Thursday, 26 February 2015

In search of Lindisfarne Mead

Known as the 'nectar of the gods' Lindisfarne Mead is a rather delicious fortified wine produced on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast. Made with honey, fermented grape juice and fortified with spirits, this mead is made exclusively at St Aidan's Winery on the island. It is one of the many reasons people cross the causeway from the mainland each day, ensuring they return before the tide comes in.

The word 'honeymoon' is derived from an old Norse custom where newly-weds drank mead for a whole 'moon' to increase fertility and the chance of a happy and fulfilled marriage. I wasn't intending to drink it for a month, but a bottle or two to take home would hopefully put a smile on my face and wouldn't be enough to have any impact on my fecundity, with a bit of luck.

With this in mind, we set off from our holiday home in Seahouses last August and drove up the coast a short distance. The tide was out so we crossed with care and joined the other visitors, walking from the main car park into the centre of the village, not quite in the same manner as St Aidan would have made the journey in 635AD from Iona to found his monastery.

It was a beautiful day, perfect for seeing the castle and the priory at their very best.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Priory

View across to the village on Holy Island

I even managed what I felt was quite an 'arty' photograph (see below)

Upturned herring boats used as storage sheds on Holy Island

We walked, we sat, we stopped for an ice-cream, we looked in some of the little shops for souvenirs. All the while I kept saying to the family that I knew the winery was somewhere close. I had been to the island before, many years ago, on a school trip, when I and a bunch of daft teenage girls thought we would be completely inebriated just by having a sniff of the mead, never mind a small taster.

It's not a large island by any stretch of the imagination and I don't quite know why I didn't ask directions. I thought maybe it had closed down and that the mead was sold in one of the souvenir shops. The family were getting rather annoyed at my quest for this magical elixir and suggested if we wandered back to the car park, we might see it on the way. We didn't. We did see some people ahead of us with a cream-coloured plastic carrier bag which looked suspiciously like it was holding glass bottles - but they were too far ahead of us and it was too hot to run.

I continued wittering about this until we returned to Seahouses. Later that day, in the shop round the corner from our accommodation, I found a whole shelf full of Lindisfarne Mead. In fact, every shop in the town was selling the stuff. Of course we bought it in the first shop we entered, then kept seeing it cheaper everywhere else.

We sat on the balcony that evening and poured the gloopy, golden liquid into two small wine glasses. It was heavenly.

"So..." asked Dougie, with an optimistic grin and a twinkle in his eye. "Has it got you going yet?"


Sunday, 22 February 2015

London Calling

As seems to be the way at the moment, real life has overtaken the blog world: it's been over a fortnight since my last post. Time for a catch-up methinks.

The saga with my elderly aunt has continued. You may remember we helped her buy a retirement flat near us in Lincolnshire and, two weeks after she moved in, she became poorly and had to go to hospital. She remained in hospital from mid-December to the beginning of February. Eventually, after many visits and discussions, she returned home with what we thought might be the right level of social care: three visits a day to help her shower in the morning, make her dinner and settle her for the night.

Within a day of her being discharged we were decidedly uneasy about whether this was going to work and in less than two weeks, we realised that she just wasn't coping with independent living, despite having some care to support her. Dougie spoke to the manager of the residential home located in the same village as his GP practice (so he knows it extremely well) and they agreed to take Betty in for some respite care. We all needed time and space to think long and hard about the way forward.

With some disappointment but overriding relief, we have all agreed that Betty needs 24 hour care. So, having spent less than four weeks in the flat, it looks like we will be putting it on the market...and her previous house in Hertfordshire is still going through a sale process! Betty will stay in the rest home, Dougie and his partners can provide her medical care and I feel sure that, despite her sadness, this is the best way forward. I can now visit her, take her out and actually go back to being her niece rather than her carer.

St James Court, a Taj Hotel
(photo supplied by the hotel)
Whilst all this was going on, knowing Betty was now safe, we did manage to nip away to London last weekend to pick up Dougie's suit...remember the one we bid for at an auction? We secured another last minute bargain at the St James Court, a Taj Hotel (£119 a night again) and had two very restorative nights in the city after a very emotional few weeks.

We drove down on the Sunday morning, parked at Stanmore station and picked up the Tube into the city centre. A couple of hours were spent pootling round the V&A looking at masses of random stuff...ceramics, furniture, architectural models...before an early dinner at a Byron Burger restaurant in the Strand. George Osborne may have a point - the burgers were delicious. Back to our room, having bought some chocolate, crisps and wine at a Tesco Express, and we had a wonderfully lazy evening; watching telly, soaking in the bath and quaffing Pinot Noir from a coffee mug.

