Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter Monday chair lifting

As promised, here are some photos and short videos from the Easter Monday Chair Lifting in Greenwich. Today has been so mild and spring-like that I find it hard to believe that this time last week we were having freezing temperatures, biting wind and sleet. Full marks to the Blackheath Morris Men for persevering with the Chair Lifting despite the adverse weather conditions.

The event took place at Cutty Sark Gardens, a big open space right by the Thames. The domed structure in the background is the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel that goes under the Thames, whereas the white spiky tarpaulin hides the restoration work being done on the Cutty Sark.

Finally, a couple of pictures from the centre of Greenwich. In this one you can see St Alfege's church, where the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in 1012 (talk about claim to fame).

And this is a traditional pub, one of many in Greenwich. As you can see, it really was bitterly cold and not like Easter at all.

I've had trouble posting all my videos via Google, so I've combined them in one and posted them on YouTube instead. Click here for more raucous chair lifting and Morris dancing!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Braving the elements

This morning we braved the elements and went out to watch a local Morris dance group perform a traditional Easter chair lifting.

Despite the sleet and bitterly cold wind, we had a fab time. I've taken several photos and a couple of short videos, which I'll post tomorrow.

Till then, hope you all had a good Easter and the weather isn't too awful where you are. It's still pretty cold here. I think it's the first time this winter that we've had to keep the heating on all day long to maintain a comfortable temperature in the house. And it's not even winter any more...

P.S. The telephone booth is nothing to do with Easter, Morris dancing or chair lifting, but it shows the sleety weather we had this morning.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Welcome to the earliest (and for those of you in the UK, possibly frostiest) Easter Sunday that you will ever experience!

Did you know that...

• The cycle of Easter dates repeats every 5,700,000 years. During this period, Easter falls on March 23rd only 54,150 times (less than 1% of the total).
• The next time Easter will be this early will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913.
• Easter can be one day earlier (March 22), but that is extremely rare. The next time it will fall on March 22 will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818.
• Easter falls on March 28th in both 2027 and 2032, a gap of five years. No shorter interval is possible.
• Almost exactly half of our Easters occur on the same date 11 years later (but never more than four in a row). For example, Easter falls on March 31st in 1991, 2002, 2013 and 2024, but not in 2035.
• Consecutive Easters are always separated by 350, 357, 378, or 385 days (that's 50, 51, 54, or 55 weeks). For example, Easter 2008 is 350 days after Easter 2007, but 385 days before Easter 2009. So we've just had the shortest possible gap between Easters, and we're about to enter the longest.
• The last time Easter fell before the clocks went forward was in 1959 (back when the clocks changed to British Summer Time in mid-April, not March).
• The coldest recent UK Easter was in 1964. Over the weekend 27-29 March temperatures barely reached 6°C in southern and central parts of the country, and were accompanied by a raw easterly wind. This year may well be a new record.
• The snowiest recent UK Easter was in 1983. Over the weekend 1-3 April there was up to 10cm of snowfall in Scotland, the Midlands and Kent. The following Easters were all snowy: 1958, 1965, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1994, 1998 - and 2008. So much for Spring...
• Easter is not only a movable holiday but a multiple one: more often than not, Western Christian churches and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on different dates. Orthodox Easter falls on April 27th this year.
• In 2009, Western and Orthodox Easters will fall just 1 week apart - Western Easter will fall on April 12th and Orthodox Easter on April 19th.

See here for more interesting facts about Easter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel

Last week I had afternoon tea at Brown's, one of London's luxury hotels. Traditionally, afternoon tea was an opportunity to sit down with a cup of tea and a light snack around 3:00 PM, but these days it can be taken a bit later in the day, usually at a posh hotel or tea shop, and is a feast of sandwiches, scones and cakes.

For those of you not familiar with this very British tradition, I'm copying shamelessly from

Tea consumption increased dramatically during the early 19th century and it is around this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is said to have complained of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon. At the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day, breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot a tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.

Later, friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and the practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walk in the fields." Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long, all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

Occasionally you will see hotels serving a "high tea". Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a "low" or "afternoon" tea around four o'clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial "high" tea later in the day, at five or six o'clock, in place of a late dinner. The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.

Many visitors from overseas still imagine that we are a nation where, in the words of the well-known song, "at half past three, everything stops for tea". Sadly these days afternoon tea is usually only an occasional luxury for the British; a birthday treat in a country house hotel, or a welcome break from a hectic day's shopping in town.

In our case, the special occasion was my friend Kay's 40th birthday. Rather than go out for a meal we thought we'd do something a little different, so three of us went for afternoon tea instead.

I'd not been to Brown's before, but the hotel (what we saw of it) and the tea room certainly lived up to our expectations. I got there before the other two and had about 20 minutes to take in the elegant and cosy atmosphere of wood-panelled walls, comfy sofas, open fires, low lighting and live piano music. Here is a short video I took to show you what it was like.

Unfortunately the low lighting made taking photos a bit difficult (much to Kay and Sandi's delight, who hate me getting my camera out). Photos taken without flash looked dark and grainy, whereas photos taken with flash were way too bright. I have posted some of the better ones below:

The menus on the table list the teas available. There were 17 to choose from, ranging from the usual Morning Blend, Afternoon Blend, Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, to the less common Jasmine Peals, Silver Needle and Blackcurrant & Hibiscus.

This is what our table looked like once the silver tea pots and the tiered stand of sandwiches and cakes had arrived. The bottom tier is for sandwiches (cucumber, egg & cress, smoked salmon, ham etc.), the middle tier is for scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and finally on the top tier there was a selection of cakes.

