One of my earliest memories is being in hospital and while I was there I can’t remember much other than being given marmite toast soldiers.  I don’t know whether I’d had marmite before that point but it has been a constant in my life and food cupboards ever since and I’m sure that psychologists could have a field day with the comfort I get from eating it and the links back to that  kindly nurse.  Lovely bread toasted with lashings of butter and marmite is the most perfect snack food and I drop little dollops into stews, jacket potatoes etc and it always hits the spot.  In fact my life improved dramatically when I discovered the perfect quick comfort tea thanks to Nigella – marmite pasta.

The whole branding of it I find hilarious as well as they have of course taken it’s divisive qualities (do you know anyone who is in the middle?) and produced numerous witty takes on the Love it or Hate it theme.  The jars and colours have remained pretty constant and instantly recognisable over the years, I did dabble briefly with the squeezy version but quickly switched back to the old scrapable jar.  Tomorrow however sees a cheeky rebrand in readiness for the queens golden jubilee with a limited run of Ma’mite which I must admit made me smile.

Of course the marmite brand has been used on numerous things over the years but I’m stuck in a quandary as I need to eat less toast so that I can fit into one of these cycling jerseys.

So where do you stand lover or hater and what other recipes do you use it in ?






50 Things To Do Before You Are 11 (or go to high school)

Now I’m not one for lists of things that you should do and physically recoil at things like 50 things to do before you die etc, my approach is simply if you keep your eyes and mind open then opportunities will come along, take them and your life will be full of fun things.  I was however taken by a list my kids gave me recently which they have pinned up in the kitchen which they saw on Newsround I think and that gives lots of fun ideas for things to do outside.  I’m not worrying about how many are ticked off but already know that the spring and summer is going to be fun.  Here’s the list which might well come in handy for the “mmm what shall we do today moments” that we all have:

  • Climb a tree
  • Roll down a really big hill
  • Camp out in the wild
  • Build a den
  • Skim a stone
  • Run around in the rain
  • Fly a kite
  • Catch a fish with a net
  • Eat an apple straight from a tree
  • Play conkers
  • Throw some snow
  • Hunt for treasure on the beach
  • Make a mud pie
  • Dam a stream
  • Go sledging
  • Bury someone in the sand
  • Set up a snail race
  • Balance on a fallen tree
  • Swing on a rope swing
  • Make a mud slide
  • Eat blackberries growing in the wild
  • Take a look inside a tree
  • Visit an island
  • Feel like you’re flying in the wind
  • Make a grass trumpet
  • Hunt for fossils and bones
  • Watch the sun wake up
  • Climb a huge hill
  • Get behind a waterfall
  • Feed a bird from your hand
  • Hunt for bugs
  • Find some frogspawn
  • Catch a butterfly in a net
  • Track wild animals
  • Discover what’s in a pond
  • Call an owl
  • Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
  • Bring up a butterfly
  • Catch a crab
  • Go on a nature walk at night
  • Plant it, grow it, eat it
  • Go wild swimming
  • Go rafting
  • Light a fire without matches
  • Find you way with a map and compass
  • Try bouldering
  • Cook on a campfire
  • Try abseiling
  • Play geocache
  • Canoe down a rive

So get outside there’s fun to be had I’d say and not just for the children !

A Plea

I recently visited Bletchley Park, where the German Enigma codes were broken during the Second World War, and what struck me was how much information there was to read. That might seem like a slightly strange thing to say, but the modern way of presenting museums or other heritage sites seems to be to focus on the visual, the hands on and with only a few words at a time in bite-sized chunks. This is to make it “accessible” to as many people as possible, to find different ways to interest visitors and because, apparently, people don’t want to read anymore (although is this a truth or an assumption?). I agree with the motives behind the new style – yes of course visitors should be interested in what they’ve come to see and everyone’s brains work, and respond to things, differently. It would also be pretty dull to just have a room filled with nothing but text, and it’s usually the objects found at the site that bring it all to life. I’m also not going to pretend that I read all the information at Bletchley Park – but the point is, it was nice to have the choice.

