Posts Tagged ‘train’

Genetics and education (part 2)

It’s Wednesday morning and time for my weekly contributor, Rambler5319, to take over with his guest post.

This week we’re looking at the second part of the subject I started last week (13.11.13).

If you didn’t catch it here’s the intro again and then I’ll go on to the second two speakers and the subjects they covered.

The results of a study (in the UK) and a recent book (G For Genes) about the academic achievements of 10,000 sets of identical twins have caused something of an uproar. Why? Firstly because the report was leaked to a newspaper when it was meant for internal use only and secondly because of its potential implications. The senior policy advisor to the UK Government’s Education Secretary reckons that genetics are the largest factor in educational achievement.

Let me explain. The identical twins were born 1994-96 and the results of their GCSE exams (at 16 yrs old) have been analysed. A recent radio programme (The Moral Maze, Radio 4) tackled the subject and one of the authors of the book quoted a figure saying that 52% of the variance in the results was down to genetics. Their suggestion was that we should consider the idea of “genetically sensitive schools”. Wow! Does that make you think (like me): “I wonder where this is going?”

If you fancy a listen to the discussion programme here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03fdjsp

Ok so the next speaker (the third in the prog) was asked if he thought that using genetics for human enhancement is immoral. His answer was that it was immoral “not to use it”. He believes humans don’t want sickness and ultimately death so if there is a way to get round these by using genetic information he thinks we should. However the panel made a good point on this by saying that surely our humanity (and its limited lifespan) is what gives us the ability to display certain characteristics. The example was given of say a normal person who walks through a minefield is showing great courage but if that person is immortal they cannot demonstrate courage because they cannot be killed by stepping onto a mine. I think you can see the point – as humans with a certain lifespan we can demonstrate things that an immortal person cannot. The panel believed that imperfections in everyone are what make us what we are as humans and the idea of getting rid of these takes us into a very difficult area. His response was that certain characteristics (not all) should be got rid of.

He then took the discussion into the area of cruelty. He believes everyone would like to get rid of cruelty. If they could discover what makes people cruel then they could change something in the genetic make up to stop it. One of the panel’s responses was quite simply – the idea is mad. The research seems to be going into the area of altering what is a human being. Who is going to do the deciding of what (and who?) is changed? You? Me? The scientist? The Government?

The last speaker felt that this whole area is just a short step away from eugenics. History demonstrates that genetic research has definitely gone down the wrong road he said. However he did agree that if the genetic information seemed to suggest that a person may have a pre-disposition to a particular medical problem, say heart disease or something else it should be made available and used to hopefully treat that person. This sounds ok but what do you do if you find evidence of something which may have serious implications about the life expectancy of a person? Do you tell the person? There is certainly a moral issue there. Is it right to let them know or will they be happier not knowing? And once again who is going to make that decision? And who is going to have the conversation with the affected person?

The more I listened to the various points of view on this the more I thought that the implications are too far reaching for us to know the answers. It’s a bit like asking the early travellers on a railway train which ran at say 15 mph whether they could imagine a world in which trains would travel at over 100mph and even 200mph. (Incidentally, in June this year, it was reported that Japan is trialling a new series of magnetic trains which will be able to travel at over 300mph cutting the Bullet train times – between Tokyo & Nagoya – by just over 50%. However you have another 14 years before they’re due to come into service!)

Who could have imagined those first ships that were built to carry just a few containers would end up the monsters we have today. Ships launched this year are just short of 400 metres in length and capable of carrying the equivalent of up to 18,000 containers. If all the containers were laid end to end they would stretch for 110kms – wow just read that again 110kms of containers on one ship!

Imagine a conversation say 40 years ago when many people had to look for a phone box to make a call with someone and telling them that in the future nearly everyone will be able to be contacted at any time of the day or night because they’ll all have a device which they can carry around with them; it will track their exact position anywhere on the globe and enable many other things to be done. Of course it would have sounded fanciful but aren’t we facing a similar conversation now about genetic information?

And so it is with this whole area of genetics. How can we possibly imagine what will be in 50 or 100 years time? Will those people look back on us as short-sighted & resistant to change. They probably will. By then any moral issues will have been passed by in some way and that new world will be functioning very differently to the one we know today. We may or may not be part of it (well the 50 year one for younger folks) but would we want to be?

Advertisements

O, I do like to be beside the sea

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to Danda!
Happy birthday to you!

