Saturday, 17 July 2010

Review: The Artist Residence Hotel, Brighton

Last Tuesday Kevin and I headed off to Brighton for the Develop conference. It was Kevin's turn to book the hotel for our overnight stay, and as usual, he opted for the quirky choice; The Artist Residence, on Regency Square.

The girl at reception was welcoming but didn't know we'd paid in full up front; she couldn't find any record of our payment! Fortunately she eventually came across it!

The room, whilst looking fun and funky, was exceptionally small, particularly the bed, which was described as a double but was in fact tiny. In addition, it was very uncomfortable and there was only one thin pillow each. No extra bedding was provided.

It was a very warm night but we couldn't have the window open, due to the noise of drunken revellers outside. That and the fact that the other hotel guests were incredibly noisy; slamming doors, very loud voices etc. and one even vomiting very loudly meant we got less than an hour's sleep. This wouldn't be so bad if we weren't at a conference and in meetings the next day.

Breakfast was rather lacking; a cold croissant (with no preserves or butter), bottle of room-temperature water, a small apple and a Nutrigrain bar (which I'm not sure even counts as food!), left in a bag outside the bedroom door. I have no problem with the casual attitude of breakfast-in-a-bag but in all honesty, I have stayed in far better hotels where I've paid less per night, and had a full English breakfast plus yoghurt, fruit, pastries, cereal and toast!

We would have liked to sit out on the balcony to eat our breakfast; unfortunately, the scaffold planks were very wobbly and didn't seem very safe, and the chairs were covered in bird guano! I don't think they'd ever been cleaned, especially as there was a large pile of droppings to the left of the balcony - clearly below a favoured roosting spot!

The advertised WiFi didn't work. We had to ask for the passkey as it was not volunteered; unfortunately it only connected us to the WLAN, not the internet, so we had to go out to a café in The Lanes in order to check our work emails!

We didn't have much time to watch TV, which was just as well because there was no reception, other than Film4! I would however, have been grateful for it in the small hours when I was being kept awake. Thank goodness for my laptop and BBC iPlayer!

Perhaps most disturbing of all was the lack of smoke alarm in our room. I say lack - there had been a smoke alarm once; however, when we were there, all that remained was the plastic base plate screwed to the ceiling, with a few bare wires dangling from it. I'm pretty sure the hotel was breaking the law by not having a working smoke alarm in the room.

The one really positive element was the shower! Granted the en-suite was quirkily bijou (it was in a cupboard) but the shower itself was wonderful. Very powerful, and the water very soft. A real pleasure to use.... even if the cubicle could have done with being a bit larger! Nice complementary products too (Bee Kind).

To sum up; in principle, I love the quirkiness of The Artist Residence but in practice I found it to be poor value and very uncomfortable. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone wishing to get a good night's sleep, or requiring a decent breakfast.

The table was really sweet - shame all the bird poo prevented us using it!

My laptop bag, which is 18" wide, is there for scale - the bed is tiny!

This cupboard houses the shower cubicle, washbasin and loo! You can actually just see the loo if you look toward the bottom panel of the right-hand door!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Nom, nom, nom!

Got to Holdenby yesterday to discover that spraying the lettuces and beans has not deterred the bunnies (you'd think chilli and garlic spray would be nasty, eh?). At least they didn't eat everything, and actually, were quite civilised about their noshings, taking only a few bites from each lettuce! Something's been at the peas though, and I'm not sure what. I've taken photos of some of the pods so later on when I get time, I'll do some detective work.

Actually cleared one pea bed as it was just about finished anyway, and got a few pickings which we had with our dinner last night. Harvested from the other pea bed too, so that's dinner tonight as well! Harvested a shedload of salad and am desperately hoping that the rest of the lettuces (under nets, so untouched by buns) won't bolt while we're away next week.

The runner beans have just started to flower, as has the Hungry Gap kale. To be honest, I'm surprised the kale has lasted so long - it's still producing loads of leaves! I've decided to let it get on with flowering now, as I'll need the seed for the next lot. I'll definitely grow it again, especially as this one just didn't prove appealing to critters!

The cabbages are doing brilliantly - I am so pleased with them. They are starting to heart up, so with any luck, we'll get a good autumn crop. Also found a volunteer cabbage when we cleared the peas - it must have been one of the ones we thought had been munched by pigeons just after the snow. We've now replanted it bed #1 in the hope that it will survive (it had been munched again).

Removed all the spinach from bed #1 - it didn't do well there. In fact, few of the plants I bought from Plants by Post have done very well. I'm definitely going to sow spinach seed next time. Last year's did really well (until the snow came), so I think direct sowing is the way to go.

One thing we did discover is that the pea bed we haven't staked has been pretty productive. I don't know if letting the plants do their own thing is responsible but compared to the staked ones, there is a huge difference. The plants themselves are far more healthy and robust too.

Rook Parliament

After several hours of weeding at Holdenby, we decided to call it a day. Before we left, we just sat in the sun and chilled out with a can of Pepsi.... until we heard the most incredible squawking coming from the next field. The rooks were all going rather mad! I managed to get some of it on video (my skills as a camera-person leave a lot to be desired, for which I apologise).

At the time, we had no idea what was going on - we supposed it was an interloper. However, we've now discovered it was most likely a 'rook parliament'. Legend has it that one of their number is 'put on trial' and if found guilty, put to death. In reality, it's a way of dealing with sick and ailing rooks. Whatever the reason for it, the outcome is generally the same - death to the individual. In this case, I suspect the one which I thought sounded like a younger bird, in retrospect, it was probably just weak cry of the 'victim'.

It went on for at least 10 minutes (in fact, we left before it had finished), and at one point they all chased the victim away. However, it swiftly returned, and the others then resumed the swooping and pecking.

I know it's the law of nature but I still find myself feeling rather sad about it.

Monday, 31 May 2010

And the bile goes on...

Been up to Holdenby today and feel recharged (apart from the aching back). It was much needed as I've now had half a dozen hate mails in response to my blog... all of them friends of my 'chum' who originally sent that piece of bile yesterday.

I've been called stupid, ignorant, a bitch and a c**t. Oh, and a filthy foreigner who deserves far worse than email abuse. This last comment was based purely on my name, which is bizarre because I'm guessing that since my maternal family came over with the Conquest, that makes me pretty much British....OK, half British - my father was Venetian! But that's hardly the point!

My goodness, I don't know - these foreigners, they come over here, boff our women, take our jobs, become productive members of society. Whatever next? Running for Parliament?!

I'm laughing about it now but it's actually been very upsetting. What grieves me the most however, is that my friend who sent the original email has seen this vitriol (because obviously it means so much more if you hit the 'reply all' button, so everyone can see how many words you can remember from the toilet wall), yet she hasn't even had the decency to say anything other than; 

"Oh, I meant to send you the email about giving a pill to a cat". Not even a "Sorry you're having to deal with this crap".

So it's OK to send everyone else the offending email? And it's OK to sit by and watch someone you call a friend, someone who helped you through your deepest, darkest suicidal period (her suicidal period, not mine, I hasten to add! I don't do self-destruction...I play video games instead!)'s OK to sit by and watch your other 'friends' send such abuse to them?

And you won't even say, "Nicole, I'm sorry for what they are saying to you"... let alone defend me??

I would walk through fire for my friends....but then I know that my friends would do that for me too. Well, all except one, it seems.

To say I am deeply shocked that anyone I considered a friend would even think about sending that email is an understatement. I'm actually not sure how I feel about her any more. I don't actually want to be friends with someone who considers the victimisation of others a viable proposition. And I certainly do not want to be friends with someone who does not even have the decency to either admit they made a mistake, or stand up for something they believe in, even if it might be controversial.

I don't expect my friends to hold the same opinions as me. I don't expect them to agree with everything I say. I do expect them to respect me and my right to speak out against something I believe to be wrong, even if they don't share that belief. Just like I do with them. I also expect honesty from my friends - not looking the other way and pretending nothing is happening.

Perhaps I expect too much.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Angry, disappointed.... and saddened.

Yesterday Kevin and I had lunch at our local Sikh temple. It was wonderful food, cooked by one of the Sikh women, and fit to grace any restaurant table. The atmosphere in the temple was wonderful too. We were welcomed with open arms, yet we are not Sikhs. Conversely, twice when going to our local church, we have been viewed with what can only be described as suspicion, and have been made to feel like we had no business being there. I should point out that this is the only church I have ever experienced this attitude in, and that on neither of these occasions was it the clergy responsible for the lack of welcome (the first time it was a couple of elderly women, and the second time it was the bell ringers - I think both times, it was a case of these people just being irritated at being disturbed!). On the other hand, perhaps the priest needs to up his sermons, and teach his parishioners that thing about not judging books by their covers!


On the way home, we reflected upon the people at the temple and mused that it would be wonderful if everyone could be so accepting. Instead however, every day we have people victimised because of their faith, their skin colour, their heritage.Or just because they are not the same as the people doing the victimising. In addition, people are often victimised because they are lumped in with other groups by people too ignorant to understand the difference between say, a Sikh and a Muslim.

This morning I found what can only be described as racial propaganda in my inbox. It was nothing more than a call to arms against the Muslim community.... from someone I considered a friend. It was entitled:


(yes, in upper case - I suppose that makes it more legitimate).

It said (and was punctuated with images of holocaust victims):

When I was a kid, I couldn't understand why Eisenhower was so popular. Maybe this will explain why.

General Eisenhower Warned Us.

It is a matter of history that when the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, found the victims of the death camps he ordered all possible photographs to be taken, and for the German people from surrounding villages to be ushered through the camps and even made to bury the dead.

He did this because he said in words to this effect:

'Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses - because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened'

This week, the UK debated whether to remove The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offends' the Muslim population which claims it never occurred. It is not removed as yet.. However, this is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving into it.

It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the, six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians, and 1,900 Catholic priests Who were 'murdered, raped, burned, starved, beaten, experimented on and humiliated' while many in the world looked the other way!

Now, more than ever, with Iran , among others, claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it is imperative to make sure the world never forgets.

This e-mail is intended to reach 400 million people! Be a link in the memorial chain and help distribute this around the world.

How many years will it be before the attack on the World Trade Center


because it offends some Muslim???

Do not just delete this message; it will take only a minute to pass this along.


In what way exactly, is it very significant, as the title would have me believe? As far as I can see, its only significance is in affirming my long-held belief that people often act without thinking, and that they are willing to believe anything the Media tells them. How sad.

This is exactly the kind of nonsense which makes me utterly ashamed to be (half) British. And to tell the truth, I also feel rather disappointed that someone I considered a friend would even think I might be ignorant enough to appreciate it, much less act upon it. I wonder how many other people on that email list feel this way (I was just one of many it was sent to)? I can honestly say I am shocked that any friend of mine would condone racism…because that’s what that email was – racism, pure and simple.

And it was sent to a member of Leicester local government too – to their work email address. How dumb is that?
Regarding the offending email:
  • It is three years out of date – it first began circulating in 2007.
  • It’s complete nonsense – ONE school in the north of England avoided teaching this subject because it felt it might whip up anti-Semitic feeling, NOT because it might offend Muslims. It should be noted that the same school also avoided teaching about the Crusades in order to avoid whipping up anti-Muslim feeling.
  • Obviously all the homosexuals and gypsies who were rounded up, tortured, and exterminated by the Nazis do not deserve a mention. Nor do all the German children and women who were used as part of the Nazi breeding programme.
It will come as no great shock that the main source for this story - which was hugely twisted and parts of it selectively omitted - was… ta daaaa – The Daily Mail! Quel surprise.

As long as material such as that email is circulated, we are never going to live in a tolerant and racially/religiously harmonious society. Is that what people want? Is that what they want for their children? Is that their legacy? How shameful and tragic that our generation should be remembered for such hatred, when access to so much pertinent information should make such things incomprehensible.

I know lots of Muslims, and I have visited Muslim countries – never have I ever met any Muslims who agree with the extreme fundamentalist minority (and it is a minority, let’s be clear here). Yet I have, rather unfortunately, met far more non-Muslim bigots who seem to think that it’s perfectly OK to target groups of peaceful people who are merely trying to live their lives. Some of these bigots even call themselves Christians!

Whether you like it or not, Britain is a rich multicultural society - and has been for several millennia – isn’t it about time it, as a nation, embraced this fact? It’s about time Britain grew up, in my opinion, and started seeing people, not labels. We live in a global society, which means we are all dependent upon each other. We should not be singling out groups of people because they are perceived as being ‘different’.

Eisenhower was wrong when he quoted Burke ("All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."); all that is actually required is that people switch off their brains, their common sense, and their humanity.

Negationism is not the sole province of Muslims; it was actually started (to the best of my knowledge) in the early 1960s by an American called Harry Barnes. Presumably this man was a Christian – are we to target Christians as well? And Americans? Of course not because we understand that these views are held by a small number of even smaller-minded people. We have no difficulty in accepting that these views are not the norm for Christians or Americans (or the French for that matter - there have been French Negationists too).

So why is it so difficult then, to accept that not all Muslims are Holocaust Deniers?

For those of you who are actually interested in finding out information for yourselves, you might be interested in An American magazine which still advocates Holocaust Denial (and denies America’s involvement in the African slave trade too….just for good measure). Yet I’m not hearing a call to arms against the US!

The Muslim argument, as I understand it, is not that the Holocaust didn’t happen, rather that it has been exaggerated and used as a political tool by the Israelis to drum up sympathy and support, and aid their quest to deprive the Palestinians of their land. However, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, the founder of the Islamic Movement In Israel, has publicly spoken out against this anti-Semitic feeling:

"I know that many of you have read very dark and harsh texts. The people who wrote them have no right to sign off on them in the name of Islam. These are interpretations and not the words of the prophet,"

Obviously Negationism (or Holocaust Revision/Denial) could not possibly be part of Islam, given that the holocaust happened only 60 years ago! Darwish is not the only Muslim to speak out against anti-Semitism.

Aside from all of the above, do you know what really strikes me the most? The irony of that email. 60-odd years ago, similar rubbish was being touted, and believed. It led to the systematic extermination of six million people.

"All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself."
-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf Vol. I

Probably the truest words Hitler ever wrote.

Think about it.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

My Little Bit of Eden!

Well, maybe not quite but when Kevin and I were up there last evening, it occurred to me that what I love most about this project is the tranquility and the sense of calm I get whenever I am there. Yesterday the horses were in the field, the chestnuts in full flower, and our crops growing marvelously well. Add to that the stillness and peace, and I was one incredibly chilled and happy woman!

On Sunday we were up there for four hours in the baking sun, which didn't please Kevin one bit - unlike me, he doesn't do well in the heat. Still, he soldiered on and finished the willow fence around bed #7 and dug in some more coir. We both then went into the woods to forage for sticks with which to build a teepee for the beans and to support the peas. I think he was glad to get into the shade!

Rather annoyingly, my back decided it was going to give out half way through staking the peas but I managed to get the teepee done first. I was very pleased with it!

Oh, and I swear the cabbages have doubled in size since last weekend!

Yesterday we put in the runner beans. In 1642, although they were pretty widely grown in England, it was for their flowers, not the beans (they had field beans for that). We've chosen scarlet-flowered beans, as these are appropriate for the period (even if not the exact variety of 400 years ago!), and of course, we WILL be eating the beans!

I was going to put sweet peas in at the same time but a couple of nights ago, something got into our garden at home (yes, the walled courtyard!) uprooted them from their pots. They also had a go at the cavolo nero. Grrrr. Fortunately it looks like I've only lost one of the latter and a couple of the former but they're in a bit of a sorry state. I'll give them a week or so to recover and then get them in at Holdenby.

Also planted out some land cress between the beans, around the edges of the bed. I'm wondering whether to put the kale in the centre - there's a lot of space which is not being used but of course, this is going to become pretty shady once the beans and sweet peas grow up the teepee, so I think a fast-growing crop is out really. Anyone have any suggestions?

Dock and thistles are still very much a bane of my life - so much so that I am giving serious consideration to putting some chemicals down when the current crops in bed #8 are done. I loathe the idea of using weekiller but we just can't keep on top of the dock and thistles, despite 10 months of constantly digging them out. In truth, I suspect that we've probably made it worse because of leaving behind broken bits of roots, which of course, then grow into more plants. Anyway, I haven't quite made my mind up yet - use weedkiller to get rid of the problem once and for all, or just continue to hurt my back (and have a grumpy partner!) trying to dig them out, knowing that they'll keep coming back, competing with the crops? It's a tricky one.

Back to the good news though; the peas are now podding, and we've been eating fresh garden/herby salads twice a day, every day since the weekend! I don't know if it's this or the weather, but I am in a very happy place right now!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Today we made a mother sponge! We received our sourdough starter, fed it and have set it aside to do its thing. Can't wait to make bread! And injera too!

I'm used to baking my own bread - I've been doing it for years - but this is my first foray into sourdough. I'm quite excited at the prospect!


We didn't manage to get up last weekend so of course, today we arrived to see triffids in the garden! OK, they may have been docks but they were huge! Still, everything else has got pretty huge too, so I'm not complaining. We even have a large nettle crop, so I'm considering nettle beer....or fertiliser! Definitely soup though!

I dyed some Blue-Faced Leicester with madder on Friday and took it up to Holdenby to dry in the sun. I would have dyed it up there if not for my very 21st century dye pots! There was a lot of interest from the MoPs (Members of the Public) though, so I'm looking into getting some decent sized cauldrons which I'll be able to use up there.

I picked the first of the kale and sautéed it in butter, over an open fire, with home-grown squash, chives and garlic leaves. It was delicious and authentic fare but I wish I’d cooked more!
Oh, and the willow fencing is growing! Heheh!

It took Kevin and I the best part of the day to weed all of the beds (Kevin did more than me!), although in fairness, we were stopping to speak to the public quite a bit. In addition, I discovered the limitations of trying to garden in heavily-boned 17th century stays! I'm considering either making new ones or removing some of the bones. Of course, I'd prefer to have reed bents instead of spiral steel but finding a supplier is one thing - affording them is quite another! I'll have a look at the next living history fair I go to.

But I digress!

Kevin started building a willow fence around bed 7 but is trying out a new design, so it's a bit slower going than it was with the others. I'm really impressed; he loathes practical stuff like this but he seems to be enjoying it at the moment.

In addition, he appeared to be having a great time talking to the public...but then he *had* spent the last month cramming so he could be sure of what he was talking about! We're both something of authenti-fascists when it comes to living history, and it's really important to us that we don't give the public inaccurate information. I know not everyone takes this approach, and some even think it's OK to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with stuff they've just made up (or worse, seen in a Hollywood movie - I kid you not!), but we're not like that. I hand-stitch our kit, and use as close to period fabrics as possible! Anally-retentive, moi?!

Of course, the Holdenby garden isn't 100% authentic but we are quick to tell people that while the design is correct for the period, it is actually better suited to a higher status person; however, we're only growing crops which would be available to the kind of person living in the cottage (i.e. a farm labourer).

The reason for this compromise is because to do something completely authentic according to status, we'd end up with something visually unappealing to the paying public. Since we don't own the land, we want to make sure that we give the owner as much value as possible. Especially since he pays us £200 a year for the upkeep of the cottage and garden.

In previous centuries, almost everyone (in England) lived on farms, and grew their own food, but by 1642, around a half of the population was dependent on wages. (One modern study shows that whereas in 89% of a rural population had land beyond their own cottage and garden in 1560, by 1620 that figure had dropped to 60%, making these (nearly half of) rural households, like their urban cousins, entirely wage-dependent.) And while the number of large farms was increasing, smallholdings were dwindling. It was the rise of the wage-based labour-market.
While much food was bought, almost everyone had a garden, from which vegetables, pot- and 'physick' herbs could be grown and gathered. A labourer's cottage in the country would include its own garden, and even in the impoverished East End of London, one third of houses had a garden.

However, food bills accounted for around 80% of people's wages, particularly those at the lower end of the social scale, so it made sense to use every scrap of land available to them to grow as much food as possible to supplement this. For us to do this at Holdenby, it would mean that the public wouldn't really be able to walk around the garden and have a look at everything. Hence, we opted for an in-period-but-not-status-correct-layout! As I said before, we do tell people that this is a representation and not exactly as it would have been!

Next job is to finish the fences, and forage for pea-sticks. Mind you, I think I'm going to do a bit more research into how peas were grown because certainly in the middle ages, there were pease fields, which I'm sure were not staked, so I'm wondering whether in the 17th century they would have been. At the moment, the peas are looking quite wild and straggly, and since I want some intercrops, I'm hoping that I will find that they would have had sticks as supports!

Also on the agenda is building a teepee for the runner beans and planting out the gazillion beans and sweet peas sitting in my garden at home, waiting to be put in the soil! Runner beans at this time were grown for their scarlet flowers, not the beans! I'm not sure when people discovered they could actually eat them! I've also got some land cress which needs to go in, carrot seedlings (purple of course!) and quite a few herbs. However, I'm loathe to put them in until they can take care of themselves!

Happy days!


… or rather, a few of them did (James & Vivienne, Matt & Hannah plus Bob (not Kate!), Krusty, and Sam & Andy)! They helped with planting out (replacement broad beans, peas, spinach, beetroot and cabbage), weeding and securing the beds (plus did some more repair work to the chimney stack).

Things are definitely picking up in the garden, and now that we’re covering the beds with chicken wire when we’re not there, there’s been no more bunny damage. Hoorah!
I moved the leeks from bed 7 into bed 1 in the hopes that they will do better there, since this has had much more dug into it. Bed 7 will benefit from the addition of organic matter (coir) and a fence before the runner beans go in. We also planted five plum saplings up on the bank. The orchard-ette is growing!


So, after surviving the snow, just as we thought we were back on track, in came the rabbits and dug & chomped their way through our crops. We now have nothing but the garlic, onions, a handful of leeks, and the kale. Bloomin’ nuisance. Time for chicken wire, I think.

The dark patches of soil are where I filled in the holes. Bah!

Garth very generously volunteered to lurk on bunny duty!

February 7th: WILLOW FENCING…

Now that the snow has gone, we can get on and build some low willow fencing around the beds. Neither of us has done anything like this before, so it’s a bit of a learning curve. And speaking of curves… the bed I did has plenty of them! I like the wibbly wobbly walls though, so ner!

It’s good to see things springing into life again – I’m so glad!

Oh, and we planted our first apple tree up on the bank (generously donated by James and Vivienne).

January 9th: ‘SNOW FUN THA’ KNOWS!

It’s been snowing again and the garden is covered. We went up to Holdenby to check the damage…oh dear. Why didn’t we harvest the rocket, spinach and other salad before the snow came? It was all doing so well a couple of weeks ago, and now it is mostly gone. I’m very sad about it.

Most of the brassicas have survived however, and the winter lettuce seedlings look ok, as do the turnips, so all is not lost. It’s still galling though.