I think what sometimes gets forgotten by the people who come up with the displays is that, I would guess, a substantial proportion of their visitors already have some interest in, and knowledge of, the type of site, the area or history in general. To use abbeys and priories as an example, once you’ve been to a few you get to know that there was often a chapter house where business was conducted, that monks ate in refectories and slept in dormitories. What you want to know is what is particular to that site – were there any significant meetings in that chapter house, or why they slept in individual cells rather than a dormitory, as at Mount Grace Priory. From a distance, abbeys and priories can look quite similar, so what are the unusual/unique features and histories of each one? What does this particular set of ruins tell us about medieval monasteries? Things like:

  • the geometric patterns carved into the pillars in the church of Lindisfarne Priory and how they relate to those in Durham Cathedral;
  • why Battle Abbey no longer has its church, when on most sites that’s the most substantial remnant;
  • the modern internments at Dryburgh Abbey (Sir Walter Scott and Field Marshall Earl Haig); and
  • the role that Kirkham Priory played in the preparations for D-Day.



Credit: English Heritage


One of the modules in my masters degree in Archaeology and Heritage was about interpreting and presenting heritage, and one of the things that stood out for me was a comparison of guide books over the course of about sixty years. Here are three descriptions of the west front of the church at Lindisfarne Priory:

“The west front of the church is pierced by a round-headed doorway, the outer arch of which, contained in a bold projection from the wall, is of three orders with chevron mouldings and shafts with cubical capitals in the jambs. On either side of it there are two arched recesses with shafts in the wall-face, and at each end of the wall the square turrets project, but not so far as the projection for the doorway, to which the whole design is subordinated.”  (1949)

“The west front of the ruined priory church must have been completed by around 1150. The richly decorated west doorway is contained in a slightly projecting porch. Above it is an opening which would originally have been concealed behind a steeply pitched gable, probably containing a tiny chamber over the doorway. There is an original window higher up, but the gable above that was rebuilt in the mid fourteenth century. Note the two cross-shaped arrow loops in this masonry, a reminder of the troubled times which followed the outbreak of the Scots Wars in 1296”. (1988)

“The west front of the church was a grand architectural showpiece. It was originally flanked on both sides by tall corner turrets, intended to recall the twin-towered facades common in larger cathedral churches. That on the right hand (south) still survives, rising nearly to the full height of the building. Battlements were added in the mid 14th century when the whole priory was fortified in response to the outbreak of war with the Scots”. (2005)

The first tells you nothing about the history of the priory, and is clearly too technical for most tastes (you can only hope there was a decent glossary included), while the third version doesn’t actually tell you very much. My preferred option is the middle one, which actually gives you some specifics, without being overly complicated about it. It puts the building into its historical context, as well as describing its development – it invites you to look at the building and work it out for yourself. In fact it acknowledges that you’ve gone there to learn about something, rather than assuming that you can only cope with the superficial.

Accessible doesn’t have to mean superficial, and unfortunately that’s often what we end up with. I’m sure it’s a very hard balance to strike for those who produce these displays, but all I ask is that in trying to cater to all, please don’t forget the ones whose prior knowledge and interest brought us there in the first place.

Chip Shop Etiquette

Photo Credit: Simon Majumdar

I’m a lover of language, dialect and culture and how it differs as you not only drift across the country but simply go to the next town or village.  Growing up in South Wales the regional accents are incredible with the different valley’s and towns all being identifiable by the subtle variations which to many from outside the area would be indistinguishable.  Of course this is true right across the UK and none more so than where I currently live in West Yorkshire.  Note I’ve put the West in as for those from other parts of the country you wouldn’t want to be mistaking West Yorkshire with them folk down in South Yorkshire etc etc.  Of course one place where you can really see these differences are in fish and chip shops (chippy’s to you and me).

I know that I’ll never be a local here due to my inability to adapt to the chippy etiquette that operates in Leeds.  I was reminded of this the other night when I went to my local to get an order.  I’m lucky in that there are several good chippy’s close to where I live that all do a roaring trade and are proper Northern chippy’s in the very best sense of the word, however they have a very Leeds way of ordering.