Hip hip hooray and all that.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was Danda’s birthday yesterday so, in true birthday style, we ran off to the beach for the day. And it was glorious. The weather stayed warm enough to spend all day walking around but breezy enough to not be uncomfortable.

The day started with fancy lunch. I love a fancy lunch, as some of you may already know. I love fancy lunching. I love Michelin stars. I love pretty food.

This lunch did not disappoint.

image
It started with bread, after which we were presented with calf’s tongue with piccalilli. Did I ever mention how much I love the free extras at nice restaurants?
image

We had the same starter, a leek and potato soup with white truffle cream. My goodness, do I love a truffle! I love a truffle. I went crazy for this soup. It was really really good with some of the fresh bread dipped into it.
image

Next up, Danda’s main was mackerel with mashed potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
image

Mine was a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils and bacon with cavolo nero and thinly cut, fried potatoes.
image

It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It was so soft and fell off the bone without any resistance at all. The skin, which I worried about because it can be quite fatty and disappointing, was crispy and beautiful. The jus was fantastic too. I just ate and ate and hoped it would never end. Sadly, it did so off we went, out into the daylight, to seek our next adventure.

We found it on the Brighton Wheel, looking down at the seaside town from the sky.
image
image

We then went for the longest walk ever in search of the Naturist Beach. O, what? Wait. I mean. I meant. I didn’t mean we went looking for it. I meant we were walking and then we saw it. By accident.

There was one bloke with a cap on chatting to a fully dressed couple and that was it. Disappointing.

We headed out to the marina to see what fun could be had there.
image

There were a lot of generic could-be-anywhere shops near the marina so we decided to wander back to the beach but not after spotting an amazing ‘5D’ ride thing that we just had to go on. It was one of those rollercoaster simulator things and it was really good. We got given 3D glasses and were splashed with water or blown with wind. It was fast and furious and I yelped quite a lot!

We finished the day by splashing about in the water and lying on the beach looking at the sky.
image
image
image

Day trip 5 – Wolferton

Morning all. Welcome to another guest post from the fabulous Rambler5319. Enjoy!

This is another of my days out from the holiday. This time it was to Wolferton. Never heard of it? I think most people won’t have. The village is built round a kind of U-shape made by the main route through. The approach roads to the U-shape actually form a X shape (check the satellite view on Google). Imagine the bottom of the X joining the top of the U and you’ve got the idea. You can drive down by turning off the main A149 and just keep on the same road and it will bring you back via the U and the other part of the X-shape to the A149 a little further along.

Why is the place interesting? Well primarily because this is the place which was used by the Royal Family when they travelled by train from London to their Sandringham House about 3 miles away. Apparently Queen Victoria’s son (the future) Edward VII had asked her to buy Sandringham House for himself and his bride to be, Alexandra; and she did! Within 2 years though he decided it wasn’t big enough so had it enlarged.

Wolferton Station is where the train stopped and the Royals and their guests would be picked up either by horse & carriage in the early days or by motorised transport in later years. Those guests included crowned heads of state from many foreign countries. As I walked along the platform I realised I was walking where Queen Victoria had walked (Prince Albert had died the year before it opened). Rasputin also visited on his way to see King George V but the king wouldn’t see him and told the station master to send him away! Other visitors over the years who have walked this platform include: the King & Queen of Denmark, the King & Queen of Portugal, the Emperor & Empress of Germany, the King & Queen of Spain. Just a year after it opened Edward VII (Prince of Wales) married Princess Alexandra (of Denmark) at Windsor and they travelled to Sandringham via the station at Wolferton. When it underwent a reconstruction in 1898, amongst other things, royal waiting rooms were added so that they (and any guests) had somewhere to sit in case transport was delayed getting to them or they needed somewhere to wait for a train if they were leaving the area. (The station closed in May 1969; it had been open for 107 years.)

Around the time the station opened there were about 30 houses in the village and a population of 179. It appears to have peaked around the time of the 1901 Census at 234 (and 46 houses) and is presently around 100 according to a recent press report.

After the station closed the property was split up and sold off as private housing. Initially it was run as a museum but proved financially unviable. It was sold again and the man who now owns the west side platform turned it into a restoration project. It is brilliant! You get a real sense of how much time & effort he’s put into it – and it shows. The place is spotless and a pleasure to walk around.

image

Just along from this is the way in. Note the small sign on the post saying it’s ok to go in and walk around.

