Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Passing of a good and valued friend

Marea and I are both laid up with flu at the moment, but I had to make the effort to record and mourn the passing of an old friend.

David Taylor MP died of a heart attack on Boxing day while out walking with his family. David was 63 and was planning to retire from Parliament at the next election. I know he and his family were looking forward to spending more time together.

In This age of dishonest politicians, of expenses claims and broken promises, I can, in all sincerity, say that David was the most honest man I have ever met. He was uncomfortable when his party did something against his prinsiples, but instead of complying like so many others, he stood out, spoke out and, thus, did not get promoted to the highest levels.

David worked so hard for the welfare of others, never stinting with his time, but not smarmy, never 'hale fellow, well met' just straight, friendly and concerned.

When others' expanses claime were being investigated, David was exonerated - indeed, he was found to have claimed only half his entitlement.

Tributes have come in from all political sides and all levels. All I can say is; we will miss a good and honoured friend.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Liege and Valkenberg Christmas Markets

Off last week by Eurostar to Liege (Belgium) and Valkenberg (Netherlands). Although we were moving our own bags, it meant there were no weight restrictions (and no 2 hour check in for flights).

Leige Guillemins Station is spectacular. I'm not always a wholehearted enthusiast for modern architecture, but that's usually because it's derivative, pastiche and gimcrack. I can't see most of it lasting for 20 years, never mind 200.

But Liege Guillemins is in a league of its own. The design by Santiago Calatrava is part of a much wider scheme with a lake and avenue of trees in a space presently occupied by the bus station. Both the station and bust station were ony 100 metres from our hotel, so it was easy to get into the centre, Place Sainte Lambert and the Christmas Markets.

All the usual stuff was on show, but I'm a sucker for traditional Christmas decorations etc.,

Even a Belgian elf!

And this is Marea indulging in yet another cup of gluhwein (actually, that's unfair; she drinks about half the quantity I consume).

Lots of Christmas lights - These in the Sainte lambert shopping arcade.

And, of course, the European Circus was in town, though we didn't go to see it.

Back to the station, (next morning) where they were rather precariously cleaning the glass. I'm sure it was safe, even if it didn't look it.

Traditional Wooden toy stall

And, of course, a snow slope.

But what every good Christmas Market town has to have is a ferris wheel!

... And lots of bars!

Next day we went off in a coach across the border to Valkenberg in the Netherlands where the Christmas Markets ar in chalk cave which run for miles under the town. I think that greeting visitors with a rather angry-looking Santa is a bit odd though.

One of the markets is in the 'Velvet' Caves (no, I don't know why). These were loosely themed on 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens.

Inside, they were warm and dry, unlike the market at Liege, which had tended to be very wet and rainy. They were also extremely spacious, so not really claustrophobic at all.

The caves were used during the war to hide British airmen and Jewish refugees. There is some remarkable artwork all through.

... And bars, of course!

This is the entrance to the Town Caves.

And tableaux just inside the entrance.

Lots more stalls with all the tradional Christmas figurines, etc.

And angels on almost every wall.

And here is the life-size nativity just outside the caves.

Then a quick run on to Maastricht where the market is more like a fairground, though it does have proper market stalls as well.

A carousel...

(and the obligatory ferris wheel).

And a rather bizarrely lit skating rink.
All in all, it was a lot of fun. However, nothing really comes close to Nuremberg and Rothenberg. Perhaps next year.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The show goes on

The show goes on

At last our 'Celebration of Christmas' fundraising event has taken place, so Marea and I can get on with Christmas. It seems to have taken over almost every waking hour in recent weeks; getting the acts together, printing programmes, making syrup for the mulled wine, etc., etc.

The event takes place at the Leicester Guildhall, a building that has had many uses and lives. The Great Hall itself was built in about 1390 as a meeting place for the Guild of Corpus Christi (a small but powerful group of businessman and gentry). Over the next hundred years the Great Hall was extended and the two wings at either end added. By the end of the 14th century the corporation of Leicester had begun to meet in the Guildhall. When the Guild was dissolved in 1548 the Corporation bought the buildings for the sum of £25 15s 4d! (£25.77 or $42.61 approx).

It's not an ideal building because we can only get 100 people in the audience, but it is quite magical with its log fire and oak beams

On arrival everyone gets a glass of mulled wine. I got fed up of all the mess with fruit, cinnamon and cloves, so I now make a syrup in advance and add syrup and wine together on the night in the urn. People seem to love it - there's never any left for me! (recipe at the end)

I intended to start with a comedian, but much to my chagrin, he didn't turn up, so I had to fill in with the compere just for a few minutes, then a few readings from John Owen who always finds something interesting and amusing to read.

Banjo Dez is an old friend of the charity and always goes down well with, in this case, what he, and they, describe as his three wives!

After the rather lengthy supper break with pork pies, cheese, quiches, etc., (this is rather like the most luxurious Victorian buffet you can imagine - the tables groan) we had a semi classical interval from T43, a trio of soloists from the local Bardi Symphony Orchestra. This, for me, was the most relaxing part of the evening - everything was going well and I had time to take a few photos.

The highlight of the evening for most of the audience was Will Chandler whose 'Cliff... as if!' tribute act to Cliff Richard is quite amazing.

He had the place swaying and rocking.

Will and T43 led the carols at the end and everyone seemed to go away happy. We loaded up all the equipment in the (by then) pouring rain and went home to collapse into bed.

The recipe

Mablethorpe Celebration Mulled Wine

Many mulled wine mixtures are ‘enhanced’ with all sorts of spices and other ingredients. Our mulled wine is made very simply with oranges, lemons, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and, of course, good red wine. It has been devised to bring out the taste of all the ingredients and to enhance the flavour of the wine by not being too sweet.


For 25 people drinking one glass each, you will need the following:
1.5 litres water2 sliced oranges2 sliced lemonscloves (6 or 8)6 tablespoons sugar (can be increased if you prefer a sweeter mix)cinnamon (5cm stick - do not use powdered cinnamon; this has only 2 uses, mincemeat and for sprinkling onto toasted teacakes.2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger (powdered ginger: see cinnamon above)2 bottles red wine
Quantities can be multiplied as needed.


Put the water on to boil in a very large pan - adding the rest of the ingredients will bring up the level considerably. Meanwhile, slice up the fruit, peel the ginger and chop it. If you wish, keep aside a few slices for decoration. Drop the fruit into the water, add the sugar and cloves and bring to the boil. As the water comes to the boil, crumble the cinnamon over the surface and stir in. Simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid off to fill the house with the smell of Christmas. After 20 minutes, take out the fruit and spices with a slotted spoon and dispose of them. Pour the syrup into a bowl through a sieve.

This syrup can be kept in the fridge for a week, or frozen for future use. (If freezing, use plastic containers or bottles and fill only to 5/6 of capacity.

To use

Simply add the syrup and wine together and heat gently. Do not boil as this will cause the alcohol to evaporate and impair the flavour. A slow cooker is ideal for the purpose.
Because the wine is diluted, everyone can enjoy our Mablethorpe Celebration Mulled Wine with little effect other than its warming and comforting quality.