Tuesday 31 August 2010

The butcher, the baker, the willow-basket maker ... a farmers' market in England

Once a month the farmers’ market comes to our town in Buckinghamshire, bringing local produce from the Thames Valley Farmers’ Market Cooperative to the green in front of St Mary’s Church, which has a history going back to 1210 …

Sadly the culture of prepared, ready-meals in supermarkets seems to have such a stronghold in Britain that this is the closest we get here to the fresh food markets of Europe – nowhere near as frequent or as extensive in range of produce –

but still with its own charm and a uniquely English twist …

... farm-picked redcurrants

Pork pies and scotch eggs!

Hand-made willow baskets

The Celtic Bakers ply their wares


Potted herbs

And our favourite stall - scrumptious home-made cakes

This handsome little piggy went to market, but never made it home ...

but this little chap waiting patiently for his master the butcher had a happier fate

Time for morning tea ...

Monday 30 August 2010

My English summer garden

Summer has well and truly snuffed it in Britain. This is the time of year when we struggle not to feel a little bitter and twisted, as we look back at what has passed for summer in these damp, grey isles and count the days (often on one hand) that we actually spent in the garden, sitting in sunshine or eating out on the lawn.

(Why? Because as ex-Capetonians we carry memories of long African summers, lazy days in the shade of covered porches, children running in and out of the pool, oceans at sunset, beaches of soft white sand, leisurely lunches under the trees with views of vineyards stretching forever on the slopes of mountains … oh stop.)

Because of this we have learned to seize the day, to live fully the moments of perfect English summer, and to appreciate them all the more.

Here are some of those precious few days ...

This little boy travelled all the way from Cape Town

and so did these two African boys!

Pre-lunch drinks, English style?

Firing up the barbie!

Yum ...

Someone's ready for lunch

Bon appetit ...

Saturday 28 August 2010

Guest Blog: The Great British Summer, Part Two

By Nina (eldest daughter)

The second part of my series focuses on one of the most integral parts of the British summer: the day trip to the seaside.

After a long period of contemplation as to the ideal destination for our trip, three friends and I decided on Brighton (or "B-"right on" as I am reliably informed it is nicknamed, due to its huge population of hippies, students, and other people relevant to our interests). This was partly due to its reputation as generally a lovely place to be, partly to its relative closeness to London, and partly to our massive respect for Caroline Lucas who won her party (the Greens) their first seat in the House of Commons there earlier this year (unfortunately we did not run into her there, more's the pity).

Having arranged the trip, packed our lunches, and picked a date early August, a ridiculously early start saw the four of us navigating the almost entirely "closed for maintenance purposes" London transport system to make our way to London Bridge Station, truly the most hideous of the London National Rail stations. Clutching desperately on to our super-saver rail passes, picnic lunches, and the only organised member of our group, we finally managed to find seats on the crowded train between the (many) hen parties also traveling to Brighton.

On the train we entertained ourselves by reading out articles from magazines and listening to the summer playlist which I had made for just such an occasion.

The trip was much shorter than I had imagined, and just under an hour in the train took us from gloomy grimy London to this:

Admittedly still rather on the gloomy side, but it was much better than we had dared hope for with the weather forecasts for that day predicting thunderstorms and wind.

We set up our picnics on the beach (where there were even some brave people swimming!), and found ourselves having to strip off tights and jackets as the day started to warm up. As none of us had had the foresight to bring picnic blankets (there's always something) this proved particularly handy, as our discarded layers served as makeshift seating.

If there's one thing about British beaches I will never get used to it's the fact that rather than the golden sand which I am used to, they are covered in pebbles. However, the beauty and charm of Brighton more than made up for this, and I was soon completely in love.

After our lunch we stopped at a souvenir store to buy some postcards for family and friends, and in my case to greedily pick out the biggest stick of Brighton Rock I could find:

Having somehow managed to eat the whole thing, we started off for the pier, only to get caught in a massive downpour. We ducked into a nearby shopping centre to wait it out, and amused ourselves browsing through Waterstones and HMV. The rain cleared up fairly quickly, though, and we soon decided it was safe to head for the pier.

On our way we passed a carousel which we stopped to take a ride on:

A sign advertising a local museum:

And a hilarious poster which we all wanted pictures with:

By this point the sky was bright and clear, and we could see the pier in the distance:

As we got closer we also got more excited, happily planning which rides we would go on.

