Sunday, 19 October 2014

MurleyDance 'Hail Britannia' 2014 ... A Review.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a ballet dancer. There was something about ballet that touched my soul... the beauty of shape, the elegance and precision of en pointe dancing, the  way the dancers brought the music to life through the movement of their bodies. I didn't ever become a dancer - that's another story - but I do love to go to the ballet. Last night I went, with my friend, to a performance of Hail Britannia by the MurleyDance Company.

We were both very excited to be invited to the Shaw Theatre on the Euston Road to watch this young dance company's touring show Hail Britannia - a celebration of  aspects of British Culture. MurleyDance were only formed in 2012 and since then they have appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe and as part of Resolution! at the Robin Howard Theatre in London. They are London based and led by David Murley. Their vision is to fuse classical technique with theatricality.

Last night's performance consisted of four pieces, danced by the fourteen dancers of MurleyDance. Hail Britannia began with Shaadi, the story of a young Indian couple preparing for and going through their marriage. I loved this piece! It was vibrant, both in colour and dancing exuberance! Not only did it show an Indian marriage in Britain today, it used a mix of music from both cultures. Opening with the colourful strains of an Indian song they then danced to both Brimful of Asha and I'm Getting Married in the Morning. The effect was a joyful fusion of Anglo/Indian celebration and we loved it!

photo courtesy of @MurleyDance Instagram

Anaish Parmar did a great job choreographing this piece and we were both excited at what was to come. The dancers were all obviously technically very skilled so we were looking forward to the following three parts.

Next came Wayward Kinship, choreographed by Richard Chappell - the story of the relationship between Thomas Becket and Henry II. This was a very different piece. It was very dark, very atmospheric.

photo courtesy of MurleyDance
Richard Chappell is only 19 years old and when you consider his young age this piece was very good. I really liked the emotional interaction between the two male dancers in their red and purple velvet. Not only were their costumes striking in their simplicity and impact, the shapes they made in their dance were beautiful.

dancers in rehearsal courtesy of MurleyDance

rehearsal photo courtesy of MurleyDance

The only thing I would say to the negative was that the space at the Shaw Theatre was not really big enough for the ambition of the dancing here. The dancers were not able to really let loose and so their steps were, at times, a little confined. 

Now for the third piece, Frisky Claptrap, choreographed by David Murley himself. Its premise was the journey of three backpackers on trains around Britain and the eccentrically named towns they visit. Well... what can I say? If I am going to be honest this was such a disappointment. It was more like a sixth form sketch, with very little dancing and a lot of ridiculous slapstick and innuendo. It was rather self indulgent and a waste of the talents of this ambitious young troupe.

Moving swiftly on ... we were shown the Highgrove Suite. This was a ballet performed to The Highgrove Suite, a piece of music commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales to celebrate his gardens at Highgrove House. This, again, was choreographed by David Murley and it revolved around the journey into womanhood of a young girl.

photo courtesy of MurleyDance

I particularly liked the mother and daughter in this piece. The dancer playing the mother was elegant and precise, capturing the emotional pain she was feeling perfectly. The daughter was a lovely dancer. If the dance had revolved purely around the three or four main characters then this would have been beautiful, but for some reason there was also a flurry of backing dancers tip toeing around the main scene for no discernible reason. They didn't add to the piece in any way and I found myself questioning why they were there. Again the stage seemed too small for that many dancers and their movements suffered from the confined space.

Of course, a fledgling company cannot pick and choose their venues and so they are bound to perform on smaller stages, but perhaps this should be considered when choreographing? I love the ambition of this company and the sheer enthusiasm with which they approach their aims. They are clearly a talented group of dancers with a strong desire to fulfill their aim to create a fusion of ballet and theatre. It is early days for MurleyDance and although I'm afraid I didn't feel my soul touched this time, I think that in the future they have the potential to be great. I am really grateful to have been invited to see them dance (I was kindly given complimentary tickets) and will watch out for them in future.

If you fancy attending the remaining performance of Hail Britannia they will be in Cheltenham on Saturday 25th October.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Afternoon Tea at Laura Kate, Welwyn .... vintage deliciousness.

My friends and I just came home from a lovely afternoon tea in the village of Welwyn. I have been to quite a few afternoon teas over the past year and have written about them on my blog - The Conrad St James, The Milestone, The Ampersand  all lovely posh places in London. Today I thought I would try a rural tea in leafy Hertfordshire.

We chose Laura Kate in Welwyn. It is a tiny Tea Parlour set on the High Street, seating about 16 people. We thought it would be interesting to see the sort of tea available, especially as the Laura Kate tea costs £14.95 - half of the cost of most London teas.