Just as I was taking the pics outside a guy had just come out of the gate and stopped to talk to me. Turns out he actually worked on the line back in the 1960s. It was great hearing about the “old days” when he was a guard and especially since the whole line has gone; he really brought the place to life with his stories of how things were.

image

And behind over the road was the signal box also now in private hands.

image

Here’s where the track used to be between the platforms.

image

You can see that the platform on the right belongs to a different owner and is fenced off. Would have been nice to see the whole station refurbished but you have to accept that not everyone likes people walking through their property.

Here is something interesting. In case of fire there were five buckets of water hanging on the wall. The notice, if you enlarge it, simply says that they must be kept full of water and used only in case of fire. I’m thinking you couldn’t do much with 5 buckets but I suppose it depends how big the fire is.

image

And a luggage trolley

image

And a bike

image

A little reminder of how we used to fill our cars with petrol. The pump of course was operated by the garage owner not by you. Self-service petrol was still some way in the future.

image

Check this next sign out.

image

A car cost 1/- (5p) for a day; for a week 2/6 (12.5p); for a month 7/6 (37.5p); for 3 months 20/- (£1); and for 1 year £3. Yes a year’s parking, all day, for £3! Pity it was undated but clearly from a long time ago.

Next is a list of all the companies who have operated trains which called at Wolferton (on the King’s Lynn to Hunstanton line). Check out the note underneath that list – the guy responsible for getting the railway built (Henry LeStrange) died just a couple of months before it opened in Oct 1862.

image

Next are a few signs of railway memorabilia.
image

Note on this display the sign under the Ladies Room – well thought out that one.

On this next one I hope you can see the long narrow sign in the centre. Failure to shut and fasten the gate could cost you a fine of 40 shillings (£2). Now remember the car parking fees. It was only £3 for a year’s parking

image

Even in a fairly small village station like this the Station Master has his own office.

image

But there’s more. A short way from the station was the station master’s house – a substantial detached property! This was definitely THE job to have round here in days gone by. One Master who retired in 1925 had done 40 years in the post!

On the way out of the village I saw the sign. It was donated by George V in 1912. If you enlarge the post in the area to the bottom left of the horizontal bar with “Church” on you can just about see that info. The main part of the sign illustrates the Norse legend of Tyr (a god of war, son of Odin). I’m not sure why. Anyway the story goes that the gods decided to restrain the wolf (Fenrir) by using shackles. However the wolf was too strong and broke every one. Cutting a long story short the gods then got a special shackle of rope made from rather odd ingredients. Fenrir said he would only allow them to bind him if one of them would put their hand in his mouth. Tyr volunteered and after the wolf was bound and couldn’t break free he bit off Tyr’s right hand (although some sources don’t specify which hand). However on the village sign Tyr is shown putting what appears to be his left hand in the wolf’s mouth; so the beast was tamed, but Tyr lost his hand! I’m not sure what the other elements of the sign represent. Interestingly the Anglo Saxons spelling of Tyr’s name is Tiw which led to Tiwesdaeg, and hence to our modern Tuesday.

image

The station has been owned by Richard Brown since 2000 and he’s done a fantastic job of renovation & restoration. It’s really worth a visit.

Oh and as well as my photos I picked up a couple of bookmarks (free of charge).

image

To the left, to the left

Yesterday evening, something unexpected happened. Out of the blue, I was invited (persuaded) to go to a concert to raise money for different women’s rights causes. Names were thrown at me to entice me – “J.Lo’s going to be there,” “Madonna’s putting in an appearance,” “Rihanna is performing.”

In the face of such strong persuasion (and the accusation that I’ve become quite boring and must go, to inject some liveliness and optimism into my life), I agreed to go. With stout British stiff upper-lip-ness, though, I told myself it was ‘not really my scene’ and I’m not even into J.Lo and I was simply going to keep a friend company.

We found our seats without too much trouble and watched while a crew of Zumba dancers gave it their all for a little while, to keep us all entertained.

image

We knew the big names would be headlining so were surprised to see Jessie J walk on first. I was also surprised to see that looked like a sickly anorexic teenager. The new shaved head she is sporting doesn’t help, it makes her look really skeletal. But about her singing, I was pleasantly surprised. Her Olympics closing ceremony performance last year hurt my ears and I hadn’t high hopes for her live singing but she was good. Hats off to you, Jessie.