As you enter the chippy you basically shout out once or twice (i.e. 1 fish and chips or two orders of fish and chips).  You don’t wait until you get to the till to order.  There is total logic in this as it means you get your fish cooked fresh and it will be ready by the time you have worked your way to the front of the queue.  You are not pushing in but when you’re not used to it it can feel like that.  Of course you never shout out thrice as that would make you sound like some Shakespearean dandy and would not go down well.  At the point at which you shout your order you also add in any particular variations you want so “twice, one lightly battered and one childrens” or “1 cod” (as the standard fish will be haddock so if you want something different then you need to bellow).  You need to remember of course whether you want scraps or not.  Scraps are the gorgeous pieces of batter that have not been stuck to the fish but they are all scooped up and you have them with your order if you want so you might shout out “twice with scraps”.  This does not necessarily translate around the country and I’d warn against walking into chip shops elsewhere and shouting out you want scraps or you may get more than you bargained for.  Even in Yorkshire scraps are not scraps everywhere, so in Sheffield they are bits and there is a chippy there simply called W’Bits (i.e. with bits).

Unfortunately I cannot bring myself to order in this way so I shuffle dutifully forward until I get to the till and then place my order at which point the whole chippy lets out a collective sigh of disgruntlement, I wait for my order and scurry out past someone walking in bellowing “twice, 1 cod, 1 lightly battered with scraps”.  I love it, it makes me laugh but I’m never going to do it.

So what’s the etiquette where you live and if it’s not chippy’s where you are what other variations of food ordering do you have ?

Helmsley Castle and The Black Swan


The last couple of days have been really fantastic and have encompassed my birthday, fantastic time with the kids, brilliant book club and culminated in a surprise birthday treat to the Black Swan in Helmsley, North Yorkshire.  Helmsley is a quint essential North Yorkshire market town, some nice pubs, book shops for browsing, nice deli’s and butchers and if you cleared out all the people, motorbikes etc it would look like something straight out of All Creatures Great and Small which of course is no surprise as this is Herriot country.  The town is centred around the market square in which stands  a statue of William Duncombe, 2nd Baron Feversham (below)


Even though I was not riding could not help spot this beautiful old machine, shame that (as pointed out by @Johncyclopunk) there is no chain so it is purely being used to advertise the butchers.


Where’s my drink ?


Ah that’s better !  First test was to establish what sort of mojito’s they could rustle up but outrageously the bar had run out of fresh mint, honestly did they not know I was coming ?  So I was forced onto the champagne for this quaffable little number (below) while we perused the menus.

Got to say that the food was top notch, no photos as it was all nice moody lighting so I thought putting the flash on and snapping away might lower the tone even more than me simply being there.  The meal kicked off with a cheeky little amuse bouche of leek, potato and wild garlic ice cold shot; starter was a pumpkin veloute which was silky smooth and beautifully flavoured although perhaps a bit too sweet for my taste buds; main for me was duo of beef (sirloin and liver) with red wine jus, wilted spinach and parsnip puree.  The sirloin was velvety smooth a really beautiful cut although if I’m being hyper critical (or greedy) I could have done with more of it !; finished up with a simply fantastic cheeseboard and overall the meal got a big thumbs up from me, good quality well cooked food with attentive service.


Rise and shine and a cracking breakfast required a bit of walking off so what better than the castle.  Not sure our castle guru would have forgiven me if I had not given it the walk round.  The first thing that often strikes me about castles is that they are (were) comparatively massive structures protecting who or what exactly?  Helmsley is not exactly the kicking metropolis now surrounded by not very much (well nice arable countryside) so quite what was there when construction started around 1120 I’m not too sure.

The original structure was started by Walter Espec to help protect the area against the marauding Scots but really began to take shape under the Crusader Robert de Roos.  Incredibly despite it’s defenses and structures the castle saw no significant conflict until the English civil war when perhaps the failure to continue to update the castle to take into account the changes in warfare techniques led to it’s downfall.  It was a royalist stronghold during the Civil War but endured a 3 month siege in 1644 before being starved into surrender by one of Cromwell’s commanders Sir Thomas Fairfax.

