Monday, April 30, 2012


Whew! Life is whizzing past at quite a rate! I am settling into working pretty much full time (I get Friday afternoons off at the moment) and after two weeks I'm pleasantly surprised by how well it is working out. Tevye and I are cooking dinner between us - I plan and leave instructions as he is either already home or gets home earlier than I do, or I put something in the crockpot and he cooks veggies. Cherub went to after school club for the first time today and liked it - one of the girls in her class goes on Mondays and they played together. The big girls pick her up on their way home from school, so she only needs to go for about 40 minutes. The rest of the week either Tevye or I can still collect her. And so far I am loving the new job. More about that another time.

I meant to post pictures after Tevye's nephew's wedding - I put some on Facebook but never got round to posting them here. They are only iPhone pictures but you get the idea!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This England: Anthems

I meant to do this neatly and post yesterday to coincide with St. George's day, but it didn't happen. Rather bizarrely for a country that has existed in more or less its present form for well over a thousand years, England does not have an official national anthem. At sporting events where the constituent parts of the United Kingdom field separate teams the English team usually plays God Save the Queen, which is the British national anthem, while the Welsh play Land of our Fathers and the Scottish Flower of Scotland. I was listening to a discussion about English anthems on the radio on the way to work yesterday. They were holding a public vote on the best choice, and there were three very clear front runners. All of them are well known and loved tunes. 

(1) Jerusalem - William Blake's poem based on the supposed visit of the boy Jesus to Glastonbury, set to music by Herbert Parry. This is now used as the English anthem at the Commonwealth Games.

(2) I Vow to Thee My Country - from Holst's Planets Suite (Jupiter)

(3) Land of Hope and Glory - one of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches. I already included this in my post about Elgar, but here is another version. Played before England rugby matches.

So which would you choose?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Marmite: Love It or Hate It

This pretty much sums up all you need to know about marmite.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I Went Clothes Shopping!

Fashion is not a topic that comes up often on this blog, but I went on a major clothes shopping expedition last Saturday and can't resist sharing the fruits of the most shopping fun I've had in a long while. The main purpose was to find a dress to wear for a wedding - Tevye's nephew S gets married tomorrow! - and it needed to be something that would double up for our special celebration holiday in the summer. I can't remember whether I mentioned it before, but we are going on a cruise in August to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. We have never done anything like it before, and it will definitely require additions to my decidedly non-dressy wardrobe. That meant that as well as a dress for the wedding I was hoping I might find other dresses suitable for formal and semi-formal evenings on the ship.

I have never been a dressy, clothes oriented person, but I have found that a combination of getting older and having teenage daughters has led me to enjoy clothes more than I used to and to be a bit more confident in trying new things. I have also lost weight and being able to shop for smaller sizes was definitely fun! I have gone from a size 16/18 to a comfortable 14 (in US sizing I think that is a 10?), which made me feel a bit more adventurous. Also I was shopping alone, which meant I could take my time and experiment without anyone losing patience!

Here are the results of my successful shopping spree. First, for the wedding, a dress from Monsoon. (I had never bought anything in Monsoon before. They wrap the clothes in tissue paper before putting them into the bag. I felt very upmarket!)

Together with a matching shrug. The colour is called "peacock". I love that!

Then another shop where I have only ever looked, but not bought - it rarely seems to have much above a size 14 in stock. This was Jane Norman, which was very considerately having a 25% off day. This is my "wow" dress for formal evenings on the ship. I can't see any other occasion to wear it in my immediate future, but it was very reasonably priced, and I have never had a dress like this before. Yes. It is very pink. I like pink.

Then continuing the pink theme I found this shift dress in Marks and Spencer. Again it was reasonably priced, and I think I will be able to get quite a lot of wear out of this one. It has a scooped neckline at the back with a bow, and an all-over lacy pattern.

And last but not least, shoes ... Marks and Spencer again. These are surprisingly comfy, and I can wear them with any of the dresses.

Really, these are all very unlike my normal dressing style (casual or smart casual) but I'm actually looking forward to wearing them.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This England: Marmite

Marmite on hot buttered toast ...

Marmite sandwiches ...

Marmite flavoured crisps (potato chips) ...

Marmite flavoured cashew nuts ...


Does that make you think "yum"? Or "yuck"? Or "huh????"