Then a gal in a pretty red dress and flowing blond locks and typical high school beauty looks performed some strange loud crashy rap songs. The energy fell a little flat and we sat smiling politely and clapping along a bit. As she did her second and third songs, we feigned polite interest, as one would with a boring guest at a dinner party. Not wanting to break out and yell, “GET OFF! WE ONLY CAME TO SEE BEYONCE,” we tolerated her disjointed noise then sighed with relief when she left the stage.

The next few acts were an Italian woman (the beat was funky, we clapped and wooped and waved our hands – then she started singing in a foreign language and we lost interest and went for a toilet break), Florence and The Machine (long flowy dress made me think of Lord Of The Rings and elfin beauties for the whole time) and John Legend (he was alright on his own songs but murdered Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which upset me).

Then a group of three girls came on and played guitars and bashed on drums and sang/shouted and made funny faces and I found the whole thing quite confusing.

Then Madonna came on! (We had blagged our way to some seats closer to the stage by then.)

image

“WOOOOO!” said we.

“We’re all here today because we care about women and we know how important education is in the empowerment of women,” said Madonna.

“I CAME FOR J.LO AND BEYONCE! I COULDN’T CARE LESS ABOUT THE WOMEN!” someone yelled. I don’t know who. Just, ahem, someone.

“I’m going to tell you about a woman in Afghanistan,” said Madonna.

“WOOOOOO!” said we.

“Her name is….”

“WOOOOO! WE LOVE YOU!”

“Listen to me,” Madonna said, earnestly.

“WOOOOO! WOO! WOO! WOO!”

Listen to me!

Silence.

“Sorry, Madonna. Sorry,” we mumbled, and listened obediently while she talked about education.

Next up was Ellie Goulding. She wore little shorts and trainers and looked the picture of effortless cool. She bounced around on stage and had a whale of a time. Then Timberland came on with (wait for it) Simon Le Bon! Tinberland proceeded to do a few of his biggest tracks, replacing Justin Timberlake’s smooth gentle voice with his rather shouty one. He really went for it, giving it his all, performing his heart out. We rewarded him with a typically British response. We wiggled around a little doing sitting-down-dancing in our seats and held our cups of tea aloft and hoo-rahhed his efforts.

And then finally, you could tell the Americans had landed when a massive explosion of glitter sparkles shot out of the stage accompanied by mini firework puffs and smoke machines. Out of this emerged J.Lo, skimpily clad in a black leotard thing and looking fabulous at 43. She flicked her hair and spent a lot of time at the front of the stage, looking into the wind machine and being glamorous and performing perfectly executed dance routines.
image

There was a strong emphasis on loud drum beats and sometimes I didn’t know what she was singing but it didn’t seem to matter, cause she’s still, she’s still, Jenny from the block so I wooped and danced with the rest of them. Occasionally, there was a fast and a slow beat going on at the same time and I didn’t know what to do with myself so I bobbed around a bit and swung my arms enthusiastically at my sides. J.Lo finished her set by singing Come Together by The Beatles with Mary J Blige. That’s right. Mary J Blige. Two for the price of one.

Then some talking and videos etc happened, I didn’t really follow them.

And then… Beyonce entered.

And some kind of hysteria took hold of me. I gave a short scream and jumped up.

“YEHHHH!” I yelled.

“Are y’all having a good time tonight?” Beyonce asked us.

“YES, I AM, THANK YOU FOR ASKING!” I yelled. “ARE YOU?”

Someone then pointed out that she’s not actually asking us. It’s just a rhetorical question, to which the answer should always be, “WOOOOOO!”

“Are you ready to party, London?” she asked.

Forgetting myself, I said, “YES! I’M A BIT TIRED BUT I THINK I’LL BE OK.”

And she got down with her bad self. She sung, we sung with her. She waved her arms, we waved our arms with her. She wooped and held the microphone to the audience. We screamed with unashamed abandon and lapped up all her fancy sparkly confetti, her smoke machine, her wind machine, her funky dancing and drum beats and long flowing hair. We sang ‘To the left, to the left,” in unison and all pointed to the left and loved Beyonce and loved each other and looked in teary-eyed wonder at her amazing beauty and wondered if we’d ever love anyone as much as we loved her in that moment.

“If I were a boy…” she sang.

“WE LOVE YOU BEYONCE!”

“Even just for a day…”

“WE’LL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!”

“I’d roll out of bed in the morning..”

“WE WANT TO BE YOU BEYONCE!”

