Daffodil Gardens

I snapped these little lovelies in my Mom’s garden this morning. It’s beautiful weather at the moment, and the daffodils are beaming! It’s my Mom’s first proper Spring in the house, so the beds were full of daffodils, light and bright and welcoming. Days like this make me wish I had a garden, I love her house – it’s got that real vintage character, beautiful gardens and it comes alive when we are all there together. Hollywood, Worcestershire is worlds apart from the noisy and throbbing US namesake, being in the countryside is wonderful (I couldn’t do it permanently), walking next to fields, with horses, and village shops!

But then I get home to the heat of the city and I see the sun on the balcony and the little Indian family having a little picnic in the park and I love my flat and I put the daffodils that I picked in my Mom’s garden in the vase and I sit back and enjoy the heat after the horrible rainy Winter and I hope that this Sunday afternoon lasts forever.

daf - Copy

Multi-Daffodil!

 

Random Moments of Delight

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7 Signs of a Perfect Day-Trip

Following Shrewsbury, Worcester and Tewkesbury last year, we took our first UK daytrip of the 2014 this weekend. The weather was forecast to be glorious, not a cloud in the sky and it was my birthday so Daniel took me on the train to Oxford.

1. Public Transport – When I was younger there was nothing more exciting than going somewhere from New Street Station, it meant you really were going somewhere, not like Moor Street where your only options are Stratford (upon-Avon) or Kidderminster. We got on at New Street with our bacon butties for the journey, read trashy magazines until we got off an hour later in a freezing-cold Oxford.

History and Sunny Shades at the School of Languages in Oxford

History and Academia and Sunny Shades at the School of Languages in Oxford

2. Dry Weather – Everywhere in the UK is great for a daytrip – if it’s not raining! I prefer Spring and Autumn so keeping an eye out for dry weekends is essential. I especially like London in that period between Autumn and real Winter, November, early December when it’s still dry but crisp and the leaves are on the ground. But, again, always take your umbrella just in case! There are some cities though that aren’t too bad in the rain, Bronte novels are full of dark, wintry manor houses and rain-lashed moors – so towns in Yorkshire are much more atmospheric in Winter.

3. History – Whether it’s an ancient Abbey, castle ruins or an historic university town, history is what has attracted you to this place so you need to enjoy it! Our normal plan is get off the train and head for the Tourist Information straight away. Then while you’re there you can always top up on tourist information on the internet on your phone, you can even TripAdvisor a bar or an attraction when standing right outside if needs be.

4. Find a Tower – Get your bearings from up high, you might have to pay a few pounds and climb up a horrible spiral staircase but the views are worth it from the top. You can climb to the top of church towers and follys in most tourist towns, in the big cities try a rooftop restaurant or just see what’s at the top of a posh hotel. The best ones we’ve climbed are the tower in Teweksbury, the Monument and the Shard in London, and now the tower in Oxford.

From the tower at Tewkesbury

From the tower at Tewkesbury

5. Picnic – An impromptu picnic is always lovely, in Oxford we went to Taylor’s little sandwich shop on the High Street and then to sit in the sunny park area outside Christ Church College. From students reading on the benches in their college to young families playing in the grass outside, when the sun’s out the picnic is a perfect way to enjoy your surroundings and soak up the atmosphere.

6. Ice Cream – This one is probably best left to Summer trips, to be replaced by hot chocolate maybe in Winter. An ice cream in the park, by the river, overlooking the castle, windowshopping in the town square. Whether an artisan number from a small craft shop to a bog-standard Mr Whippy, there’s something so special about an ice cream in the sun.

7. Beer – Possibly the most important thing about the daytrip, we started in the first place last year with a promise of a sunny weekend and a the idea that Tewkesbury might just have a pub on one of its two rivers (it didn’t!). A nice warm mulled wine or cider in Winter in a typical little pub or wandering in a Christmas market does the trick as well. Taste the local ales, fight off the wasps in the beer garden, strike up conversation with the old man at the bar, enjoy the whole experience!

Comedy Sans Frontières

You’d think that comedy could cross borders very easily in the English-speaking world. Look at the big successes of Friends, the Big Bang Theory, and dare I say, Seinfeld. I’m not a big fan of Seinfeld, I prefer shows with a proper story to them and development, but that’s not to say I don’t find it funny, or necessarily the other way round. I enjoy Friends and How I Met Your Mother, but I rarely laughing out loud – not like in modern British greats The IT Crowd, or Green Wing for example.

I know I risk being ostracised for my opinion on American comedy, but I find it milked, there are too many series, too much change almost. British comedy tends to finish on a high, with the actors looking at new projects rather than wrapping up the old. The only one standing the test of time so far is Peep Show, with its ninth and final series starting this year. It’s somewhat of an exception to the rule, The Fast Show, two series of The Office, three of Gavin and Stacey, 80 episodes of Dad’s Army compared to 180 from Seinfeld.

Then we get into stand-up comedy, here I think we excel. There are so many different accents and nationalities that find their niche in the UK. From the Irish Dara O’Briain, there’s Adam Hills, the South African comedian with the prosthetic leg, Tim Minchin’s hilarious piano songs from Australia, British-Iranian Shappi Korsandi, and even Henning Wehn from Germany. And vice-versa Eddie Izzard even does gigs in fluent French!

