Monday, 29 September 2014

Festive Afternoon Tea at The Conrad Hotel ... A Scrumptious Treat!

There are days that come along sometimes and fill you with joy. Days that feel like Christmas did when you were a child. Yesterday was a day like that. The sun was shining and people were sitting in deck chairs in Green Park as I strolled along in my summer dress, but before long I could have been back in my childhood, opening presents under a Christmas tree, full of excitement for the goodies to come and sharing the pleasure with good friends.

I had been invited to the Conrad London St James with a group of bloggers, continuing our mission to find the perfect Afternoon Tea. We have been sampling the delights, and sometimes not so delightful delights, of London hotels over the last year or so. Yesterday was the turn of the Conrad as they unveiled, or should I say unwrapped, their Festive Tea.

I could as well come straight out with it, rather than teasing you ... this tea was simply the best I've ever had.... in every way. From the moment I entered the Conrad the staff were kind, attentive and friendly. They met us with champagne and couldn't do enough for us.

I settled myself down and began an afternoon of chat and laughter and general shameless indulgence! Instead of my usual PG Tips I chose Vanilla Black from the extensive list of teas. The waiter informed me that it could be taken with milk, but that he recommended it black as it was so delicious. He was right! I did, and it was.

Next the tea stand arrived, accompanied by Zoe Wager, Executive Pastry Chef at Conrad St James. She was the creative genius behind the Festive Tea and she explained both the scrumptious tea and the inspiration behind it.

Zoe Wager - Executive Pastry Chef
Now ... you may, like me, not be a huge fan of Brussel Sprouts, but I promise you that this tea will change your mind. "Brussel Sprouts??!!" I hear you gasp. Yes. To be more precise Brussel Sprout shots. Simply one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted ... a mousse of Brussel Sprout with light goat's cheese, topped with a tiny sprout salad and a bacon shard. Oh - My - Lord!! To die for.

Zoe has tried to incorporate all the flavours of Christmas into the Conrad's imaginative and fun-filled take on Afternoon Tea. With the Brussel Sprout Shots comes a tiny Venison Pie and a Turkey Ballotine with a spoon of Cranberry ...bursts of flavour.

Next came the sandwich layer ...

smoked salmon & lemon creme fraiche
beetroot & spinach
cured gammon & mustard
They were all lovely, soft and full of flavour, but the beetroot sandwich was my favourite.
And then ... SCONES!

freshly baked orange & cranberry scone
Christmas spice scone
Devonshire clotted cream, home made strawberry jam, blackberry curd
Everybody loves a scone and these were soft, warm and tasty with ( Thank Goodness, because some places can be a tad stingey) LOTS of clotted cream and jam. Yum.

By this time I was feeling quite full and settled back on the sofa as I would after my Christmas Lunch. Things were going pretty well and then the strains of Let it Snow! came drifting across the room, played on a full size harp. Oh Good Grief ... I wondered if it could get any better. Surely only the first snow of winter would make this more heavenly?

Well, you won't believe this, but even though it didn't snow ( that would have been verging on the ridiculous...) it did get better. A flurry of staff emerged carrying the piece de resistance -  a beautiful snow scene, complete with meringue snowmen, edible snow and a winter berry Christmas tree. All of this was enclosed in a glass cloche ... just beautiful and, it turns out, de-licious.

I cannot recommend this tea highly enough. I paid a slightly discounted rate, but it is available for £37 per person or £45 per person with free flowing Laurent Perrier champagne. I think that this is remarkable value when you consider the imagination that has gone into creating this Festive Tea, along with the superb service and absolute deliciousness of the fare.

The staff at the Conrad are so knowledgeable and friendly - able to tell us how the chocolate is sprayed onto the Christmas trees, about the teas we could choose from - and the hotel also laid on some tasty looking vegetarian and Gluten free options.

If you are looking for a special treat in the lead up to Christmas then this would be a place to head for. The Festive Tea is available from the 24th November and I am thinking of taking along my husband and boys so we can have a Christmas memory that will leave us feeling rather lovely. Thank you Chef Zoe and all the staff at the Conrad! I may sound a bit gushy today, but yesterday I was in Heaven!!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Wedding on the Beach

Camber Sands
Sometimes you go for a while without writing. Sometimes there is no need to write because the real life that you lead fills your days and satisfies your whims. This has been the case for me over the summer months.