Finally we reached the pier:

The weather at this point was extremely changeable, and it switched rapidly back and forth from sunny to rainy, as is clear in this photo of the entrance to the pier featuring blue skies and yet umbrellas lining the way:

The good weather continued to be fairly on-off for the rest of the day, but on the whole it was much better than the reports had implied.

We managed to fit in yet another merry-go-round ride, me on the horse:

And one of my friends on a rooster (!?):

The bloke of our group even braved the bucking bronco:

And did quite well! (Although not quite well enough to win a prize, but A for effort I suppose...).

The view from the pier was spectacular:

And we pottered around very happily for another few hours before it was time to head back for the train.

We stopped briefly on the beach one last time:

And amused ourselves by paddling and skipping stones (somewhat unsuccessfully in my case...)

But it was time to leave, and we walked back with heavy hearts, finally arriving at the station:

And boarding our train:

The trip back was far sadder than the one out, and upon arriving home I immediately demanded to my family that we go back to Brighton as soon as possible.

So what have we learned from this year's summer?

  1. Don't reply on the weather report. It will be wrong.
  2. Don't rely on the weather itself, either. It will rain, it did at Cornbury and it did at Brighton. Don't let it ruin your day.
  3. Leading on from number 2, wear layers. Even if you don't need them, they will double as picnic equipment in a pinch.
  4. Always have at least one organised friend with you.
  5. Where there are hippies, there's a good time, and,
  6. Enjoy yourself! Don't spend all your time moaning. In summer there are always reasons to be cheerful...

Thursday 26 August 2010

Guest Blog: The Great British Summer, Part One

By Nina (Eldest daughter)

As the summer draws to a close (did it even properly begin?), the inevitable forward march of the seasons and the impending dawn of dark afternoons, wellington boots, woolly hats, and the drizzly dreary months of autumn and winter cast a rosy hue on your memories of summer. The rain-soaked barbecues which had relied on the BBC weatherman's promise of a sunny afternoon and which went horribly wrong become the greatest meals of your life. The tedious village cricket match featuring a hodgepodge team of several overenthusiastic fathers, a handful of braying home-counties OAPs, and a sprinkling of disappointed teenagers becomes the most gripping sporting event witnessed by man, a series of athletic feats finished up with a heroic victory. The overpriced Pimm's with more fruit than strictly necessary crammed into the glass before it was poured to ensure the use of the minimum possible amount of actual Pimm's becomes the ambrosia of the gods.

In these two guest blogs I will explore the two aspects of the British summer which I love, and which I truly did enjoy despite the questionably summery weather, starting with Part One: The Music Festival.

Armed with our tickets and wristbands, my friend and I set out on our journey across the Oxfordshire countryside.

The trip there involved many winding, narrow roads, charming villages, and one or two cows, but we got there eventually.

Cornbury is massively family friendly, and there were people of all ages milling around, enjoying the funfare and the candy floss stalls.

The festival has, through its usual patrons and general atmosphere, earned itself the soubriquet 'Poshstock'; this is probably somewhat justified given that it is possibly the only music festival in the UK where you will be greeted by these sights:

Posh or not, the festival still has its share of typical festival goers, from aging hippies... to younger hippies:

And of course the food linked in with this, too:

There was a massive amount of different kinds of food to choose from:

But in the end we chose to share a not-so-healthy plate of Mexican deliciousness:

By this time the festival was crowded, with the day pass carriers arriving en masse, and the campers making their way down from the campsite.

And of course, it was time for the most important part of the event: the music.

The Blockheads were there, proving that they can still rock:

Despite their age and the death of Ian Drury, the Blockheads were undoubtedly one of the most charismatic and energetic bands who performed; absolute rock legends.

Later the lovely Newton Faulkner played a set. I hadn't had much experience of him beforehand, but he completely blew me away with his obvious talent and charming personality.

As the day wore on, other bands such as Reef and The Feeling played (The Feeling as amazing as I had hoped that they would be). The sky grew darker, the fields slightly worse for the wear:

But there was an incredible buzz in the air as everyone prepared themselves for the headline act: the incomparable Jackson Browne.

Having set up site right in front of the stage a good hour before he was due to start playing, my friend and I had an unrivaled view:

And then he arrived, the man himself:

As if the evening couldn't get any better, he was accompanied by David Lindley! They played an amazing set, with all of the golden oldies (Mercury Blues, Running on Empty, Somebody's Baby), as well as some awesome new material.

An amazing day and an amazing experience, music festivals are clearly the way to go to experience the best of the British summer.

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