Rich Hall - picture from the internet

Rich Hall – picture from the internet

I can’t do American stand-up, it’s like they say more than they need to, they leave nothing for the audience to think about – or they follow-up a punchline with something unnecessary, like the same again but said in a different way – why? We laughed, we understood, we don’t need it explaining again. It’s like the UK rejects that kind of comedy as though it’s too obvious to be funny. We like clever comedy! There are a few that have made it here though, my two favourite Americans are Reginald D Hunter and Rich Hall, the latter actually we saw recently on stage at the Glee Club in Birmingham. I like that they can poke fun at their own countries, and they know enough about the UK that, being British, we can also laugh when they make fun of ours. I love Hunter’s sketch about sarcasm, that in the US someone says (along the lines of) “well that went quite well”, and it went well, whereas in the UK you hear that and start thinking “what did I do wrong”! That you call your friends bastard and wanker and shithead.

Being a linguist I’m also interested in foreign comedians, however Daniel told me that it really wouldn’t be worth trying to see any comedy when we’re in Mexico because it’s all about “how vulgar can you get?”. If you are learning French, you must look up Les Mots d’Eric et Ramsey. These guys are famous for sketches, and they’ve done a couple of films. It’s like a word-a-day sketch, they have a word on the board and act it out to learn it – but because of all the homonyms in French they always get it wrong!

"Mettons-nous en situation..."

“Mettons-nous en situation…”

 

A Quiet Corner of Greece in the City

Among the busy streets of Birmingham, while men and women in power suits run from Colmore Row to New Street Station, and the rain comes down and umbrellas go up, rushing by without even noticing the All Greek Delicatessen that has sprung up from nowhere on Stephenson Street.

All Greek Delicatessen, hidden away on Stephenson Street

All Greek Delicatessen, hidden away on Stephenson Street

At the weekend we went for dinner at a friend’s house, and always wanting to be a bit unusual with our gifts, Daniel suggested we take a bottle of wine from this Greek place he’d seen. Blink and you’d miss it, this lovely little shop is at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade towards the road to the old back entrance to New Street Station. It has a very simple rustic feel to it, like a proper start-up business finding its feet before jumping in decorating and expanding its range.

It’s certainly well-stocked with olives, tzatziki and feta cheese, but also offers a range of things you might not have even thought were traditionally Greek. There are is honey, chocolate cookies, olive oil and noodles. I think the best thing is the stir-in sauces. And the shop doesn’t sell wine but that didn’t matter, we took some cookies, olives stuffed with chillies and a small box of carrot-flavour breadsticks. We didn’t realise until we were on the train though that the carrot sticks said “for diet” all over them! But the pricing is very reasonable for authentic imported products, we paid around £10.00 for that little package.

Their facebook feed offers competitions and information about the lines they stock, packed with photos of lovely Greek things! Since discovering it I’ve taken a small packet of square-shaped noodles, and a jar of the sauces, tomato, red pepper and grape, to try with a bit of pork. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Ancient Aztecs : The Rabbit in the Moon

You might know that I run the local Guide Company, and obviously for various child protection laws in place I don’t really post about the girls at all. But this week’s travel theme from Alisa is Ancient, and we recently played a game that made me think of this straight away. Inspired by my travels, I wanted to give them something Mexican, so we told my girls and the Brownies the ancient Aztec story of the Rabbit in the Moon for the Division’s Bunny Challenge Badge to learn about Rabbits in other cultures.

Teotihuacán from the Pirámide de la Luna

Teotihuacán from the Pirámide de la Luna

Gather the girls together and tell them the actions they must do during the story when you read out certain words:

  1. Quetzalcoatl – flap wings like a bird and hiss like a snake
  2. Rabbit – bunny hopping on the spot
  3. Moon – lie on the floor and point at the ceiling*

Then begin the story :

The ancient people of Mexico are called the Aztecs, and the most important God was called Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, who took the form of a human to walk the earth with his people.

Ladywood Bunny Challenge

Ladywood Bunny Challenge Badge

As a simple man he walked in the Mexican desert in the heat of the day, walking until he grew thirsty and hungry. He kept walking in the desert until to grew dark, and the sky filled with stars and a blank silver moon. When Quetzalcoatl had walked so much that the hunger and thirst grew too strong, he sat beside the path, suffering in a way he never had as a God. Near to him he noticed a small rabbit eating alone in the dark. “What are you eating?” Quetzalcoatl asked. “Grass, would you like some?” said the rabbit. Despite his uncomfortable hunger, Quetzalcoatl said “No”, as this simple meal is enough for a rabbit, but hardly suitable for a human. By the light of the moon, the concerned rabbit asked Quetzalcoatl what he would do, “Die of hunger and thirst probably” he replied. Getting nearer to the human, the rabbit gave Quetzalcoatl another offering, “I know I am nothing but a small rabbit, but if you are hungry you can eat me.” Touched by the kindness of the rabbit, the man gently picked him up, and revealing his true form as the feathered serpent God. Quetzalcoatl raised the rabbit up to the sky, taking as high up as the moon, where the image of this kind rabbit was imprinted onto the blank surface of the moon. As he did this, Quetzalcoatl told the rabbit he was no longer just a small creature, that his portrait painted in the light of the moon would forever tell the story of his kindness to all men. And with this reward he returned the rabbit to where he found him.

Quetzalcoatl‘s story teaches us that even if food is just fuel need to continue your journey, it is also a gift and a kindness.

* The older girls decided to change this action to bending over and taking their skirt over their head “mooning” at each other!