A good friend of our was married in August. He and his wife have known each other for 33 years and he has asked her many times over the years to be his wife. He has taken her to romantic dinners to ask. He took her to Juliet's balcony in Verona to ask. Every time she said no. I don't know why. To be honest it doesn't matter because they were always very happy.

Last year they went to Camber Sands - the beach pictured above and one morning they went for a walk together along the seafront. As they were walking along our friend's girlfriend pointed to a lovely shell and remarked on it. G picked it up and was delighted to see that someone had written inside the shell "Will you marry me?" How romantic, he thought as he showed it to L. "Yes!" she said "It is romantic! I wrote it!! Will you marry me?!"

And that was the start of their plans. Their plans led back to that beach this summer to the most beautiful wedding surrounded by their family and friends. We picnicked on the beach, drinking champagne and eating food from wicker baskets filled with scrumptiousness. The bride arrived on the back of a motorbike to the strains of "Born to be Wild" and the groom wept as he spoke of his love for his family and his beautiful wife.

There are times in life when you don't need to write everything down when it happens. Sometimes its nice to live in the moment and savour the moment you are in. To walk side by side with my man on the beach at Camber made me feel so happy. Being able to share G and L's special day made me feel happy. And part of me wanted to keep that experience close to my heart for a while.

As we head into the shorter days, with darker mornings and leaf swept afternoons, its rather lovely to look back at those summer moments. And it was time to share them. x

Thursday, 3 July 2014

When dressing like a tart is ok. Apparently.

Before I moved to the country and became Secret Housewife I lived in London and worked in a Mayfair casino. I wasn't what you might imagine a croupier to be, sadly. I was a tad serious and took my job seriously too. That's not to say I didn't have fun, but I wanted, at the same time, to be respected as a professional. Each day I was dealing with very wealthy businessmen, making complicated calculations and negotiating with them so that the casino ran smoothly. The casino business is full of very bright women who work hard and run the businesses, multi-million pound businesses, very professionally.

I was incensed when my club director chose some of the female staff to dress up in Santa mini dresses to have their photos taken for the club Christmas photo. I remember making my views known and one of the women told me that I was just jealous that I hadn't been chosen. NO NO NO!! The reason I was cross was because they were allowing themselves be manipulated by the man running the place, to assume the image of .... tart. How could they be respected by the clientele if they were seen on the front of a Christmas card wearing a low cut dress that skimmed their bottom cheeks as they leaned seductively over a roulette table ?

And now, nearly 20 years later I find myself furious again. Of course I still know lots of people in the casino business and today, on my Facebook feed, up popped the photo below. I am apoplectic. It is possible to be an attractive woman without draping yourself over a dice table wearing only a bra, some shorts and a pair of stockings. What image do these women send to the outside world? Do you look at them and think " Ah, yes. Intelligent women, brimming with intellect, proud of their professionalism" ? Or do you think that they look like they're up for a  good time ... to put it nicely?

The thing that really gets to me is that they allow themselves to be used like this. Have we learnt nothing over the years? I am not saying that we all need to burn our bras, wear no make up and wear shapeless dungarees, but for God's sake!!! Clientele will not look at this photo and think that the casino in question is staffed by strong professional women. 

People, and I include women when I say this, tell me that I need to lighten up, but why should I? How many men do you see behaving in this way? Do you see Donald Trump or David Cameron behave like this? Is it "just a bit of fun" or is it hugely damaging to the image of women? What does it achieve?

I am sure that the 3 women above are just as professional and good at their jobs as croupiers as I was, but when you look at them do you really think that? Or do you think ... sex? Are they trying to get punters into their club by making them think that they can get a cheap thrill? Maybe a quick feel? Because that's what it looks like.

I am so frustrated by this. I am frustrated that nothing has changed. I am frustrated that this is seen as fun and acceptable by people in the industry still. I am frustrated that women think they have to do this to be successful. I am angry that anyone would ask a woman to dress like this and that the women would feel that they should or that it was in anyway ok. A casino is a place to gamble. It is not a whorehouse, but that is what this photo implies.