We arrived to friendly smiles and were shown to our table. The shop is pretty, mainly white with fresh pink roses and displays of their delicious cakes - all made on the premises by the team.

Our waitress took our orders for tea. My friends had English Breakfast Tea while I ordered Peppermint Tea. They both arrived in pots, loose leaf tea, which, during the course of the afternoon, were refreshed frequently. Delicious! There was a good tea menu, offering the teas we had alongside Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Chamomile and more.

Our tea stand arrived and the contents were explained to us. We had previously been asked whether we would like to choose the flavour of our cupcakes or be given a surprise. Being quite courageous types we went for the surprise option!

I loved the quirky tea stand - made of stiff cardboard and so pretty! When we booked (booking is essential) we were asked about our dietary requirements and they took note of my friend being a vegetarian. Everything is served on quirky vintage plates with funky cups and saucers too.

We began with the sandwiches ...

Beef with horseradish, egg mayonnaise, cucumber & cream cheese, brie & cranberry.
They were all delicious, on soft, soft fresh bread, but I think my favourite was the beef ... or possibly the egg ...!!

Next we moved onto the freshly baked, warm scones. It is a fact universally acknowledged that scones should always be served warm from the oven, and I was very pleased to see that these were!

There were two scones each, served with lashings of clotted cream and raspberry jam. The waiting staff were incredibly attentive and friendly without being intrusive. We were asked if we needed more jam or cream and although there was enough of both we were feeling rather greedy and asked for even more.

By the time we had eaten our scones we were starting to feel a tad ... well, to put it bluntly ... stuffed!

And yet we still had the top layer to go ...

Banoffee shots

Millionaires shortbread bites...

 Raspberry white chocolate, chocolate, vanilla cupcakes.

I have to admit that we simply could not finish our cupcakes, but the lady serving us noticed this and offered to wrap them for us so we could take them home. They were brought back to us wrapped in cellophane and ribbon. How lovely!

We spent our afternoon laughing and chatting, totally relaxed and having fun. The afternoon tea at Laura Kate is absolutely delicious! All the cakes are baked on the premises and everything we had to eat and drink was beautifully presented, wonderfully fresh and scrumptious!! I have to say that the tea was one of my favourites, coming in second after the Conrad's Festive Tea. Everything from the welcome to the service and, of course, the food was really super. I highly recommend, if you are in Hertfordshire, that you make a booking for tea, or just pop in for a cuppa and a crumpet ( Marmite provided!) or a homemade cupcake. 

And, just in case you are wondering ... we paid full price of £14.95 for our tea and were most happy to do so!

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Gallivant Hotel ... quirky retro by the sea.

You might have read my post a few weeks ago about our friends wedding at Camber Sands. I thought, with Half Term coming up, that you might want to see where we stayed. Its a lovely little hotel called The Gallivant.

Our friends had organised their wedding around the hotel and had both the ceremony and their reception there. It has obviously, in the past, been a little seaside motel, but the current owners have styled it beautifully - very beach chic - and it is a little gem of a place.

It is located just over the road from the stunning golden sands of Camber.

Each of the rooms are clean, simple and very comfortable.

photo courtesy of The Gallivant

There is a certain retro feel to the place, with quirky touches here and there like a beach bag and a large honesty larder in the corridor, packed with everything from artisan popcorn to flasks of milk for your tea and coffee.

We stayed two nights and the breakfast was delicious! I chose pancakes with maple syrup and bacon while my husband went for the full English. Both were freshly cooked and absolutely scrumptious.

One of the things I really loved was the thoughtful extras. For example the Recovery Station at breakfast, which we obviously did not need as our bodies are our temples ...

The Recovery Station - photo courtesy of The Gallivant

I thought it was funny to offer vitamin c tablets and "make your own" Bloody or Virgin Mary kits for breakfast at a wedding venue.

I think that the only down side to this charming hotel would be the lack of experience staff wise. The staff we came across were all very young and all very lovely. Everyone, without exception treated us with a friendly smile and couldn't do enough for us. However, I heard a few of them talking amongst themselves about the lack of staff and about how ridiculous it was that they be expected to cope with the number of guests present. Breakfast seemed a particular area of difficulty.

I always think that any complaining done infront of guests is rather unprofessional.

And yet this was an understandable failing and one that did not bother us as, as I have mentioned, the staff were great. Perhaps a bit of training is needed - things like never going back to the kitchen with empty hands... taking orders on a pad rather than trying to remember them ... 

I would definitely go back to The Gallivant. Its situation was brilliant - less than 5 minutes walk to the beach and the food was really delicious. We slept well, ate well and felt really at home. If they iron out the tiny issues of inexperience they will be fabulous.

photos courtesy of The Gallivant

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Manners cost nothing ... so why are you sending me rude messages?