Here I've attempted a close-up on the cakes. There was a French macaroon, a type of mousse in a little glass, a chocolate cake, a tart with rhubarb (I think) and a blueberry cake. I didn't get a chance to sample all of them, as by the time we got to the top tier we were pretty stuffed and only had the one plate. You can ask for any of the tiers to be replenished and we had three plates of sandwiches before we even started on the scones!

The best part was when a waiter brought out a special mini birthday cake for Kay accompanied by "Happy Birthday To You" on the piano. Everyone clapped, Kay blew out the candle and then had to light it again so I could take this shot. What was great is that it was a surprise for all of us - the waitress who set our table noticed the card and present I had and asked if we were there to celebrate a birthday. I thought she was just being friendly, and then we got this!

We spent a good three hours chatting, drinking tea and eating far too much. It was a very relaxing evening and one I hope we can repeat soon.

Brown's Hotel is in trendy Mayfair, near the world-famous Ritz Hotel. Green Park is the nearest station. Afternoon tea at Brown's will set you back £35 (approx. 46 euros or 70 USD) for a couple of pots of tea and as many sandwiches, scones and cakes as you can manage.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How Irish are you?

I'm 25% Irish

I'm not Irish. Not even a wee bit.
Not even on St. Patrick's Day.

Oh well. Happy St Patrick's Day anyway!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mma Ramotse comes to life

From L to R: Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi, Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, Lucian Msamati as JLB Matekoni.

Apart from scrumptious chocolate eggs, there's another treat to look forward to this Easter: a 90-minute drama based on Alexander McCall-Smith's book The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is set to be screened on BBC One around Easter (possibly on Easter Monday, although as far as I can work out the exact date hasn't been formally announced).

The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is the first in a series of 9 books that chronicle the adventures of "traditionally built" Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana, and her assistant Grace Makutsi. They're not detective stories in the traditional sense of the word, as there are no murders and no serious assaults to deal with. Instead, the storylines evolve around human relationships and problems that can be solved over endless cups of red bush tea. They're the perfect "feel-good" read and have become very successful in the UK and (I believe) elsewhere in the world.

This first episode that's about to be screened was filmed entirely in Botswana. It was directed by Anthony Minghella, who won an Oscar for directing The English Patient, and was also nominated for writing the screenplay for The Talented Mr Ripley. Mma Ramotswe is played by double Grammy winning jazz and blues singer Jill Scott, and the screenplay has been co-written by Minghella and Richard Curtis, best known for Four Weddings and Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Joining Jill Scott on the series will be Dreamgirls star Anika Noni Rose in the role of Mma Makutsi. David Oyelowo (Danny from Spooks) also makes an appearance in the first episode, as philandering husband Kremlin Busang.

Many hate the idea of a favourite book being turned into a movie. I'm the exact opposite. I can't imagine anything better than the characters who have lived in the pages of a book coming to life on the big or smaller screen, particularly when care has been taken to remain true to the story's essense. With such a stardusted cast, I think we can expect a worthwhile result.

The author of the series Alexander McCall-Smith with Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe.

What's more, following the screening of the pilot episode at Easter, filming will begin for a 13-part television series jointly funded by the BBC and US television network HBO. Even more Mma Ramotse!

This month's Condé Nast Traveller magazine features an article by Anthony Minghella written while location scouting in Botswana. The pictures that accompany the article are exactly as you'd imagine Botswana to be from "listening" to Mma Ramotswe - simply stunning.

If you've not read the books yet, I can't recommend them highly enough. Eight of them are out in paperback and the latest one has just come out in hardback, so there's plenty to keep you busy. The order they come in is this:

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

I can't wait for Easter :-)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A cup of butterflies

My friend Eirene bought me this lovely cup adorned with multi-coloured butterflies. Aren't they pretty? It's a simple design, but so colourful and so effective. Every time I drink my coffee from it, my mood lifts.

Thanks, Eirene! I love my new cup :-)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Easter eggs

Easter is round the corner, so can you blame me for thinking Easter eggs? Here are three of my favourites from this year's scrumptious collection at

Option A: You Crack Me Up™ - Extra Thick Chocolate Easter Egg
Half the egg is made from a milk and white chocolate fusion, the other from 40% milk chocolate, bursting with smiley face pralines, happy chicks and bunnies.

Option B: Your Eggsellency™ - Extra Thick Chocolate Easter Egg
Half the egg is made from 72% dark chocolate, the other from 40% milk chocolate. Filled with cream truffle eggs made with champagne, bellini, tiramisu, kirsch, amaretto and more.

Option C: The Eggsibitionist™ - Extra Thick Milk Chocolate Easter Egg
Two 40% milk chocolate shells flaunting a dozen gorgeously decorated chocolate mini eggs filled with melt-away pralines and silky-soft ganaches.

Which one(s) should I buy? Help me choose by casting your vote!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A little snow goes a long way

Hubby's just got back from a week's skiing in Les 3 Vallées area in France. He went with his sister and brother-in-law as I'm not too keen on skiing. I like mountains and I love snow, but I'd rather spend my holidays lounging in the sunshine than freezing cold on the slopes. Every time he goes away I think I might go with him this once, but never have so far. Having seen his photos from this year's trip to Méribel, I'm glad I didn't as there was more cloud than snow around. I don't feel anywhere near as jealous as I feel when he shows me photos of bright blue skies and thick white snow.

Still, a little snow obviously goes a long way, as they managed to ski every day they were there. The view from the room looks OK too.

Maybe next year...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Spring is here

It's official - I'm a ray of sunshine, I really am.

Guess what? I belong in Spring

Optimistic, lively, and almost always happy with the world...
I can truly appreciate the blooming nature of Spring.
Whether I'm planting flowers or dyeing Easter eggs, Spring is definitely my season!