“Put on what I wanted and go…”

“YOU LOOK GREAT IN EVERYTHING BEYONCE! YOU’RE GORGEOUS! WE LOVE YOU!”

And so it went on. Beyonce sang, we loved. She was golden haired and slim waisted and angel voiced.

And Jay-Z walked on and did himself a little rap on Crazy In Love and we didn’t know where to put ourselves. Our throats became hoarse from excited screaming.

Beyonce finished with a little tribute to Whitney, which morphed into Halo, which made me giggle because I used to play it to a guy I was going out with and look at him with my serious eyes and tell him it made me think of him. Vom.

And then she left us. She just said thanks, bye, and walked right out of our lives. And we were left, empty and helpless. Life would never be the same after Beyonce.

Then suddenly we remembered the time and that public transport and getting out was going to be a nightmare. And suddenly we were all trying to squash out of the exit, cursing one another for barging us or getting in our way and scrambling for the train stations and bus stops, as though Beyonce didn’t even exist. Beyonce who? Get outta my way! I need to get home!

U is for….

UNWILLING…

…which is how we left Capri on Monday morning. We had our fruit, yoghurt, granola and honey combo which has become our standard breakfast in Italy, checked out of our room and went to a little gelateria we had visited a few times already to get our last coffee on Capri. We then headed to the funicolare and down the hill, away from the quiet relaxing ambience of ‘our’ part of town…

image

…to the crowded buzz of the port below.

Boat tickets bought, we headed sadly for our ferry and left the perfumed streets of Capri for the unknown shores of Napoli. We had read a few different things about Napoli, things like ‘dirty’, ‘run by the Mafia’ and ‘untouristy.’

I shall now give you my first impressions of Napoli.

1. Lots of graffiti. Everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
2. Lots of washing on lines hanging off people’s balconies.
3. Lots of concrete apartment blocks. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen any houses. Everything is an apartment block. Painted yellow or pink.
4. Lots of people running. Not to get places. For exercise. But not even doing it properly, like putting any effort in, just kind of plodding, like they’re running lazily for a bus or something. And not even wearing sporty clothes. Strange.

The reports about it not being touristy were right. On the waterfront, it is a little. But most other places, people are just going about their lives and there has been no nod to tourism, no sugar coating, no gelaterias sprinkled inbetween every shop. It’s gritty and, yes, a little dirty and lively. It’s a completely different kettle of fish to Capri.

But the waterfront, where we are staying, is beautiful. The water is blue, the sky is blue, our beloved island is just across the bay, tantalisingly close, as we debate throwing in the towel and just going back and staying forever.

image

By the time we got to Napoli, it was afternoon and we had read about a place called Pozzuoli, with an amphitheatre better preserved than that at Capua. We were excited. We jumped on a train and headed over there.

We went first to the top of the highest hill in the town, to see the Solfatara volcano, which is semi extinct and is described as having a ‘rotten egg ambience’ in our guidebook. We didn’t need much more persuading!

image

And yes, it really, really does smell like rotten eggs when you get up close to the sulfurous gases.

image

As the wind changed and the steam was swept into my face, my nostrils were filled with it. The warmth of the eggrot smell travelled into my nostrils and down into my throat and the steam heated up my face. Mmmm…. Happy birthday…. Egg-face. For indeed, it was my birthday on this day. And what better in the absence of candles to blow out, than some egg-steam in my face?

After being egged out for a while, we headed back down the hill to this amphitheatre. Danda was so excited. He loves a Roman ruin. And he loves an amphitheatre. Since seeing the Colossuem in Rome last year, I had been wanting to see one where I could walk all around, unrestricted, and see the area below the stage.

We found it near the train station and looked in through the side gates…

image

It looked fab. We found the main gate and…. Come on, put your hand up if you got it? I’ll give you a clue, it happened twice in yesterday’s post… Yes, you at the back in the red, would you like to guess what happened when we got to the gate? Yes, well done! You got it! It was closed. Closed.

So we got on the train, came back to Napoli and dealt with our disappointment by eating bruscetta and pizza.

image

image

Lemons and ice cream on Capri

Yesterday started well. We rose early, repacked our already stuffed suitcases and jumped in a taxi to Gatwick. As we had already checked in online, we just went to give our bags in and headed through security. The flight was quick and fuss-free (read: I slept through it) and we had landed in Napoli before I could say ‘truffles’.

image

Danda, ever the efficient man-on-board, said lots of words to me about buses and ports and things while I nodded politely and looked around squinting my eyes and pretending to help when really I didn’t know what I was looking for.