Marmite is a peculiarly British delicacy, which even here is definitely in the "love it or hate it" category - so much so that there have been adverts based on the "love it or hate it" theme and the official Marmite website has different entry portals for lovers and haters. In our family Helen and I are the lovers and Tevye, Marie and Rose the haters. In my experience Americans tend to be baffled by marmite (basing this on expat homeschooling friends!) as it doesn't come with instructions and they don't know what to do with it. Marmite is a very salty, yeast extract based ... can't think of the right word to describe it ... goo? The consistency is a little similar to chocolate spread, but trying to use it like chocolate spread would be a disaster as it is very strong tasting. The key to marmite is that a very little goes a long way. Marmite on buttered toast is particularly good as the marmite kind of melts into the butter. Marmite is even good for you (if you ignore the high salt content!) as it contains lots of B vitamins. According to Wikipedia marmite was used in the 1930s in experiments which identified folic acid for the first time. Last but not least, the jar shape and labelling is an instantly recognisable iconic design to anyone living in England.

So ... Marmite. Do you love it or hate it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book 14: M is for Marigold

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A NovelThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel by Deborah Moggach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One advantage of a long weekend suffering from a cold and mostly spent sitting limply on the sofa is that I have had plenty of time to read!  Tevye and I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the cinema last month. We loved it and inspired by the film I added the book to my Kindle. The film was warm, colourful and life-affirming. The premise is that a group of English pensioners travel to India to spent their later years in a ramshackle retirement home known as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The cast is magnificent, a roll call of some of the best of the older generation of British actors - Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith as a racist old Cockney sent to India for hip replacement surgery. Some adjust to their new surroundings better than others; one is able to rediscover his past; others find friendship and even romance. A sub-plot involves the young Indian hotel owner-manager and his relationships with his family and girlfriend. India itself forms a vibrant and colourful backdrop to the story.

The book - previously published as These Foolish Things - is very different. This is one of those films that is most definitely not faithful to the original. The book is grittier and more graphic. It is as much about the middle-aged children of the hotel residents and their relationships with their parents, wives, husbands and lovers as it is about the elderly characters themselves. The film writes the children out more or less completely, leaving the spotlight solely on the residents of the Marigold Hotel and the Indian characters. In the book the idea of the retirement home in India comes from the son-in-law of an old man who has been thrown out of several British homes for sexually harassing the staff; in the film it is the enterprising young Indian Sonny who thinks of marketing his hotel to an elderly clientele. In the book Sonny is 30 years older than he is in the film, and that is just for starters - relationships between the characters are quite different, plots have been transferred to different characters or just plain changed, one character who dies in the book survives in the film, and so it goes on. Beyond the basic premise and the names of the characters, the book and the film are really completely different animals. On the whole I enjoyed the book and found it a quick and easy read, though it was disconcerting in that it felt like entering a parallel universe, one where the world of the Marigold Hotel and its inmates was darker and more complex than the lighter, fluffier - and to me more enjoyable - world of the film. I wonder whether if I had read the book first I would have found the film disappointingly light and fluffy?

For more reviews visit 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Saturday, April 07, 2012

This England: Edward Elgar

One of the pieces I played in my orchestra concert a couple of weeks ago was Elgar's Enigma Variations, which is one of the best loved pieces in the English classical repertoire. Here is the best of the best ... the ninth variation, Nimrod, played by a military band at the national commemoration of Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London.

Edward Elgar was born near Worcester in 1857, the son of a piano tuner and musician. He had little formal musical training and was a self-taught composer. After a short spell as a clerk he became a music teacher, conductor and musician. His reputation as a composer grew slowly during the 1890s until 1899 when the Enigma Variations was first performed to great acclaim. He was knighted in 1904, produced his last great work, his cello concerto, in 1919, and died in 1934. He was one of the first composers to make gramophone recordings of his own works. The house where Elgar was born is now a museum and the statue below stands near the cathedral in Worcester.

Elgar's other best known contribution to English music is the Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, which as "Land of Hope and Glory" has become one of the unofficial national anthems of England along with Blake's "Jerusalem". Here it is played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms (a post in itself!) and sung enthusiastically by the Promenaders (the music starts two and a half minutes into the clip).

