We are on the latter half of our week in the Greek Aegean . Known as “Crete part two: escape from Sissi” as we try to forget the ’boutique’ hotel that was more Tesco than teashop and the ‘authentic Cretan village’ it nestled in more Portsmouth than Portobello. But fabulous if you’d been expecting a Premier Inn. But we weren’t so it is a joy to be in a wonderful place with its own beach and water sports. Which we availed ourselves of yesterday hiring a speedboat and its captain to take us on a seaborne adventure and stopping on the way for snorkelling and general cooling off in the blue waters.

And each of us took a turn at the helm. Starting with son who has never even tried to drive a car, but seemed to take to the water with ease whizzing us along the coastline. The daughters pressed the throttle even further and enjoyed the weaving in and out of bays. Cap’n Clarke himself also managed to keep us all afloat and seemed a natural. Then it was my turn. I’ve always loved driving. The dodgems were my favourite fairground ride. I watched rallies as a teen and learnt to drive as soon as I could. I may have mentioned an illegal escapade here.

So it was with no fear that I perched behind the wheel of the beautiful speedboat. Too short to see  without standing up, I focused on the horizon and sped off. Within moments the real captain was trying to help hubby to his feet. He had been thrown upwards so violently by my crashing through the waves that he had “broken his arse’ as he so delicately put it crashing back down on to his seat and thence to the floor. But he gallantly waved me to continue so I did. Pushing the throttle forward again, rising high above the waves, a daughter screamed and threw her Mythos over her sister as she too succumbed to the white knuckle ride that was my driving. The beercan crushed in fear as she too landed on the floor of the boat. Chessington should employ me.

Daytona. Four stars

August 3, 2014

I am not a fan of Maureen Lipman. She routinely plays a stereotypical Jewish mother in a way I do not warm to. But in this three handler although again using the occasional phrase or mannerism as a comedic device , I found her much more plausible and engaging. But the star of the show was the long lost brother. His breathless, excited recounting of his life is perfectly foiled by his brother’s calm repression. The second half picks up the pace and the story keeps us enthralled. The traumas they have been through, the emotions, the passion. And now this. The play raises numerous moral issues and sees how the three of them have dealt with them differently.
We sat in the third row of the stalls and I think that made it all the more enjoyable as it is an intimate play. I’m not sure I would have been as involved in the dress circle. Four stars.

You might think four folk nearer 60 than 50 would take in a theatre trip, maybe a meal and potter home after a civilised cultural evening. But you’d be wrong. In our case we went to the wonderful Globe to see Julius Casesar. The weather had been forecast as dry but the rain lashed down as the plot to kill him evolved. We sat smugly in the dry, but did feel for those standing in a good couple of inches of water. The play was well done. Have to admit I’m more of a fan of the tragedies and comedies than histories and missed the love interest and general banter. But it was good.
We ate in the Swan bar attached to the Globe and headed off along the south bank, stopping at local hostelries and bizarrely bumping in to relatives. We continued on. Over the water to villiiers street to a newish wine bar ( son of Gordon’s). And thence on to the Ship and Shovell. The only pub in two halves. And one of our companions was able to give us a resume of Admiral Shovell himself. Although by this time I was in no fit state to remember it.

On a meal deal at the Menier – one of the best theatre experiences. Lovely food served quickly and washed down with wine. And so to see Forbidden Broadway – the pisstake of the current big production musicals running in the West End. Well, obviously it was originally about the Broadway ones, but perhaps ‘Shafting Shaftesbury” or ‘Dreary Drury’ just didn’t cut it.