We found our way onto a bus to the port and purchased tickets to Capri. The boat was leaving in half an hour so we were on it before we had time to get bored. After a 40 minute boat ride across the Bay of Naples, we reached Capri, a mountainous island, looming out of the sea and rising up to meet the clouds.

image

Danda came to life again leading us to the ticket booth for the funicular, the train up to the main town. Tickets purchased, we waited a few minutes for the next train. It’s not really a train as such. It’s a cable car that runs up the side of the (extremely steep) mountain and gives you your first glimpse of Capri life.

image

Lemons trees are in every direction, the sea is the backdrop to everything and houses are positioned on the edges of the impossibly steep slopes. Despite the plane-bus-boat-train combo, which had taken about six hours, we felt refreshed by Capri, as soon as we arrived.

We found our hotel, the Hotel della Piccola Marina, easily enough, a short walk away from the main square and designer-shop-lined streets but far enough away that it felt quite and relaxed. When we walked into the hotel, we knew we had picked a winner. The receptionist was friendly, chilled out and welcoming, like we were old friends come to visit him at home. He looked comfortable and easy as he walked around, showing us the hotel and our room.

image

(The decor is refined and relaxed)

image

image

That sums up Capri pretty well actually, comfortable and easy. There are very few people about as it is not the tourist season. The shop assistants and restaurant owners do not shout out in the street, trying to attract you in. They sit, working on their ceramics or paintings or jewellery, and you are left to wander in and out of them as you please. On the one hand, this could be seen as unwelcoming or aloof. On the other, it is fabulous because you can potter at your own pace, stopping here, looking there, having an espresso as you wish.
image

It’s like the islanders know that visitors are here to do nothing so they leave them to move to their own rhythm.

And we loved it immediately. The views from the balcony promised much for our afternoon so we put on walking shoes and got exploring. And we walked and walked and walked! Up this road, down that one, round this corner, down this path.

image

image

image

image

We found the Roman Emperor Augustus’ garden….

image

…and had a lemon ice drink from the hugest lemons known to man…

image

We also found a huge tower of flowers and so photographed me next to them. Look.

image

We then returned to change before heading out to dinner, which wasn’t that photogenic but tasted great. I had the veal escalope with marsala sauce and potato and parmesan croquettes in a restaurant patronised by the celebrity elite.
image

image

Every place worth its salt has a fair few of these pictures. Anne Hathaway, J-Lo, Rod Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Elton John…. Capri is the land of the rich and the famous, of the moneyed classes, of those who can afford the singular luxury offered in the fashion boutiques and the unique perfume shops, offering fragrances made in small batches on the island to methods used by 13th century monks.

And we like it. We’re thinking of doing a Graham Greene and moving here. Anyone got any money we can borrow?

We finished the evening by finding an icecream vendor near the main square and got a little something to sustain us for the walk back to the hotel.

A day at Waltham Place (or: I want to live on a farm too!)

Yesterday, I had the most fabulous day out. Someone had got me an early birthday present, which was a place on a course about preserving fruit. The course was on a farm called Waltham Place just outside Maidenhead.

The journey there was quite eventful, after coming out of the station, seeing a bus already at the bus stop, leaping on and being what I can only describe as ‘adopted’ by two ladies on the bus. After I had asked if the bus went in the direction I needed, the ladies said it didn’t but I could get off near an airfield and take a short walk to get to the farm. I got out my purse to pay and the driver reminded me I needed the exact money. After scraping around among my change, the ladies almost got into a fight offering me the 20p that I was short of!

The journey to the farm then was smooth, after another man getting off at the same stop, pointed me down the right road. As I approached the main entrance, there didn’t seem to be any signs of where I should be…

image

I was once again thrust on the mercy of the locals as I helplessly ran after a man I saw in the distance and asked where the course was being held. He pointed me up the road to the Ormandy Centre which, of course, I now remembered reading about in my notes before coming.

I found the centre eventually and was greeted by Adrian, the chef, and Nicki, his ‘gopher’ (her own words) and three of the other women on the course, for of course it was all women! The other women arrived and we started the day with chitchat, tea and biscuits.

Everything they gave us was made (and often grown too) on the farm. Adrian does all the cooking there. And that means everything. Absolutely everything. No help. He’s surprisingly calm and good-natured for a man who’s responsible for the feeding of a family and entire staff of such a big estate.