I have discovered that the women in the photo above are not croupiers but dancers who work in the casino.  The casino PR department is still using the image to pull men into the premises and, to be honest, I think my point still stands.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Like a Girl .... what does that mean to you??

I saw the video above for the first time today. My friend had posted it on her Facebook page and I watched it without really thinking. When I had finished I felt quite upset. When did doing something "like a girl" become so derogatory?

Its true though isn't it? If you say to someone that they throw "like a girl" or run "like a girl" its not a compliment.

I tried it on my boys.

I said to them - "Throw like a girl. Run like a girl. Fight like a girl." Without fail they imitated the actions of a person who was weak, a bit pathetic ... Where did I go wrong?? Do they not realise that I'm a girl? I am feminine but strong. The two positions do not rule each other out. I have run a marathon, raised a family, fought for my rights and those of others. Do they really think that girls are so weak? So namby pamby?

In the film the thing that made me go watery eyed with pride was the sight of young girls who were confident, proud, unquestioning of their ability to be anything they wanted to be. Where do we lose that pride and that belief? When do we start to believe that girls are weak?

The film above is an advert, and a clever one at that, but it raises an interesting and powerful point. The language we use every day can make or break. Its important that girls and boys are given positive messages. Girls and boys can be strong and successful.Your gender should not define how successful you are. To use "like a girl" as an insult is as bad, to me, as using "gay" as a derogatory term, as using a person's colour or faith as an insult.

I am loathe to put free advertising on my blog, but this is about more than a cheap plug. Its about realising that we need to nurture, support and encourage, not put down, denigrate or belittle. "Like a girl" should mean " like a tiger" "like a warrior" ... "like something damn good".

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Body and Void Exhibition at The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green.

Last year, on its last day, I went to see the Rodin Moore Exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. I loved the exhibition and wrote my review with enthusiasm. I realised, however, that it might have been a better idea to visit the exhibition on the first day so that my review could be read by other people in time for them to be able to visit Perry Green! This year when I heard of the Body and Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art Exhibition, again at Perry Green, I decided to go early and write my review in plenty of time! So ... this is it.

My husband and I tootled off through the Hertfordshire countryside of high hedgerows and picturesque villages last Friday. The skies were grey, but, to be honest, whatever the weather the Henry Moore Foundation is always a treat to visit. Its like stepping back in time, to a place where the world is quiet apart from the gentle hum of bees and the rustling of the wind through leaves.

We bought our tickets in the little shop and were shown where to go by the very friendly lady behind the counter. You will find, if you visit, that one of the best things about Perry Green is the staff, largely volunteers, who man the galleries and workshops. They are all friendly, enthusiastic and endlessly knowledgeable about the art on display. They are eager to share their joy, which I find infectious!

We wandered off around the beautiful gardens of Hoglands, Moore's home, where his and other artists sculptures are installed. The Body and Void Exhibition is a celebration of Moore's work and legacy. Artists such as Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Richard Long have been invited to contribute work to the exhibition, alongside work by not only Moore, but Thomas Schutte, Paul Noble, Antony Gormley and a host of others. It is fascinating to see how Moore has influenced and inspired a whole generation of artists.

Rachel Whiteread's Detached 3 2012
One of the first pieces we came across was Rachel Whiteread's Detached 3. At first glance, walking across the grass, you think its just a shed, one of many buildings scattered around the grounds, but then you realise that this is a concrete cast of the inside of a shed. It is the hidden space, the void, which is usually never seen. There is something brilliant about this idea to me. I loved the idea of making solid something that is normally hidden and unconsidered. As we went into the Body and Void gallery we saw another Rachel Whiteread work which, again, cast the void in solid form...

Rachel Whiteread Pink Torso 1995 ( photo courtesy of

Can you see what it is? The space inside a hot water bottle ...  a space you would never normally see. I loved that idea!

The theme of the void is something that Moore explored and with Reclining Figure: External Form 1953-54 he combines this with another of his favourite subjects, the reclining female figure. The form is hollowed out to show not only the voluptuous curves of the body, but also the interior spaces. As with many of Moore's works I just feel compelled to touch the surfaces, explore the curves and textures. Beautiful!


