so appropriate this week not just for me, but for all my local farming friends...


Thursday, 5 September 2013

the day that Summer Sundae ended...

It started in 2001 ....a ten hour festival in the grounds of De Montfort Hall....a beautiful concert hall in Leicester with the most amazing acoustics . The hall has celebrated its one hundredth anniversary this summer, but unfortunately there 'll no more celebrations for Summer Sundae. It has been cancelled

By 2012, the festival had grown into a much larger three day event attracting thousands of people each year.

Top of the bill back in 2001 were lambchop and Morcheeba....but according to organisers the festival has been permanently cancelled because of financial pressures.

The festival was the brainchild of Richard Haswell, the then manager of De Montfort Hall...he saw that the opening was right for a city festival...and by 2003 had attracted the likes of Steve Earle, Emmy Lou Harris and Beth Orton to headline.

Over the years, Summer Sundae has offered something for everyone from folk to reggae, indie to country alt, electro pop to punk...there's been a an eclectic mix of artists which appealed to a wide ranging audience.

That was the beauty of the festival...people of all ages interested in music....from young teenagers excited by the delights of their first festival, to young families and veteran gig goers. Plus, there was always such a laid back vibe, with lots to keep little ones entertained.

Summer Sundae also developed a reputation for putting on artists who were on the cusps of their careers..just about to really grab the Amy Winehouse and local lads Kasabian in 2004, like Mumford and Sons in 2010 and so many more.

It also acted as a showcase for local bands...many attracting a wider audience, and interest from record labels and A and R men.

So what will I remember most about Summer Sundae? So many things.....going back stage to interview the bands and artists....everyone from Ocean Colour Scene...

Magic Numbers,

Elbow, Jose Gonsalez, Mylo, the Mystery Jets, Kathryn Williams, Mr Hudson, Teenage Fan Club, Ben Harpur, Idlewild and so many more. Chatting to them about their music and what they were getting upto was such a was being with Mumford and Sons for nearly two hours recording their Mercury one hour documentary for BBC6Music.

So what performances stand out for me? Macy Gray delivered the punchiest performance back in 2008 and brought the audience alive....lying on the grass in the early evening watching the clouds scud across the sky and listening to Bon Iver....., Mumford and Sons in 2010 getting thousands dancing and singing....Mylo electrifying the Indoor Stage  and everyone jumping to the music, and becoming emotional hearing the pitch perfect , pure tones of Kathryn Williams .

What else do I remember? Being with my daughter, enjoying the music together .The friendships forged at Summer Sundae....the laughter...meeting for mojitos at the end of the day....sitting on the grass with a huge group of friends from different parts of my life, seeing so many people really enjoying themselves, and then on Sunday nights, as everyone left the festival to go home, I would race back to the BBC studios, to work until the early hours of the morning getting features and news clips ready for the Monday breakfast show.

I do have one regret though....I missed the very first festival in 2001. But I was there for the next eleven festivals which became an essential part of summer life in our city.

Summer Sundae wasn't held this year...but was expected to return next year, even though the festival had to be subsidised in 2012 to the tune of £80,000 by Leicester City Council. Organiser Rob Challice said today though that " a  festival with such an array of entertainment and professional production standards is just not possible in the current economic climate."

 Summer were a sad day for everyone who enjoyed three days of fun and great music in Leicester in August for over a decade.


 Here's my review of Summer Sundae 2010..and links to some of the interviews.

Today's track is a very different sounding Amy Winehouse recorded at Summer Sundae in 2004. She was on stage in the afternoon.....I sat down and watched her while having a 15 minute break - she really captured my interest.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Days mixed up..a Tuesday posting about Friday nights

There's a different smell in the air, the mornings are different.....cooler and bringing the promise of Autumn.

Don't get me wrong, I love Autumn as a season, but it's what lies beyond that...the dark nights and diminished days of winter, that I loathe.

What I always miss about summer are the long light nights....and that's something my friends Laura, Susie and I have been making the most of over the last few months.

Most Friday nights we meet at the local winter we sit by the fire with a bottle of wine...sometimes more...and we catch up on what's happened, what's going on. We meet early..sixish if we can, , and are usually home by eightish.

It's very good weather , we've sat in the pub's little garden with a bottle and an ice bucket....but as the summer temperatures increased, we decided to meet up in each others gardens and really enjoy our summer evenings.

We started off  in June with bottles of wine and a few the nights became longer, our appetites grew larger , we progressed to Pimms ,crudités, hummous...


to prosecco, bread and cheese, grapes....
to sloe gin cocktails, olives, salads
to jugs of mojitos, homemade dips ...and the only evening  we sat inside because it was too breezy but with the French doors open....

back to wine.....and as summer has progressed, we've laughed and gossiped our way through the wines , spirits , snacks and canapes of many of our favourite countries. When I say gossiped though...that's not strictly true. The three of us talk about anything from history, news and current affairs, psychology, films, gardening, food...and oh alright, they may be the odd moment when we discuss the latest gossip.

It's been such good fun....and I think I can safely's something we'll be repeating next year.....

In the soundtrack to my summer though, one band has featured prominently...Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo.....if you get the chance to see them, do! They are great live, the girls switching between instruments...but held together by Emily's beautiful and evocative voice. They headlined the marquee stage at this year's  Simon Says festival in Leicester in July  where I was compering...and it was such a pleasure to stand and watch from the side of the stage and appreciate just how enjoyably good they are.

Here's "Ghost Narrative"