So our teas and coffees contained milk from the cows in the next door fields and the only non-farm ingredient in our macaroons and Viennese whirls was the sugar. The flour is milled on the farm, the milk from the cows is turned into cream, butter and cheese, and the eggs are harvested daily from the chickens who live in the next field to the cows. It was like taking a trip into the past, all the things we were offered to eat were homemade with produce from the surrounding fields. I started planning what my own small garden might be capable of and, so long as I don’t mind living on tomatoes, chillis and herbs, I could totally do this self-sufficient thing too. Maybe.

After tea and biscuits, we got stuck into a bit of teaching. Adrian gave us notes and talked us through the process of jam-making, the essential components and what does and doesn’t work. It wasn’t quite as ordered as that though. There were regular delightful tangents off into the obscure – long discussions about what goes into commercially produced jam, whether to keep one’s jam in the fridge, what fruits work and how long to keep jam for (a jar of Adrian’s, made in 1996, is still going strong today).

We were then given aprons and invited into the kitchen. We approached cautiously and told that this morning, the jam tasks were: raspberry jam, three fruit marmalade, lemon curd and blackcurrant jam.

image

The other women piped up, excited about one of the other of the jams. They were paired up and given lemon curd, marmalade and raspberry jam. Finally there was just me and the blackcurrant, which Adrian said he’d help me with.

I was presented with a pot of blackcurrants which I went off to a corner with and put on a hob to heat.

image

I heated my blackcurrants for quite a long time as they needed to reduce down by quite a lot before I could add the sugar. While the others were lemon zesting, butter melting or draining their fruit out….

image

… I stood next to my blackcurrant pan and watched. I started to feel like the slow kid at the back of the class, still trying to work out times tables while the others progressed onto long division….

image

It boiled for quite a while before Adrian gave me the ok to add the sugar and mash the blackcurrants a little bit. By the time I was pouring out my jam, even the slower lemon curd lot were long finished and on their second round of tea and biscuits. They do say, though, that good things come to those who wait, and my pot of blackcurrants yielded the most jars. Check out my harvest!

image

We then stopped and had lunch, made by Adrian, of course. It was leek and potato soup and bread, fresh from the oven, spread with tasty yellow butter from the farm.

image

After a long chat about recycling with the other ladies and me digging in to the bread, again and again, Nicki finally cleared away lunch, thank goodness, and Adrian talked us through different ways to preserve fruit.

So the afternoon tasks were ketchup, tomato chutney and bottled fruit. I ended up on the bottled fruit but had someone with me this time. We chopped and peeled the fruit and packed it into the jars to wait for our syrup, which was just a basic mixture of sugar and water. This we poured over the plums and rhubarbs. For the pears, though, we did white wine, sugar and cinnamon. Once all the fruit and syrups were in the jars, we put the lids on loosely and baked them on a very low heat for an hour.

image

In this hour, we all donned wellies and coats for a walk around the farm. We saw the chickens who provide the eggs…

image

…the cows who’s milk was in our tea….

image

…and the gardens which are beautiful and colourful in summer…

image

By the time we got back to the kitchen, our fruit was ready, the chutney was thick enough to go in jars and our day’s work was put on the table for admiring.

image

By this time, there was nothing else to do but to have another round of tea, accompanied by two gorgeous homemade cakes (a tea brack and a Victoria sponge)….

image

….and to chatter about what a brilliant day it had been and what other courses were they running and could we come on all of them please and how I wish I could become a lady of leisure and just spend all day homemaking everything I wanted to eat and not have any processed food in the house and o, if only! If only! Get thee behind me, Heinz, for I shall consume only homemade ketchup from this day forth!… Maybe… If I get the time to make some tomorrow after work… If I’m not busy practising piano and trying to become a world famous concert pianist.

A lovely Irish lady who was rushing off a little early to pick up her son from school had heard the story of my arrival and offered me a lift to the station. So all of sudden, in a bit of a rush, I was accepting her kind offer, grabbing my bag and running off. The journey home was fuss free and Danda looked very pleased when I arrived home with my crop from the day….

image

We then spend an evening, nibbling some of each, especially the beautiful beautiful lemon curd, which is thick and spreadable and divine on bread.

image

I honestly can’t think of anything about this day that I didn’t enjoy. If you are anywhere near Waltham Place Farm, I can fully recommend their day courses, for the experience itself, even if you’re not actually going to become the best jam maker the world has ever seen!