This is a shot looking into a small building in the grounds of Sanssouci, an absolutely delightful palace and gardens in Potsdam that we visited as a day trip from Berlin a few years ago. I like the composition and the way the light from the stained glass window falls across the stairs. I think I was poking my lens through the bars across a window from outside at the time.

LitStairs

Another quick photo from my trip to Waddesdon Manor. This is the Rubber Tree, constructed entirely from old rubber tyres. Nice concept!

RubberTree

We went to meet some friends for lunch and a wander at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property near Aylesbury, about halfway between us in St Albans and them in Birmingham. We're all NT members so it's completely free to park and get in!

WaddesdonManor

It's a bit of a strange place in that it's one of the most opulent and well looked after NT houses I've been to. Perhaps there is some private money in play too – courtesy of the Rothschild's – that web link above is not a National Trust website, though they have their own page on the place as well. Strange.

WaddesdonRushes

We didn't explore that much of it this time (we've been there once before) since we had our friends' giggling young one in tow. But we did see the front garden (driveway, grass, trees, sadly dry fountain) and the back (mountainous flower-beds and pleasant water features overlooking distant countryside – see pictures) and the inside (no photos allowed) and the Stables for lunch.


Last time we visited, we ate in the fancy kitchen restaurant and I had the most wonderful duck ever, along with a cracking glass of red. This time we went for the family option in the Stables restaurant and though the service was a bit slipshod and the glasses dirty, the food was really surprisingly good.

Right from the start I’ll point out that God Lager is Swedish for good lager, though the rear label makes plenty of hints that this is in fact a divine beverage. I bought it from Waitrose purely because it looked a little unorthodox on the shelf and seemed to promise something that it could surely never live up to.

And frankly it didn’t. This is a fairly straightforward lager in pretty much every sense, though it has a very fine bubble (in fact it almost seemed flat) that gives it a somewhat classy feel, but only just. Maybe it only achieves perfection in being the perfect example of average, unassuming lager? Even if it is, I need something with a bit more flavour to get excited about. Still – credit to the Nils Oscar Company’s marketing department for a good gimmick.

GodLager

We went to Whipsnade Zoo at the weekend, because it's fairly close by (surprisingly so – only took 25 mins from St Albans) and we've been meaning to for a while. A two-for-one voucher from a cereal box was the clincher, saving us £17 on the entry price. We did exactly the same for London Zoo a couple of months back. With Whipsnade being run by ZSL it's a sort of outpost of London Zoo and so we couldn't help but compare and contrast the two.

The first thing we noticed is that it's a lot colder, windier and greyer. But that could just have been autumn arriving with full force. It's certainly a lot more open, with some really huge paddocks of green grass, trees, hummocks etc. with animals dotted about within them, almost Safari park like. That does mean there's less variety overall and it's a bit of a walk to get around, but it's pleasant and you feel the animals are probably happier with the extra space. At least some of them. One medium sized oak was home to this delightful red panda. It was easily the cutest thing we saw all day, beating the otters into second place.

RedPanda

It struck me that all it had to do to escape was walk to the end of a branch and jump past the fence. Presumably it isn't so inclined. I always seem to end up figuring out escape plans for the animals, and it often looks like it wouldn't be so hard. If the chimpanzees simply got together and dragged a branch into the right place they could be up and over the fence, tall as it is, in a jiffy.

We caught a sealion show, which was quite impressive. Three out of the four of them provided accomplished routines, whilst the fourth (Dominic, the youngest) played the fool, which added to the charm.

SealionsGroup

I took my big Nikon 80-400mm VR lens and was glad I did as it really helped to get in close, especially given the large enclosures often meant the animals were far away. It's not that great for action, being a bit slow, but I got a half-reasonable jumping sealion.

SealionJump

I rate the zoo quite highly and would recommend allocating a whole day to visit, though it's a shame it doesn't have a bit more dense indoor stuff (insects, reptiles, fish etc.) to counter-balance the wide-open spaces. It has just the one very cramped Discovery Centre which is decent, if a bit MDF heavy, but the zoo could do with more of the same, spread about the place and implemented in a slicker fashion. There's a bit of a crumbling feel in a few places and the signage to tell you what you're looking at is woeful for most of the outdoor stuff.

I took a great many pictures, as usual, but I'll finish with an obligatory tiger – grrrrr!

TigerSleepy (1)

We played Scrabble this evening and I beat my wife. I should hastily point out that those are not two unconnected statements! I mean to say I won. But it was a struggle since I had the Q right from the start and she was hoarding Us in the hope of finding that Q. It ended how you see it below with our two remaining tiles never to be united. Sob.

Scrabble

Taken in Dorset near Lulworth Cove when we went down for a long weekend last summer. I love the way the seagull is camouflaged against the rock.

Seagull

I picked up a paperback copy of this book from the River Cottage open day a couple of months back. We queued for a good long while to get my wife’s big new Hugh cookery book signed, but I didn’t trouble him with my less significant purchase. I later discovered that it was signed inside the front cover anyway. Obviously he was taking no chances!

I also discovered that it wasn’t quite what I thought it was. Not for the first time, I had failed to notice that this is a collection of previous scribblings by the floppy haired foodie, from various Sunday supplements and trendy lifestyle magazines. Jeremy Clarkson pulled the same trick on me a couple of years back. Thing is, they don’t go out of their way to make it clear just what you’re buying, choosing the words on the cover oh so cleverly, to be accurate but not quite clue you in if you didn’t already know. I find this ironic since a lot of the book consists of Hugh pouring forth with righteous indignation about all the commercial dishonesty out there in the food business.

The first chapter is actually a bit wearing as Hugh lays it on extremely thick, making and re-making the same simple points over and over again about McDonalds and their ilk. It got a bit tiresome and I very nearly gave up entirely. However I persevered and it got better from there on, though the whole volume is still preachy and sometimes patronising. That said, yesterday I bought Waitrose’ organic cheddar even though it was 10p per kilo more expensive that the normal stuff,  which is no doubt made out of cigarette butts and arsenic, with old AA membership cards ground up and added for colour. Actually I bet it’s exactly the same bar the packaging. So Hugh’s taught me two things there: to search out decent ingredients with good provenance; and to maintain an unhealthy level of cynicism and suspicion at all times.

Overall it’s a good book that I’d recommend for anyone that likes Hugh to start with and just likes good food writing. The best bits of the book are the gastronomic exotica that the cover promises and Hugh’s excellent style, full of wit and anecdote and very giving of himself. He does go on about brains a lot though.