I'm not sure if I will publish this post. I am afraid that if I publish I will be judged by those who know me or attacked again by the person I received a message from this morning. I have never had anyone be so rude to me for no obvious reason... I perhaps have led a sheltered life!! This morning I received a rude message on Facebook, accusing me of being rude, accusing my husband and I of thinking ourselves better than anyone else.

In the summer, June, my husband and I had a joint party to celebrate our 50th birthdays. We invited friends and family, including people whom we had not seen for years, but who had been part of our lives and whom we liked. I invited this woman and her husband. They came and they bought us a couple of lovely gifts.

I spent the next few weeks sitting at my kitchen table writing thank you letters. On the day after our party I wrote a covering post on Facebook thanking everyone for coming to the party, thanking them for their gifts and saying that I would write to everyone individually. I remember writing to this woman and her husband because I remember exactly what they gave us and I remember what I wrote. I also remember posting the card because I thought about their house and going there years before. Their names are ticked on my list.

I also, I have to admit, did not write to everyone. Some presents did not have tags on and for some people I did not have addresses. To be honest there were a few people who did not get thank you cards. I am really sorry for that.

But I did not expect to wake up this morning to a message asking, with no hello or other greeting (and I paraphrase because I've deleted the message)

"Did you get our gifts because we haven't had a thank you and that's really rude. You and Mr Secret Housewife think you are better than the rest of us. Well I can tell you you're not. You are just rude"

There was no polite ... Hi Sarah ... I know this is silly, but did you get our gifts?  If she had said that I would have replied Yes! Yes I'm so sorry! Did you not get my letter? You must think me so rude. They were lovely!

She went straight into attack mode. I did notice that she sent the message at about 3 in the morning ... but I thought that she would probably wake up and be mortified so I replied with a tentative ... wow.

But no apology came. Just this ... "Manners cost nothing"

I am stunned. Stunned and hurt and amazed that someone I thought liked me could be so hurtful and so unnecessarily aggressive. I am not perfect. Who is? But I do my best to be polite and kind to people. My husband and I don't consider ourselves anything special. My husband is the kindest, most genuine person I know and it makes me furious to have him attacked in this way. I refuse to get involved in a conversation with her and have unfriended and blocked her.

I imagine she has harboured this grudge for some time and has probably bad mouthed us to other people. I just hope that the people who know us realise that we are not horrible, ungrateful people. I am not going to say who she is and as far as I am concerned I don't want any contact with her.We are not perfect, but I think when it comes to manners we are edging it on her.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

My NaNoWriMo Challenge. Someone pass me a doughnut...

I am sitting at my kitchen table, looking out into the garden where my washing is drying and the grass needs cutting. The birds are singing and in the distance I can just about hear the faint echo of the Arsenal game on the telly.

I am, of course, on my laptop and avoiding, with consummate skill, all the chores I had lined up for this afternoon. These included scraping stickers off my son's chest of drawers and repainting it a shabby chic cream and also cutting back the brambles from our garden shed.

I am telling myself that I am an athlete in training. Not quite one of the sweaty ones you might see out doing their "long run" of the week - rather an intellectual athlete.

I have been persuaded by my brother and his partner to take part in NaNoWriMo

I have seen this strange word in hashtags across social media over the last few years, but had had no idea as to its meaning. What it stands for is National Novel Writing Month. The plan is to dash off a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. Easy.

I've read loads of books... You just have to look at my Goodreads feed to know that I like to read. Actually turning the tables and writing a novel should be ok ... shouldn't it??

Well, who know? But I like a challenge, as those of you who have been visiting my little blog for a while will know. This seems like a good one. All it involves is a little bit of discipline, a little bit of  determination and possibly quite a few mugs of coffee..... and doughnuts. Surely all good writers eat doughnuts?

My brother, who succeeded in this mission last year, tells me that it is less about writing a best selling novel and more about the journey. Its about setting oneself a challenge and sitting down to write the 50,000 words. He has told me that putting the final full stop on the final sentence on the 30th November is a pretty magical feeling. Only 17% of the people who start NaNoWriMo finish. I would very much like to be one of those finishers.

A 50,000 word novel is the size of The Great Gatsby or Of Mice and Men. We're not talking War and Peace here....

So my plan is to outline a vague plot, think of some characters and just start writing on the 1st November. I don't aim to write a best seller. I'll be happy to get to the end of November without having my husband divorce me or my bottom spread over the sides of my chair onto the floor. (Damn you, Doughnut Fetish!) They say that everyone has a book inside them. I've never really believed that, but I might have some sort of imaginative ramblings that can add up to just under 2000 words a day.

We shall discover whether I can do this in just under 2 months. Why don't you join me? Its free and its a challenge. What's not to like??

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!!