Finally, here is a short extract from Elgar's Cello Concerto, performed by Jacqueline du Pré.

Book 13: L is for Letters

Letters From the Trenches: A Soldier of the Great WarLetters From the Trenches: A Soldier of the Great War by Bill Lamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick and easy read, this book is a spin off from a blog on which Bill Lamin posted a series of letters sent by his grandfather during World War I in "real time" 90 years after they were first sent. The book combines the letters with extracts from the war diary of Harry Lamin's regiment and biographical details of his grandfather and his family. The letters were written by Harry to his brother Jack and sister Kate and run from early in 1917 when Harry was conscripted through to his final demobilisation in January 1920. Harry fought at Ypres and Passchendaele before being sent to the Italian front where he remained through the end of the war and its aftermath. His letters were simple and often repetitive, but when set in the context of the regimental diary it becomes clear just how understated they were - he described the hell that was Passchendaele as "a bit rough". Overall, a fascinating insight into World War I as seen through the eyes of an ordinary soldier from a Nottinghamshire village.

For more reviews visit 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Thursday, April 05, 2012

This England

Linds suggested in the comments to my England post that I set this series up with a Mister Linky so that other people can join in. I have never used Mister Linky before, but I gave it a go and it looks as though it works! So here is the meme:

  • Write about anything you like that you consider typically English - of course some will be equally applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom, but the meme is intended to celebrate England and all things English.
  • Come over here and add your post to the Mister Linky. I will aim to put up a new post every Saturday, but you can add yours at any time.
  • Put a picture of the English flag either into your post or on your sidebar. I am posting large and small flags below that you can use (they are free clipart downloaded from Aspex Designs).
  • The title of the meme is "This England" taken from this speech in Shakespeare's Richard II: 

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war, 
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall, 
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands, 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Book 12: K is for Knitting

Knitting Around the World: A Multistranded History of a Time-Honored TraditionKnitting Around the World: A Multistranded History of a Time-Honored Tradition by Lela Nargi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I bought this book with a gift voucher because it looked beautiful. The illustrations of different styles of knitting, both modern and historical, are stunning. But the text! Never has a book been so sorely in need of a good editor. From about 30 pages in I admired the pictures and skimmed the rest.

For more reviews visit 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This England: Evenin' All

A combination of spring and the upcoming Diamond Jubilee made me think it would be nice to do a series of England themed posts about things, people or aspects of life here that make me happy and that I think of as particularly English.

First up ... we have a police force in which it is the exception not the norm for officers to carry firearms (this of course also applies to Wales and Scotland, not just England). While there are designated armed response units and certain specialist forces carry arms - police with machine guns at airports are now routine, for example - most policemen and women do not. Todays police force isn't in the Dixon of Dock Green era any more, but it is one of very, very few in the world that is not routinely armed. The only others I found in a quick search were Iceland, New Zealand and Norway.

Dixon of Dock Green, the lead character in a gentle British TV series which ran from 1955 to 1976. Dixon  fought petty crime in the East End of London armed only with his trusty truncheon! Each programme began with the catchphrase "evenin' all" - which police in certain forces are no longer supposed to say, as apparently the word "evening" is subjective. Huh?

A few English police facts:

  • The first English police force was set up in London in 1829 by Robert Peel. The nickname "bobbies" for policemen came from his name.
  • Police cars were traditionally black and white, so became known as "panda" cars.
  • Some police patrol on bicycles. The Metropolitan (London) Police force has 1500 police bikes.
  • The last policeman killed in the line of duty was PC Gary Toms of the Metropolitan Police in April 2009. 
  • In 2010 there were 143,743 full time equivalent officers serving in 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Free clipart flag from Aspex Designs

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Book 11: Jilted Generation

Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its YouthJilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth by Ed Howker

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I felt like a break from my A to Z reading challenge and picked up (can you "pick up" a book on a Kindle?) this book which I bought recently as a Kindle Daily Deal. It looks at the ways in which those aged under 30 in Britain get a raw deal compared to their parents' generation. It is divided into chapters on housing, jobs, inheritance and politics. Some of the points made are interesting and thought provoking, but there were sections where I felt the authors were either misinterpreting the evidence or being over selective in their use of facts to support their points. Overall it left me with as many questions as answers.

For more reviews visit 52 Books in 52 Weeks