So this is the second time I’ve seen this – the first time about 5 years ago in the same theatre, but this version is updated and relates to current shows. And it is great. Obviously helps if you’ve seen the actual shows to get all the in jokes, but even though I had not been drawn in to see The Pajama Game up town, I knew enough about it to find the Menier’s “Revival Game” a cracking number. They basically say the things most people are thinking and do it with fabulous singing voices and humour themselves. The four-strong cast takes us through all the big ones: Billy Elliot, Lion King, Miss Saigon, Phantom, Wicked, Matilda, Once, Jersey Boys, West Side Story,….. too numerous to mention, but the best for me had to be the fantastic parody of Les Mis just before the interval. The superb farce of them pretending to get on and off a rotating stage is making me snigger at the memory. The classic ‘Master of the House’ overblown, over acted and with lyrics along the lines of ‘Half an empty house, still we never close”, and the bored extra singing “On my phone”, about how all she wants to do is get out of there.

The second half was not as strong, with some solo bits I could have done without and references to stars who I didn’t know. But still a great night out if you enjoy a well executed revue show in a fabulous little theatre.

So last night we are having people round for dinner and split the meal so that hubby doing starters and I’m doing mains and pud. I’m thinking slow roasted lamb. Easy. slap the veg and wine in a casserole pot and job done. Made it before and works a treat.

As hubby is roasting tomatoes and will want a highish heat, I decide I will leave him the oven that I have been cooking the chocolate mousse cake in and use the second oven to slow roast the lamb. This is a new cooker and in fact I’ve never used the second oven before, but seriously, what can go wrong? It’s just a matter of turning a dial. Unfortunately when I go to take the lamb out just before the starters are served, I realise it is still raw. Despite having been in the oven for seven hours. Well, not completely raw, but even the surrounding carrots still weren’t cooked. We have six guests and no main course. I call hubby in from outside, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice.

We transferred the lamb to the main oven whilst we tried to figure out what to do. Luckily on his Waitrose trip he had bought Sunday’s roast and it was beef. And in fact he’d bought two pieces for some  (still unexplained) reason. So we cut them in to smaller joints, turned the heat up full blast in the main oven and slammed them in. The roast potatoes were transferred to the second oven to keep warm. The green beans flopped limply in the pan, gently overcooking.

We sat down for starters, ate slowly and forty minutes later the beef was carved, the potatoes burnt and the green beans mush. But we served it anyway and our guests had to eat it. There was no other choice. I was drinking for England and trying to remove the carbonised potatoes from the dish. But there was no salvaging this meal. We could only apologise.

Still, this morning we thought that at least we have the lamb for today. But  no. Unfortunately it is still inedible as now it has been overdone by being blasted with the beef and being left in the cooling over overnight. Even the onions and carrots are black.


The Palio 2014

July 7, 2014

Hubby and I have just returned from our second holiday in three weeks. I could get used to a one week on one week off kind of flexitime. But the main reason for this second jaunt was to see the Palio; the bareback horse race around the central square in Siena. But this is no simple horse race. This is a horse race steeped in tradition and pageantry and machismo and dates back for nigh on 400 years or so. One thing it is not is a contrivance for tourists. In fact they make no concessions for tourists with no readily available timetables, information or announcements. Everyone who matters (the locals) know exactly what happens when and where and exactly what you should be doing.
Siena, a beautiful walled city, is divided in to 17 districts (contrada) represented in colours and symbols and the residents of that district are baptised in to it. They each have a chapel, a social club and a museum. All the boys of Siena must learn to play the drum and do flag throwing and they are taught this in their contrada throughout the year. Only the two best flag throwers from each contrada will represent them in the Palio parades (and compete for the title of ‘Most elegant’), along with one drummer. The parade on the day of the Palio is two hours of non stop pageantry, flag throwing, trumpeting and men in tights.


