Back from two weeks ‘off work’ (you wouldn’t know by the two days spent in the office during the first week, and the amount of e-mails on my ‘mobility device’ (it’s not a Blackberry but not sure what else to call it) during the second.  And this week itself has been manic due to various crises, a book publication deadline and three external presentations which need slides done. So little time to reflect and update on what’s been going on whilst I was away!

To start with, a long weekend down in Chichester.  We went down to see my folks and also to see ‘Calendar Girls’ at the Festival Theatre.  Similar but not identical to the film, it was a very funny play – and very carefully acted by the cast who all managed to be photographed in the buff without any of us in the audience seeing anything naughty as they undressed/dressed.   I’m not quite sure about the people sat at the side of the stage though!  Anyway, well done to Linda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Gaynor Faye et al.   It’s going to the West End soon and if you get a chance to catch it, you should.

I did manage to snag a few photos whilst in Chichester – click on the picture below for the set.  Pictures from our trip to Portsmouth to follow!

Window, Chichester Cathedral

Innocent Village Fete I seem to have been short-listed again for the Innocent Village Fete photography competition.

If you feel that way inclined, clicking here and voting would be very nice – mine is entry four in the second set of boxes.  But of course, I do want you to vote for the one you judge to be the best, not just mine out of some misguided sense of loyalty!

Anybody else see this over on the BBC website about how at least one independent cinema chain is banning popcorn?

Personally I don’t object to it – generally far less anti-social than nachos which can stink the place out.   I can see the argument about the mess (though the cinema I was in at the weekend for Wall-E didn’t have bins on the way out – we had to bring our ice cream tubs home to recycle*).  And perhaps the noise (I still remember one of my friends on a university outing to Shadowlands managing to make his last all the way to the end of the film – everyone else sniffing whilst trying to hold back tears at the end, and him sat crunching away).   But I really can’t see that providing popcorn makes for bad movies** – I don’t find the choice of film I’m seeing affects my desire to eat trashy food!***

So, guys:

– it’s not that unhealthy – unlike some other cinema food (those hotdogs and the aforementioned nachos);

– smaller portions would be good though – I don’t like asking for a child’s portion, even though that is too big for your average child and perfectly ample for a fully-grown adult.   This would be a lot more environmentally friendly in terms of the energy to cook the stuff and the cardboard used in the tubs; and

– please do put in some sort of recycling facility – no wonder people leave the empties behind when there’s not even a normal bin!

* If you really want an example of anti-social, the security guard on the way in was having words with one lady who argued “but I always bring this and nobody ever stops me” holding up her tub of curry and rice.

** I suspect there’d still be a lot of bad movies even without popcorn.  But far less of the movies shown in the independent cinemas in the article would get any kind of look-in at the multiplexes.  Which would mean a lot less of them got made.  Which would be a shame…

*** A wider selection of healthy but quiet snacks would be good.  Not sure the wasabi nuts mentioned in the article would be any quieter than pop-corn though!

To the middle day of the Hatfield House Country Show on Saturday with Sarah and her Dad. Set in the stunning scenery of the Marquess of Salisbury’s historic home, this event was launched in 2005, run again in 2006 but sadly cancelled in 2007 due to foot & mouth. 2008 saw the resurrection of this three day chance for “Town to meet Country” as his Lordship said.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the show before we set out; the Christmas fayre we went to a couple of years ago was less than inspiring.  This, however, was a pleasant change. Not that many stalls trying to sell you tat; quality food stalls from small suppliers (we had burgers from the Marquess’ own Cranborne estate followed by goat’s milk ice cream from Essex. And a good range of events to entertain us:

The National Hawking Show and Richard Savory’s Sheep Show – including dancing sheep!

Owl'll be the opening act then, shall I? Sheep show - shearing Watching like a hawk Sheep show - dancing sheep Hawking about Sheep show - dancing sheep

Meeting 2008 Masterchef Winner James Nathan and tasting his final-winning chocolate pud:

James Nathan makes it look easy James Nathan, Masterchef Winner 2008, cooking up a storm Chocolate sponge cooked by the real Masterchef!

Plus heavy horse racing, steam engines, polo demonstrations, pig and sheep judging, rare breeds and more.  More photos here if you really, really want them!

Delivery bike

To the Portland Arms on Thursday with Sarah; it was a nice summer evening, we were out for a walk and fancied dinner out.

We used to live about five minutes walk from the Portland Arms.  At the end of March it changed ownership (the Camra magazine telling us it is now run by Sara Dale – her first pub) but we were somewhat busy with moving house spending our evenings packing boxes and the like and never made it down to try out their fare.  We’re a little further away now but, as we we’d popped round to some friends quickly we thought we’d come back this way and see what it was like.  Previously an award-winning pub, would it live up to its former reputation?

A friendly “hello” welcomed us to the pub as soon as we walked in.  The menu had a good range of choices. I plumped for the burger which was very tasty if decidedly unvegetarian – handmade from local Hedges Farm beef which was very tasty and juicy, topped with caramelised onions in a ciabata bun – far better than the somewhat insipid buns some pubs serve.  Sarah chose the butternut squash risotto which she found delicious and filling; this was presented attractively with a parmesan crisp.  Whilst waiting for the food we had a drink – I can recommend the beer as well kept – and introduced ourselves to Buster the labradoodle who probably thinks he runs the pub himself.  Buster has his own blog here.

After finishing our main courses we were tempted by the desert menu.  £4.50 got us a huge portion of homemade apple and raspberry crumble with ice cream (Sarah) and custard (me) which was truly delicious.

The two of us headed full but happy up the hill back home, sure we’d be back again soon.  Recommended.

Hoo noo broon cooCupcakesMe and my new friendNicola, Sarah and friend

To Regent's Park on Saturday for the Innocent Village Fete.  Lots of lovely fete-type things including lots of smoothies of course.  Sarah and Nicola decorated the cupcakes above (yes, they were really that bright), I met a cow, the girls met a smoothie, then it was time for…
Herd instinctTaking the plungeCareful, lads!He who rules the rooster rules the roost...Band of the Baldock Midnight MorrisBand of the Baldock Midnight Morris

Duck herding!   Morris men!  Ferrets! Dog agility!
Smoothie centralRun for it or we'll be dinner!Run for it or we'll be dinner!Rupert!Rupert on the A-frame

Start of the day from my perspective?  Rupert – the little fella at the bottom right; he's a West Highland / King Charles cross.

Having moved to just around the corner(-ish!), Sarah and I have become friends of the Watercress Wildlife Association.

This little oasis of calm is nestled not far from London Road in St Albans next to a disused railway line and the River Ver.  There’s a mere for the birds, a butterfly meadow and an orchard and a lot more besides.  We finally made it down to have a look last weekend:

Cheeky Heron


Female Moorhen

Watercress Wildlife Reserve


Well worth a trip if you’re after somewhere quiet to go.  And in the meantime, why not have a look at their sightings blog?

OK, so some of our friends think we’re just a little cat crazy.  But Phoebe is an important member of the family and has done sterling work comforting Sarah after her Mum died.  So, you’re just going to have to put up with a few more photos!

She seems to like the new house a lot, sitting in the garden with us:

Evening treat time On the fence
  Sitting pretty

Oh, and the bay in the living room:

Sittin' pretty Resting on a hot day
Sleeeeeepy cat