Sunday, 19 October 2014

This Weekend ...

... was one of political engagement.

On Friday evening I signed up for a double bill of two of my heroes at Bristol's excellent Festival of Ideas.

First up was Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the British civil liberties advocacy organisation, who spoke about her new book On Liberty. Liberty celebrates its 80th anniversary this year and Shami reflected on the differences, and similarities, of the issues it has faced then and now.  The audience was particularly interested in her views on anti-terrorist legislation and the government's proposal to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Next up was Owen Jones, left wing author and commentator, who spoke about his book The Establishment.  In his opinion the biggest threat to our democracy lies in the power exerted by those at the top (politicians, the media, directors, bankers etc) and he issues a powerful rallying call for them to be challenged.  He ended by quoting the late great Tony Benn who said 'You see there are two flames burning in the human heart all the time.  The flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope you can build a better world.'

Well on Saturday I did my bit.  I travelled up to London to take part in the TUC Britain Needs a Pay Rise march.  I'm a member of Unison and I joined tens of thousands fellow unionists, representing an impressive range of unions, to protest against the deeply damaging effects of our coalition government's austerity programme. According to Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, the avergage worker is £50 a week worse off then in 2007 and 5 million earn less than the living wage, while top directors now earn 175 times more than the average worker.  It's just not fair and we were there to tell them so.

Maybe it was just the beginnings of a cold I glibly thought would pass, or maybe it was the 14 hour round trip with all that marching/dancing to the samba band and standing listening to the speeches, but today's been a washout.  I've spent half the day in bed and the other half on the sofa.  I hope I'm not too old for this demonstrating lark because I fear there'll be need for more of before we're done with building a better world to live in.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

This Weekend ...

Breakfast at Katie & Kim's Kitchen

... I tried out a new cafe.
It's called Katie & Kim's Kitchen and can be found in Picton Street.  I don't know where I first heard of it.  Maybe Twitter, where I discover most interesting things.  Anyway, it's run by two young former art students (Katie & Kim!) who won the British Street Food Awards in 2013, and have served food from a converted horsebox and a local pub before opening a cafe cum restaurant with a constantly changing menu of soup, bread, scones, sausage rolls and cakes.  It's a long walk from Bedminster to Montpelier so I ordered a plate of sourdough with ewe's curd, thyme and Greek honey to go with my coffee.  The curd was delicious and, as ever, I wondered why my sourdough isn't as holey as anyone else's.

... I bought a new pair of trainers and a pair of trousers.
I've somehow damaged my plantar fascia and have been advised to wear trainers to support the ball of my right foot.  The cheap and nasty trainers I bought for my short-lived experiment with jogging have come to the end of their life and needed replacing.  I search in vain for something attractive but ended up with a pair of fairly boring black trainers that will have to do.
The trousers are from the M&S Sculpt and Lift range.  Heads will be turned!

... I took the opportunity to walk down a few new streets and was rewarded for my efforts

Parish boundary in Bristol's Old City

Colourful facades in Montpelier

Bristol from the top of Spring Hill

... I took part in Bristol's Festival of Song.
The Gasworks Singers sang in St George's on Saturday and around the harbourside on Sunday.  I was also treated to some inspiring singing and was particularly impressed by Kettle of Fish and Original Sing both of whom have gigs coming up in The Folk House.

That's all!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

This Weekend ...

... I bought two sea bream from our friendly new market fishmonger and cooked them according to his instructions.  They were delicious.

... I made a blanket for the homeless from three lengths of the 7 mile scarf I'd helped knit to link Aldermaston to Burghfield earlier this summer.

... I enjoyed lunch at No 1 Harbourside (pork & sage arancini with spiced apricot jam, baked English Camembert with courgette pickle and a salad of green beans, spring onions, raisins and cumin seeds).

... I was greatly encouraged by Will & Testament, a film documenting the life and work of Tony Benn, one of my heroes and a continuing inspiration to all who strives for justice and fairness.

... I baked batches of cookies (cranberry, white chocolate and walnut) and scones for a Bristol Pound Open House, and hopefully persuaded a few friends to sign up and start spending them.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Should Scotland be an Independent Country?

Yes or No?
As a non-domiciled Scot I have no vote in tomorrow's referendum but, and this will come as no surprise to any of you, I do have a view.
We have reached the end of a passionate debate, over many years and covering a wide variety of issues; nationalism, the democratic deficit, Trident, sterlingisation, the Barnett Settlement, oil revenue, the privatisation of the NHS, the Scandinavian model ... even pandas! Both sides have bombarded us with statistics, paraded experts before us and cited examples of the success or failure of small independent states to support their opposing arguments. So much information but no right or wrong answers.
However, the question being posed of every voter tomorrow is a surprisingly simple one: Should Scotland be an independent country?
If independence means the freedom to create a fairer juster country in which to live, and to leave to future generations then, for me, the answer must surely be Yes. No one should be under any illusion that the ride will always be smooth, but it will be the Scots who will chose the direction of travel.
Never has the much used phrase 'too close to call' been more apt. There is little more any of us can do except watch and wait to learn the settled will of the people. But, there is a sense that, no matter what the result, Scotland has already won so much more than anyone could ever have imagined. The debate has ranged over every nook and cranny of the land, engaging people who don't usually do politics, giving 16-18 year olds a vote and with it a voice in their future, provoking a 97% registration and promising a record 80+% turnout. The Scots have invested everything in this referendum, too much for this to be the end of the process, no matter what the result.
I have always been proud of Scotland, the land and its people (in a completely non jingoistic way, of course). This referendum has done nothing to diminish my pride and everything to vindicate it.