I think that another thing I love about Perry Green is the continuing inspiration Moore gives to up and coming artists and students. As we walked around the grounds there were, and always are, people sitting on the grass or standing near the sculptures, sketch books in hand, drawing. The calm is captivating.

Henry Moore Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut 1979-81

For me, one of the strongest images, and one that had not struck me so intensely previously, was that of the void between two forms. Above you can see Moore's figure cut in two. The void between the two pieces is as powerful, if not more so, as the bronze pieces themselves.In my opinion there is an energy between two forms that used to touch and no longer do, or almost touch and never will. This theme is seen again and again, not only in Moore's work, but that of others too ...

Henry Moore's Working Model for Oval with Points, Michelangelo's Adam, Des Hughes' One Thing Leads to Another, Damien Hirst's Mother and Child (Divided),
I think my husband thought I had lost my mind, but I could really feel the energy in those spaces. I love that something that is not actually 'there' can be so powerful! When we visited the Body and Void gallery and saw Damien Hirst's Mother and Child (Divided) I just couldn't bring myself to walk between the two halves of the animals. It seemed somehow wrong - a space between two halves that should never have been separated. Again the space was very powerful - the act of separation intense.

As always I loved visiting Perry Green and its treasures. We visited the gallery, but also the workshops and here the staff were keen to give us insights into the works displayed. Their nuggets of information are so fascinating! If I was more knowledgeable I would love to volunteer there! They manage to share what they know without making you feel like an ignoramus - rather that you are part of an excellent adventure into the world of Art!!

The Body and Void Exhibition is on all summer until 26th October 2014. I really recommend it for an inspiring day out. Let me know if you go!!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

This Month I Read ...

This is the second month in which I am joining with Muttering Mummy to share the books I have been reading over the last 4 weeks. If you follow the link to her page ( after you've read my post obviously!!! Don't go yet...) you will see reviews of what she's been reading and also links to the reviews of other bloggers too. What's not to like??

So, my first book this month was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

This is a book that reminded me very much of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight and I read it because I had read Muttering Mummy's review last month. It follows the life of Matthew Homes, a young man whom, we gradually realise, is suffering from schizophrenia. The author manages to convey the disjointed and disturbed thought processes of the schizophrenic without allowing the storyline to become disjointed or confusing.
It is not a book that I can say I loved reading as it is so desperately sad to witness the hopelessness of family breakdown and grief, but it is well written and, in my opinion, well worth reading.
Written in the first person by the character of Matthew it becomes clear, gradually, that he is an unreliable narrator. The reader slowly realises that Matthew's truth is not necessarily "the truth". An air of melancholy is all pervasive as the reader witnesses the effect of mental illness and loss on an entire family. 
This is an interesting book which has left me, I hope, with a greater understanding of mental illness, but not a book that has left me with a great sense of happiness or satisfaction.

My next read was Love! Laugh! Panic! Life with my Mother by Rosemary Mild

I was given this book to review and I'm afraid to say I didn't like it at all. It is the memoir of Rosemary Mild and her mother. It is a series of anecdotes strung together in a rather disjointed way which might have been amusing if related in person, but on the printed page just didn't work. I couldn't wait for it to be over, sadly.

The next book I read was A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. This was a book that I read for my Book Group and, to be honest, I really didn't know what to expect.

Published in 1934 A Handful of Dust follows the fortunes of a group of London Socialites, particularly Tony and Brenda Last. From the very beginning though I loved this book. It was like a combination of PG Wodehouse and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I found it easy to read and absolutely compelling in its portrayal of society at the time. Without giving anything away the ending gave me shivers with its twist. I will remember this book for a long time and would thoroughly recommend it! Excellent!!

I am currently reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell and am about halfway through so I won't review it until next month!

If you would like to join in with this linky then do have a look at Muttering Mummy's blog. She sets up the linky at the end of each month and quite a few people join in. Its an interesting way of reading reviews and getting ideas of books to try.

I hope you will join in and if you have read any of the books above, do let me know what you thought of them!