It was fascinating to wander around the site and get a feel for the history of it’s construction and ultimate demise.














The Feast of the Goat

This month’s book club selection was The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa. And what a book it is.

Every so often , book club delivers a book that is bolt out of the blue and this book is certainly that. In fact we’ve done quite well recently with books that I really didn’t have much of an idea about that turn into classic book club books. A classic book club book for me is a controversial read – it might be easy to read or a complete nightmare to finish in the time and the result is a great discussion on the night. Goat did just that.

Although we were depleted due to illness and we had another guest member for the evening – resulting in a new dynamic in the group – it resulted in a classic discussion. The book itself centres around the assassination of The Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo in 1961 and weaves around this momentous act a tangled web of characters and plot lines. Llosa employs an intriguing narrative ploy flitting between tenses which builds, sustains and at times neutralises the tension he cleverly creates, making it almost impossible for the reader to not turn the page.

This author is another clever exponent of the ‘what is fact and what is fiction’ brigade, carefully weaving complex fact and characterisation amidst what is clearly a factual account of the bloody episode in South American history. In fact when I finished the book I couldn’t wait to find out more about what actually happened in the Dominican Republic, such was its grip on me.

The book is unflinching in its portrayal of the brutality of the regime and there is a genuinely shocking secret at the heart of the story that’s possible to see coming but even suspecting this might be the case doesn’t dissipate the power of it. It’s not often I actually gasp reading a book but this was one of those occasions.

Special mention has to go to Edith Grossman, who translated the book from the original Spanish. There wasn’t a single moment in the book where the translation let it down, unlike other books we’ve read that were translated. In fact the language was incredible telling the story in a vivid and appropriately lucid way.

I scored this book 9/10 and in fact it scored highly around the table too with 9, 9, 8 and 7 respectively. I found it a powerful and compulsive read and I’d highly recommend it. I still have my copy – let me know if you’d like to borrow it.

Euskaltel (… Art and Bikes #2)

I’ve written previously about art and bikes and my current plan for a local artist to paint something for me that encapsulates my rides is currently taking shape.  I was very much interested today to learn of the above picture “Euskaltel” which is a commission that has recently been done by the British Artist Chris Billington.

I was interested in it for a couple of reasons, firstly the whole art and bikes thing and secondly as it is about the Euskaltel Euskadi cycling team who are one of my favs.  I’ll be honest I was first drawn to them as they race in a distinctive orange and black kit which is not a million miles away from my beloved Newport County’s amber and black but they then got a lot more interesting for me for the following reasons:  They are a basque team and currently only have riders riding for them who are basque or who’s cycling development took place in the basque country; since they were set up in 1993 they have been run by Fundacion Euskadi a non profit organisation established to promote cycling in the Basque country (a somewhat different beast to our own Sky team); they ride Orbea bikes and Orbea are part of the Mondragon Corporation which is a federation of around 250 worker co-operatives employing around 80,000 people (and my niece who last year came 7th in the World Junior Triathlon Championships in Budapest rides an Orbea); finally the fans who along with the Flemish are probably the most passionate bike fans out there and whenever the races head into the Pyrenees turn the mountainsides orange as they cheer on their Euskaltel Euskadi team as the picture below clearly demonstrates

Photo Credit: Jon Devich

I think that the commission perfectly sums up the spirit of the team as it (represented by the orange blobs) heads up into the snow capped Pyrenees.  Perhaps the bold colours of the painting might not be to everyones taste but I really like it and Chris has this to say about his client’s reaction to the painting:

When my client finally saw “Euskaltel”for the first time she was absolutely stunned and delighted, and told me that it was the most beautiful painting that she had ever seen, in fact she went even further and told me that my colours were a reason to wake up in the morning. Going on to tell me that “Euskaltel” made her want to “Dive into the painting and swim around in my colours and get drunk on them” made me very happy indeed.

To create something that gets that reaction must be very satisfying and it makes me wonder how I will feel when my painting is done, can’t wait.