Monday, 8 September 2014

This weekend ...

On Saturday we swam and lunched at The Lido in Bristol - a relaxing hour and a half spent in the outdoor heated pool, the hot tub, the steam room and the sauna, followed by a delicious two course a la carte meal in the restaurant overlooking the pool.  I'd planned for our visit to take place in the summer holidays but I'm glad it was postponed until the end of my first week back at work.  A touch of decadence was just what I needed.

I don't live near enough The Lido to pop in regularly, nor would I choose to fork out on the hefty annual membership fee, but I'd like to think I'll be back on some future occasion to sample another few hours of the high life.

If you like the sound of it, we opted for the Swim & Lunch package.  There are a number of others available.  The facilities are clean and well maintained.  The staff are friendly and helpful.  The food is imaginative and plentiful.  Good value for money.

On Sunday I sang with the Gasworks Singers at the Festival of the Voice at Stourhead.  We had four scheduled sessions at the foot of the Bristol Cross and in the Walled Garden, plus a couple of spontaneous ones under a tree, in the Pantheon and by the lakeside.  The rest of the time was our own to wander at will through scenery as exquisitely peaceful as an oil paining.  I sat on the grass eating my pasta salad and tried not to look too wildly out of place!

It's been a while since we sang together and I was a bit rusty, but our offerings were well received.  It was mercifully dry and the sun's appearance late afternoon justified an ice cream from the van.  All in all a jolly good day.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Summer 2014: A Review

At the beginning of the summer holidays I drew up a To Do List.  This is how I got on.

Cycle to Bath along the railway path
Having been knocked off a bike aged 18 and not ridden again until last summer on Colonsay, I was more than a little anxious about my ability to reach Bath without incident, but it proved to be much easier, and far more enjoyable than I'd feared.  We hired Bromptons from Temple Meads station via Brompton Dock, whose service I thoroughly recommend.  The path was a delight, taking us out behind back gardens and parks into the open countryside where we rode through wooded areas, along causeways with views out over the fields and following the river into Bath.  There, after a pot of tea in a cafe, we folded our bikes (albeit with a few teething problems) and carried them on to a train back to Bristol.  I enjoyed the experience so much that I'm planning to do it again.

Bake 5 pies from my new Pieminister Pie book
I managed two.  They were the Screaming Desperado (chilli con carne in a rough puff pastry) and Porkie Buns (Vietnamese flavoured sausagement in a hot crust pastry).  I loved the filling in the first and would eat it again on its own (the pie had a 'soggy bottom'), but the buns were a sensation.  We at them on a picnic at Tyntesfield with coleslaw and my daughter's boyfriend's mother's(!) piccalilli.

 Visit Tyntesfield
We caught the bus and claimed our 20% discount at the ticket office, cafe and shop.  It was a glorious sunny day and we spent a couple of hours wandering round the grounds, admiring the sculpture exhibition, exploring the outbuildings and the kitchen garden and eating our picnic, before entering the house. Restoration is ongoing and given the quality of what has been achieved thus far, the finished article will be truly amazing.  

Make falafels
I used Jamie Oliver's recipe.  They were alright but not nearly as good as ones I've eaten from street stalls; more bean burger than falafel.  So I'm going to try out Yotam Ottonlenghi's recipe which I'm certain will be more authentic.

Read 5 books
I read three (well almost three!) - Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gayle, A Death in Tuscany by Michele Ferrara and How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.  A varied selection but all good reads.

Create a sourdough starter
My starter is well and truly established and has been used to make three loaves.

Get up early to watch Bristol Balloon Fiesta Dawn Ascent
I've watched many an evening ascent, but whether it's the satisfaction of making it up the hill that early, hot cups of tea from a flask, the absence of the fairground noise, the soft light or the anticipation of a bacon butty on our return, but this one was extra special.

Bake 5 new breads
I managed four - irish soda bread, flatbread, cornbread and sourdough.  And if I count the kanelbullar (technically buns, but made with yeast!) then it would be five.

Picnic at Bristol Zoo
I spent a leisurely day at the zoo with my younger daughter and picnicked on the lawn.  There's always something new to see and the promise of even more to entice you back.

Visit the Jeremy Deller exhibition
I'd never heard of Jeremy Deller but found his work very thought provoking.  I particularly appreciated the huge paintings on the wall.

Visit St Werburgh's City Farm, eat meatballs @ Ikea and shop at Bristol Sweet Mart
We had to go to Ikea to buy a table for my younger daughter.  I like to make the most of my £4 day rider bus ticket so we combined it with a visit to St Werburgh's City Farm and a short walk through Boiling Wells.  We enjoyed our meatballs at Ikea but sadly didn't have time for a cuppa at the farm.