the Palio ( hand painted silk banner) itself

the Palio ( hand painted silk banner) itself

For each Palio only 10 contrada will race. The other seven will automatically compete next year and then three are randomly drawn to make up the ten. Only those competing in the Palio are allowed to decorate their contrada with the flags and tapestries representing them. As you walk around Siena it is like being in an opera set with these wonderful buildings dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries bedecked with colourful flags and lamps which are only displayed for the four days of the Palio. The morning after they have all disappeared except in the winning contrada. Similarly the residents wear their contrada colours and scarves. But this is Italy so it’s not a football scarf, it is a square of silk worn usually as a triangle around the neck.
It is such a mental experience. The maddest race I have ever known. Horses (no thoroughbreds allowed) are randomly allocated to each contrada and they hire a jockey to ride it. They raise money all year to pay for the best jockey they can as he’s going to be riding in the race having only just met the horse three days before. (And it is ‘he’ except once in 1957 a woman was chosen as she had been the stunt double in a Hollywood film that featured a woman jockey in the Palio so a contrada chose her to ride for them.) Then there are a morning and evening trial race in the over the next three days until the Palio itself.
10514285_743337675704411_4899559516025502828_oOn the first training race we saw – with a fantastic view from an apartment balcony – by far the best way to watch the Palio if you can – we didn’t understand the rules and thought the blue and white jockey was unable to line up and causing havoc as the other horses got jumpy and fretful pushing against the rope that is the starting line. When they did finally set off, the rope did not fall cleanly to the ground and horses got their legs tangled in it falling over and throwing their riders off.Others fell off round the tight bends and one was running with his horse down the back straight until he eventually remounted.

the start

the start

But we discovered that in fact the horses line up according to the draw that is made at the start of the race.The final horse then does not have to line up until he wants to. And in fact may take ten minutes, half an hour, an hour until he decides to. Once he waited so long it had got dark and the race was abandoned! The tension at this point is incredible. Silence from the huge crowd as the horses start champing at the bit, and jockeys can use their whip on each other and each other’s horses. This is a no holds barred kind of race. And then the final jockey decides to go and a huge firework is let off to start the race. Three bareback laps of a tiny, tight bend, sloping track with I don’t know how many people yelling them on.
And then the winner crosses the line, and another huge firework explodes and everyone runs on to the track. The winning contrada immediately goes to claim the Palio itself – a silk hand painted banner that hangs near the equivalent of a royal box – they climb up and pull it down and then parade with their horse back to the stable.

There are no announcements at all. This is all a well-rehearsed machine oiled over the centuries. The drummer of the winning contrada was overcome with emotion, sobbing in to his velvet tabard. And everyone sang. Just like they had sung every day leading up to the race. Just like they sang at the end of the contrada dinner we went to. And at the horse blessing we went to. And you could feel this was where opera is at home. The incredible set, the drama, the tears, the big Italian voices soaring in to the sky. Nessun dorma indeed.

Things will work out

June 18, 2014

Had a lovely lunch with some friends the other day. Invited folk over and asked them to bring a bite and a bottle. And I didn’t coordinate suggest or organise what people brought. It was entirely their decision. Whatever they felt like bringing. I’ve done it before and yet again it worked incredibly well. Amazing really. The first time I did it I had a few texts and calls in advance asking what to bring, but I abdicated responsibility. “Whatever you like, honestly”, “Would a Greek salad be ok? ” ” Really, it doesn’t matter. Buy a packet of crisps or make a pavlova, I really really really don’t mind”. Because I don’t . I don’t care. If we had ten tubs of coleslaw and nothing else I would be happy. Partly because they would have all brought the aforementioned bottle as well, but also because we can send out for pizza if we need feeding. It is their company I want. Their tales, their laughter, their fun. The food is incidental. But incidentally it has always been fabulous. And bizarrely it has always worked out every time I’ve done it. Some bring starters nibbles, others mains, some sides and some desserts. Amazing. Or is it? In truth it is probably what we should expect rather than numerous identical dishes. But it does surprise me how well balanced the spread always seems. And so bloody yummy. One thing many of my friends have in common, is that they are good cooks. And there is a swapping of recipes and tips as we tuck in.
This time the sun shone on us and we enjoyed the new garden furniture. It’s a table and settee. Worked perfectly and I am so pleased with it. Especially as we’ve never had decent garden furniture before. And the day became evening and we kept going. Some left for their evening adventures and those like me who had no plans for the night continued to chat and drink and play the music louder. Ah how simple to enjoy the conversation and camaraderie. Friendship is a wonderful thing.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers

%d bloggers like this: