Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Three Freebie Faux-Pas

Inspired by my having got general pleb-ery down to a fine art, I felt this small but accommodating list will help my fellow dolly-day-dreamers when they need to act particularly appropriately.

In this case, my experience has come from one of the definite perks of tourism and lifestyle based journalism; being given freebies such as a free night in a hotel, free spa treatments, free gourmet meals, free testers, etc. What you most certainly do need to do is to be ever so grateful for it (ok, it's not a must and many journalists simply expect that, but I find that kind of manner a little arrogant and extremely undeserving), and come across as the professional who will do them justice and produce a lovely bit of writing in exchange for the would-be expensive luxuries they have provided for you.

I managed to get away with the following few things mostly unnoticed, apart from by my mother who accompanied me on this particular hotel review. These pointers are as follows:

1. Watch what you're wearing: No, I didn't have any wardrobe malfunction as such. In fact, generally I pride myself on what my wardrobe offers to the day, and I aim for it to be nothing short of exciting but appropriate. What I did do on this occasion, however, was test out whether or not I could walk in wedge heels. The shoes themselves? Beautiful. The way I exited Bodmin Parkway station to locate the hotel's guest host? Forgetting just how skinny and high the wedges were and coming THIS close to falling arse over tit just inches from the station's exit gate. I was red faced, my mum split her sides laughing, but luckily I'd been out of sight of the drop off bay. First impressions stayed in tact... luckily.

2. Watch where you're going: I'm sure we've all left the comfort of the bar to pop to the ladies and gone the wrong way. In this instance though, there I was looking to powder my nose, and instead waltzing straight into the hotel kitchen. I know it was the kitchen, because toilets do not possess cleavers.

3. Watch what you're doing: Clearly blinded by how ravenous I was by the time I'd sat down to dinner at 8pm, I reached for a delicious baked bread roll, and was about to comment on how divinely warm it was - a feature I enjoy in bread, because the butter goes all melty and nice. And this would all be fine, if it hadn't been for the fact that the warmth oozing across my fingertips was not sourced from the bread roll. I had put my hand in the tea light next to it.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever manage to speak words or get any writing down on paper to be honest...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mum's the word.

Scary life doubts alert!

I had a very strange realisation a little while ago. I was at a gig of my little brothers - aka the musical prodigy - with my parents. As I watched him on stage playing a drum kit to death, it struck me how much he'd grown in all his eighteen years. NOT just height wise obviously, but how talented he'd become, how his wicked sense of humour has developed, his views on the world and the choices that he makes that impact his whole life.

It's something that we all have to do all of the time as part of life and we don't really think about it. Looking out for ourselves comes naturally to most people, but lots of us are lucky enough to have parents who have to deal with our problems as well as their own when it all goes tits up. Now, I speak as a person in sky high doubts that I will ever get married or bear a child. But regardless, I don't know how I would ever be able to deal with motherhood. It must be one of the scariest things around.

Both my parents are amazing. They stuck with me through thick and thin, and due to recent events I think I'd be dead without them there. While they help me, they struggle along with their own problems - money, mortgages, health, redundancies... - and still come out fighting when it's over. In comparison, I suffer enough emotional trauma by chasing the dream and moving away. While I still want to do it, it still brings a pang of guilt that I'm leaving after they do so much for me, and if this happened for me I'd miss them terribly. If I go through all these emotions just for myself, God knows how a mother must feel when her child goes off to university, or falls in with a nasty boyfriend, or even just makes a decision that isn't failsafe. I don't think that is something I could ever cope with, but I am eternally grateful that my mum and dad did.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Striking a blow for sisterhood.

Stupid media people making stupid media generalisations is a pet peeve of everyone’s - they’re there for no reason and are simply senseless. That is, unless you yourself are a sexist/racist/homophobic etc, in which case it wont be your pet peeve because you join in with the nonsense. That just makes you a generally terrible person.

The following stories have put me on the Girl Power warpath. Behold:

Kate Moss and her “unsightly bulge:

In a nice juxtaposition and pile of contradictory tosh, the anorexic Victoria Secrets model and her “plus size” (UK 8-10??) colleagues:

And, for the Brit chicks who aim for role models beyond the realms of Jordan and opt for a little conservative elegance, Sam Cam endorses a designer who only uses “skeletal” girls to model his work:

I talk in detail about these stories on episode 6 of the Jellyfielders Podcast, but my point is thus:

Why the pressure for such unhealthy and unattractive bodies in the name of fashion?

Why are these our supposed "role models"?

Why would any women strive to not only accomplish this for themselves, but do it to encourage ordinary, impressionable people that it's the right thing to do?

Come on now, what we're pressured into doing to our bodies is senseless, and what's more is that if you're not a good person then your image simply doesn't matter. I say that women should support women and find in each other what is naturally beautiful. Celebrate that we haven't starved away the brain cells that makes us successful and loved, rather than starve away muscles so we look good just before we collapse in a braindead heap.

Ladies, take care of each other. Because sometimes sisterhood is all you have left to fall back on.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Roskilly's Farm. Yeah. Farm.

Here’s a thing London doesn’t have and that Cornwall is plentiful in: Farms. Lots of farms. I imagine that fact doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you.

Thrilled to bits with the opportunity to swap wedge sandals for sensible wellies, this city girl has driven across the county to the back end of St Keverne for an afternoon playing Spot on the Farm. Plus, I hear Roskilly’s are renowned for making really awesome ice cream, so I obviously must fulfill the crucial duty of providing you, the good tourists of Cornwall, with a verdict on the munch front.

I’d heard whispers that Roskilly’s had branched out from normal farm production and into epic ice cream escapades after an oversubscription of milk one year, so instead of pouring it away it was made into batches of ice cream. To my sadness, it turns out their ice cream bomb didn’t take off due to any lucky accident. I accost a couple of kindly farm hands for information but get nowhere . They did try bless ‘em, but they weren’t too sure as to exactly how all this kicked off, and were more bemused by the fact that I most certainly didn’t look like a local. Bit of a cheek really; one of them was from Southampton. After a little online nosing, it turns out it was more of a trial and error situation. So much for my attempt at investigative journalism.

Trying not to be too down-heartened that I hadn’t proved myself as Cornwall’s excuse for Louis Theroux, I shift the disproved rumour to the back of my mind and skip off to make friends with two tiny little fluffy donkeys I’ve spotted in a nearby field, stopping at the the dry meadow on the way to give the grand golden brown Jersey cows a pat on the back as a massive thank you for supplying me with years of clotted cream, strawberry yoghurt and Dairylea Dunkers. Speaking of which, the hefty drive over has rendered me a peckish little soul, and I start thinking about abandoning the farmyard critters to begin a search for their café - The Croust House. I didn’t bring any children to the farm with me because, well, I don’t have any (apparently you have to feed them and keep them alive and EVERYTHING) and few people would agree to lend me theirs after they’ve seen my attempt at driving, but judging by how much I’m enjoying the company of the many, many Roskilly cows, you might not have the option of cutting the petting time short. Besides keeping the kidlets entertained with hours of animal adoration, it would be a very good idea to time your trip to see the evening round of cow milking at 4:30. The viewing area in the milking parlour has a board where visitors can make suggestions on what to name the next calf: I noted an array of names scribbled on there - extravagant names like Talulah, traditional like Buttercup, ordinary ones like Harry. As I happen to be in a minimalist-yet-practical mood, I simply add the suggestion “Cow” In a herd of 100, I personally would want a name that’s easy to remember.

Across the way from the milking parlour is the Bullpen Gallery, an odd but entertaining play-area-come-furniture/card/book shop, and one gate down from there I find the Ice Cream Kitchen. Unfortunately it is closed today, however I challenge anyone, big or small, not to be interested in watching and learning about how the icy good stuff goes from the milk bucket to being cornet-ready. All these little side attractions are open for extended hours in the summer, and I really recommend making sure everything’s open before popping up, otherwise you may find yourself a little short of variety in terms of learning about how the place works.

The Croust House

A Roskilly’s Farm review wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Croust House; You can try as much as you like to review anything in Cornwall on as academic a level as possible but let’s face it, it’s always going to come back to food in these parts.

At first glance the café menu seems a little disappointing with its standard selection of jackets, baguettes and all day breakfast (though we’re all partial to the odd dirty sausage I’m sure...), however the specials board mixes it up in a health conscious way. They’ve got salmon, they’ve got Spaghetti Bolognese. There’s also the option of beefing up my afternoon with some spicy chilli con carne for a super special £7.95... and I do. An inquisitive glance at the rest of the menu counts numerous flavours of ice creams for dessert on offer - fourteen to be exact. All ices can be made into milkshakes, which is not a treat limited to the teenyboppers of your clan, as is made apparent when the amiable Northern fella to my left gets far more excited at the prospect of ice cream milkshake than his toddler son is.

Declining a seat in the picnic area outside for a spot inside by the open fire on this less-than-summery day, I place myself and my trusty notebook on a solo table well in earshot of of four fellow diners, where two silver haired gentlemen are conversing in such impeccable Queen’s english that Lizzie herself would be put to shame. As if they needed to sound any more Southern, the topic of conversation included Winston Churchill and PC World, which the gentlemen’s wives ignored, engrossed in their own conversation about walnut cake.

I can smell my chilli before it has even left the kitchen, and the mighty plate of nutritious brown rice (at ease now health freaks?) and gorgeously rich mound of flavoursome beef placed in front of me by the chef really is a meal fit for a king. As I tuck in, I feel some level of guilt that I am possibly eating the friend of the cow I’d just spent ten minutes cuddling in the nearby field. However, at the rate I’m shovelling my carnivore’s platter down, they’re not providing me with an incentive to turn vegetarian any time soon. So I dine in ignorance, as this scrumptiously mild and sweet chilli versus the watery microwave meal concoctions I was so well acquainted with during my student days just does not compare. Farmhouse fare for the win.

My favourite part of the whole dish is actually the homemade mango chutney accompaniment. I would be quite happy not only to stick this atop my savoury treat, but also atop one of the ice creams being sold in the next room. It is THAT good.

Like many of the good-willing Cornish attractions, Roskilly’s extends its support of local produce beyond the products of the farm alone. I’d noticed some products on my way past the gift shop that seem to be getting lots of attention around the county. I strike up a conversation with the kitchen chef about Cornish Sea Salt - a selection of flavoured natural Cornwall cooking salts rising constantly in popularity and “making waves in the culinary world”. She is happy to sing their praises; “I like it in cooking much better than ground salt, and there’s so many options. If you put the garlic one in pasta, you don’t need to add anything else! We use as much local produce as we can.” Indeed they do. Other gifts on offer include Halzephron Herb Farm’s chutneys and jams (the strawberry and rhubarb is to die for), Roskilly’s own chocolate coated fudge, Cornish flavoured tea selections and even their own range of soap, bath salts and shampoo. Watch out Crabtree and Evelyn.

Firmly of the opinion that my shopping trip warrants an ice cream trial, I inspect the counter. I assure you, it’s probably easier to solve an intermediate algebra equation than to make a quick decision on ice cream flavour. Among the selection of fourteen is Hokey Pokey, Coconut, After Eight, Apple Crumble and Fudge. A lengthy debate results in me selecting the Malty Mystery (Mystery spoiler alert: it’s Malteaser!), clotted cream topping optional obviously, and a cheeky taster spoon of Mulled Wine and Pear sorbet. Delightful.

I finish my visit by trotting off for a gentle walk around the lakes, serenaded by the sound of really loud mooing. Strangely, the gaggle of ducks living on the wonderfully picturesque waters seem more animated than your average pond-dwellers, but they were lovely to watch while my legs get a good stretch before heading back to the car. I manage to give myself a small shock by peering into the overlooking sheep field, and do a double take when I realise there is a dog sitting in there trying to blend in with its woolly friends. That definitely isn’t found in London much either.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Surviving Public Transport in Cornwall

The general rule is, if you’re visiting the folk in the vast and vibrant South West, you really have to drive. I would always recommend going by car if possible, but I also have first hand experience of not having that option. As a fully fledged member of the Oh-Dear-This-Is-What-Happens-When-You-Max-Out-Your-Student-Overdraft-Then-Graduate-With-No-Sufficient-Funds club, I’ve had to make do with a few days getting around via the range of rickety yet charming little Western Greyhound buses. So, in a bid to advise my fellow purse-pinchers, it’s time to tone down my usual cheeky-chops demeanor (well, to some extent anyway) and get informative. Who knows, maybe you can save enough to treat yourself to an extra special Boutique Retreat eh?

Getting there: Going by train is Raileasy.

That six hour drive each way (that’s if you’re going from London. From the North I dread to think) isn’t always the world’s most pleasant experience, particularly with a clan of bored brats (I mean, little angels) / aggravating, motion sick whingers (I mean, your husband or wife) / deranged and restless dogs (...or husband or wife) in tow.

Factor in hiking petrol prices, and you’ve got a pretty expensive feat on your hands. Plus, when you get all the way to your holiday spot, there’s the cost of pay and display, the hassle of finding parking in the first place... it’s not always straightforward. Especially if you’re trying to park on a hill in Newquay; if you’re not firm with that handbrake it can quickly turn into a case of straight backwards and crashing into a corner shop.

Going by train has some serious pros - one being that it takes half the time of driving. The quickest way would be to fly, though unless there’s a a pretty deal going on Easyjet you may as well have spent that money on petrol and had your car at your disposal while your holidaying if you’re thinking in terms of saving pennies. That, however, is another positive to the ol’ railway - you can save an epic amount of cash. By booking as far in advance as possible with, or your tickets are discounted by up to 80%. Bung in a rail card on top of that (available ones are the Young Persons 16-25, Senior Citizen and Family) and you can save tons. If you qualify for a rail card but don’t have one, sign up anyway as you can use it to save on fares within Cornwall too. And, in fact, anywhere you go all year. So get on it, and treat yourself to a bottle in your first Boutique Retreat night with the savings.

Getting around: Just the ticket.

Ok, so Cornwall’s bus and train services can occasionally be a bit erratic, but if you’re on the ball you’ll be fine. Those of you already hyperventilating at the thought of having no access to the tube or a night bus should especially take heed, or else risk a bit of a culture shock.

Keep the Traveline number in your phone/pocket/sock at all times as it’s incredibly helpful. By the time one particular Cornwall visit of mine had come to an end, the poor pestered guy working on Traveline knew my mums maiden name, my star sign and my favourite shade of blue... but I found my way home. So call 0871 200 2233 to get you out of any bus timetable related shtuck, or avoid it in advance by planning a journey at Trust me, it’ll save a whole lot of hair horrors from waiting in the rain when the weather isn’t being too kind. At the risk of receiving a couple of OCD jibes from your mates, the more meticulous visitor may even wish to schedule an itinerary for their visit to ensure you’re not sending yourself in all directions in one day when you could group the attractions you’re visiting so they’re all near each other.

This info is particularly handy as buses and trains can catch you off-guard. They do not run all day, arrival times are not always the same minute past the hour, and trains - particularly those not on the Truro line - may do strange things like only appear every two hours (beware if you’re visiting Newquay), which will no doubt make your average commuter sick to the stomach at the very thought.

Happy Hint: If you’re going in or out of Redruth and need a bit of a caffeine boost, the lady in the station snack bar make a damn fine latte. Seriously, she could give Starbucks a run for their money.

It’s worth remembering that although the main Cornish bus providers are First Devon and Cornwall and Western Greyhound - cheeky green saucepots that they are - you can find odd little random routes served by alternative companies. One memorable example of this was discovering a Williams bus that ran at perfect times from Redruth, through the steep cliffs from Wheal Rose to Porthleven and dropped me in the centre of St Agnes. The route took me through some breathtaking scenery looking down over tiny Porthleven Bay. So engrossed was I in the sights that twenty minutes passed before I realised that the one other passenger on the bus was a man casually leaning on a sharp and shiny looking new hoe, which can make a lady travelling on her lonesome a little uneasy, and has certainly never happened on the no. 12 from Regent Street to Peckham.

Beware the bus driver: The Cornish folk are the friendliest people I have ever had the fortune to meet, but one way to get on the wrong side of your bus driver is to present him or her with a £10 note for a 90p bus fare. Carry cash with you all the time, and try and make sure it’s the jingly kind!

Car hire: Getting to the wheelie difficult places:

There will be places that just have to be reached by car in the South West no matter how persnickety you are with your planning. If you fancy a wander around Port Isaac and aren’t going from Camelford or Wadebridge for instance, expect a three-and-a-half hour journey each way. Yeah. I thought that might put a spanner in the works.

For the purse-pinching tourist reluctant to fork out for taxis (no matter how genial the drivers can be, they’re not going to help fund a single pint of your Cornish Rattler binge) the option of grabbing yourself a hire car for a day or two is a good alternative.

Personally, I was happy with the service I received from M Y Motors, Redruth (though anyone who has read my Port Isaac review is going to be well aware of the obstacles the average car hire virgin might be about to face - at least you got a pre-warning!). They were pleasant to deal with and charged a mere £25 per day - that’s a 24 hours so you keep the car overnight - for a smooth running silver Ford Mondeo (but if you really cannot live without a sat-nav, check the lighter slot out before you drive off). Don’t forget to factor in petrol costs too!

Of course, you may be going nowhere near Redruth, in which case check for an extensive list of places to hire your Cornish cruiser from.

Steer clear (literally) of:

  • Country lanes near farms with tractors in the vicinity. Those bad boys aren’t too generous with their road space.
  • Strange routes that the sat-nav tries to make you take. If it seems illogical, do not drive it. Time to reach for a good old A-Z.
  • Driving through town centers. In Cornwall, it seems many of them were barely built for people, let alone cars.

Public paths: Follow the trail... On y’er bike:

Make a mission out of your journey on purpose!

Cornwall has many renowned scenic trails and public routes that’ll take you from A to B without any travel cost, and with the added benefit of working on those thighs of steel and taking on a whole lot of wholesome sea air.

The Camel Trail from Padstow to Bodmin (18 miles), Polzeath to Rock trail (2 1/2 miles) and the Falmouth to Porthleven trail (14 miles) are just a handful of popular trails that’ll take you meandering down lanes and across moors to your final destination. A better option for longer trails might be to go by bike (you’re never far from a hire shop in Cornwall), and if you wind up at the Porthleven end of the trail and need to crash at the sumptuously funky Blue Bar to recover, then so be it. You may not be enticing many unsuspecting young surfers though -I’ve heard the sweaty look isn’t exactly “in” right now.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Some Peapod to tide you over.

Due to the fact that the entire month of March has been sucked into a time vortex, I haven't been able to get a substantial post up between the hard graft for money and excessive reviews, even though I've got tons I want to write about (sorry!). So until I clear my scribbly little schedule, I thought I'd share one of my reviews with you. Enjoy!

Miss Peapod’s, Penryn.

It’s all I can do not to squeal with delight and dance my way up to the counter when I spot a mother and daughter, sat perfectly serenely at a table by Miss Peapod’s poster-clad entrance, having a casual catchup it?...yes...yes it is! It’s tea. Tea poured from a teapot, drunk from a dainty teacup settled on a china saucer, all of which bear no colour/pattern coordination to each other whatsoever. Retro heaven. I’m sold before a single morsel has even passed my lips.

It’s clear that Miss Peapod’s, a neat little café situated down by the Penryn harbour, was made to draw in crowds as diverse as it is brightly coloured. The medium sized space - spattered with lime green sofas, orange and brown floral curtains and topped off with lemon yellow walls - is playing host to mothers who have palmed their kiddies off into the play area where they can run their very own little (plastic) café, family tea breaks, the group of work chums choosing a lunchtime snack spot, and one or two loners scribbling away and enjoying the Aretha Franklin album like me.

I’ve stopped here due to what I personally regard as a medicinal need for a hot, strong cuppa on the drive back from Roskilly’s farm. Absolutely gasping in fact. Grateful doesn’t even describe how I feel when the nice waitress/tea goddess brings over my brew for one, along with an enormous slice of chocolate and hazelnut berry cake; the obvious choice after an afternoon sampling Roskilly ice cream. I may well wake up diabetic tomorrow and my thighs may never forgive me for this calorie overload, but on the plus side a sign above the counter advertises that all of their dairy products are sourced by Roskilly’s, so at least I can indulge safe in the knowledge that I am supporting local trade.

Taking a humble £4 from me for her troubles, I fire a few questions at the waitress regarding their live music nights. The website states that on Friday and Saturday nights the café is open until midnight as a live music venue, while serving all kinds of crazy soft and alcoholic drink selections (I spy Baileys hot chocolate!). Missus Waitress tells me that the monthly Peapod sessions feature local South-West musicians - the “best on the scene” in fact - and other weekends are filled with acts from all walks of life playing music from all sides of the spectrum. Before bustling off to accommodate the next crowd of cake fiends, she hands me a leaflet detailing this months entertainment. It takes me a minute to realise why classical folk singer Ewan Mclennan’s name is ringing a bell. I wonder how much he’d save on poster ink by renaming himself Gandalf and be done with it? None-the-less, Radio 2 seem to like him, so he must be a talented lad.

All items on their menu come in at under £9, their inexpensive Sunday roast looks better than anything Wetherspoons will ever bung your way, and between the breakfasting hours of 10-11:30am you can order, among other things, french toast with maple syrup and fruit compote. Do I need to say anything other than “absolute WIN?!”

Monday, 21 March 2011

Rainbow Cake!!!

I feel the little Cornwall stream that I am trying in vain to find time to post on here can be interrupted for this triumph of mine:


That is all - Cornwall posts on the way.