Make rhubarb & ginger jam
I managed to get five jars from our new rhubarb plant.  I took a chance with a bag of jam sugar that was four years past its best before date, but we're still alive and kicking!

Take advantage of podiatrist appointment to window shop in Cotham/Clifton
I popped in to Kitchens and bought a banneton for my sourdough breadmaking and two pie dishes for my Pieministering.  Having drooled over The Philosophy of List's madeleines I'm kicking myself for not having bought the baking tin I saw on my way out.  Still, I'll be back that way on Saturday so ...

Swim and lunch at the Lido
Although I haven't technically done this during the holidays I did book our visit during that time.  We're swimming and lunching there this weekend.

Make a start on a recipe folder
Our house is littered with piles of magazines and boxes of cuttings but, with no way of knowing where any of them are when I need them, I rarely use any of the recipes I collect.  So, armed with a ring binder, an A4 pad, a pair of scissors and a Pritt stick, I went to work on the pile of Guardian 'cook' supplements.  I was ruthlessly selective and have ended up with a folderful of recipes that I might very well use.  Indeed I've already cooked two of them.

Make pizza
I made a couple of the best pizzas I've had in a long time.

Walk: Leigh Woods
I dragged my younger daughter and her boyfriend round the second longest trail, stopping to admire the view across the gorge and eat banana bread.  Despite being the weekend it was unusually quiet.

Picnic on Brandon Hill
We ate tortilla and salad and watched language students play frisbee under the trees.  Rain and the absence of the Vee Double Moo van prevented us from lingering.

Finish crocheting my daughter's quilt
It's almost there.  When I started to crochet the granny squares together I discovered I didn't have quite enough of them, so I had to rustle up a few more.  There's only five to go now and the border to add.

Walk: Bristol Old City
It's amazing how often we walk past building without actually looking at them.

So I didn't hold 5 dinner parties, visit Oxford, make tomato ketchup, take a proper look around the M Shed, watch the Night Glow, walk round Snuff Mills or Blaise Castle, shopped for clothes for work, swim in the outdoor pool at Street, make icecream, crak Prashad's khokla recipe, preserve lemons, make lemonade, have a barbecue or take the ferry boat to Beese's Tea Gardens.

But I did have lunch with friends at the Tube Diner, follow the Secret Cemetery trail around Arnos Vale, attend Amnesty's Goldney Garden Party, eat kebabs and jalebis at the Islamic Cultural Fair hand out leaflets at Temple Meads protesting about the increase in rail fares, run a Bristol Pound stall at the Tobacco Factory Market, see What If and Two Days and One Night, oppose the Metrobus proposal at a council planning meeting and generally enjoy not having to go to work.    

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Summer 2014: My To Do List

In my experience, the longer the holiday stretches, the easier it is to fritter it away.  So, when faced with 5 1/2 weeks this summer, I thought I'd best draw up a list of things I would like to have achieved by the end of them.  Maybe I should have added 'publish list on blog' as it's taken me over a week to do so.  But here it is:

(NB  Having decided that I was going to devote the first few days to recovering from the end of term, I based my list on 5 weeks - 7x5=35)

  1. Cycle to Bath along the railway path
  2. Hold 5 dinner parties (ie have 5 friends/sets of friends round for a meal!)
  3. Day trip to Oxford
  4. Bake 5 pies from my new Pieminister Pie book
  5. Visit Tyntesfield
  6. Make tomato ketchup
  7. Visit the M Shed
  8. Go to Bristol Balloon Fiesta Night Glow
  9. Make falafels
  10. Walk: Snuff Mills
  11. Read 5 books
  12. Create a sourdough starter
  13. Get up early to watch Bristol Balloon Fiesta Dawn Ascent
  14. Shop for clothes for work
  15. Bake 5 new breads
  16. Swim in Street outdoor pool
  17. Make icecream
  18. Picnic at Bristol Zoo
  19. Visit the Jeremy Deller exhibition
  20. Walk: Blaise Castle
  21. Crack Prashad's dhokla recipe
  22. Visit St Werburgh's City Farm, eat meatballs @ Ikea and shop at Bristol Sweet Mart
  23. Make rhubarb & ginger jam
  24. Take advantage of podiatrist appointment to window shop in Cotham/Clifton
  25. Preserve lemons
  26. Swim and lunch at th Lido
  27. Make a start on a recipe folder
  28. Make pizza
  29. Walk: Leigh Woods
  30. Make lemonade
  31. Picnic on Brandon Hill
  32. Have a BBQ
  33. Finish crocheting my daughter's quilt
  34. Walk: Bristol Old City
  35. Bristol Packet ferry boat trip to Beese's Tea Gardens
It's an eclectic mix of cooking, eating, walking, culture and fun.

I'm under no illusion that I'll get through it all and am therefore not going to beat myself up over it if I don't, but it should stop me waking up in the morning wondering what to do with the day!