The next day, keen to make the most of our stay, we were up early doing a bit of shopping, lunch at John Lewis and then to the tailor's where Dougie looked the business in his new blue suit with its purple satin lining. I haven't taken any photos of him yet but I promise I will soon.

Somerset House next. Why have I not been there before? The courtyard was being prepared for London Fashion Week but it was still a great place to mooch about and we found Tom's Deli, next to Tom's Kitchen, where we sat on stools looking out of the window, with a very reasonably priced cappuccino and a cupcake.

Too full for a big dinner but needing something, the Hampton's Bar at the hotel proved to be the perfect place for a very civilised drink and some sharing platters (mezze and Indian). We had the papers to read and the resident pianist was plinky-plonking very beautifully in the background. Just lovely.

The best bit of this impromptu weekend was a Monday evening performance of Miss Saigon.  That morning I had spent an age looking for tickets, trying to suss out where would be the best place to sit and finally plumped for a loge. I had never heard of a loge but it's a bit like a box, though front-facing and sticking out from the dress circle. I don't know if many London theatres have loges but I can recommend them - great view of the stage.

Miss Saigon was absolutely wonderful. I cried from start to finish, keeping my hanky permanently fixed across my nose and mouth to lessen the noise of my sobs. Jersey Boys had been a fantastic evening's entertainment a few weeks ago but this was on another level: all the pent-up emotion and anxiety of the previous weeks came flooding out in one massive, cathartic outpouring.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Car games, Broadchurch and whisky

For your amusement, here are the latest Trish Takes Five columns I've written for the Lincolnshire Free Press. Feel free to comment on the website itself if anything interests you.

Playing The Pub game (or Pub Cricket) and the Shakespearean Actor game while travelling down to Exeter.

Galloping ahead with car games

Trying to get to grips with Broadchurch having missed the first series.

Must have been living under rock?

Whisky cocktails and memories of Burns Suppers

'Too much whisky is barely ever enough'


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review: St James' Court, A Taj Hotel, London

Following our visit at the end of last summer I declared the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate to be my favourite hotel in London. It still is...but the St James' Court Hotel comes a very close second. Not surprising, really, seeing as the St James' Court is also owned by the Taj Hotel Group and is situated just next door. It used to be a Crowne Plaza but is gradually being 'Taj-ed up' so that it meets the group's exacting standards, as seen in the BBC series, Hotel India.

Whereas the Taj 51 is a 5 star, all suite accommodation, the St James' Court is currently a 4 star establishment with high aspirations. We booked it for a two night stay in the capital and were amazed at the discount available on their website. A classic room was on offer for £119 per night (the rack rate is £495) which is an absolute steal for such quality accommodation in the heart of London, even if it was a low season January booking.

On arrival we were upgraded to an executive studio which was perfect. Having been recently disappointed by another London hotel which had style but lacked substance, this room proved that the Taj group know exactly what their guests appreciate: ample storage space, tea and coffee-making facilities and, joy of joys, a full length mirror with nearby electrical socket. Add to that decent lighting, an iron and ironing board, quality bath products plus complimentary fruit, bottles of water and daily newspaper. They even provided a great selection of magazines.

These are just the little things, but it's the little things that make a difference. It goes without saying that the bathroom was spotless, the bed extremely comfortable and the sheets deliciously crisp. A good-sized TV with lots of channels, free easy-to-access WiFi, excellent sound-proofing. Need I go on? You can tell I loved it.

Clockwise from top left: James the bear resting on the crisp white sheets; beautifully appointed bathroom; little treats waiting for us from the hotel's management; the lounge area of our executive studio.
The Taj group pride themselves on exemplary service and this was certainly in evidence as all the staff were cheerful and attentive. Whereas breakfast wasn't quite as gloriously refined as the Taj 51, the offer from the St James' Court was pretty good, served in the Bistro restaurant which, later in the day, serves contemporary European cuisine. We had an early dinner in the conservatory restaurant, Bank, just as we did when we stayed at the Taj 51 on our previous visit. Attached to Zander, the capital's longest bar, Bank has a light, airy atmosphere and the food is delicious. Of course, being next door to the Taj 51 means that guests of St James' Court have access to its restaurants too so there is a great deal of choice.

Clockwise from left: Zander bar; seating area outside the elevators; lobby of hotel.

It's worth noting that the location of the hotel is excellent, very near to St James's Park underground station and only a short walk from Victoria. It's around the corner from Buckingham Palace and, if you are happy to power walk for 20 minutes or so like we did, not that far from the West End.

Like its sister hotel, if you are visiting as a family, they offer the Kids@Taj programme which is designed to make the youngest guests feel special.

We only stayed two nights but were so supremely relaxed, it felt much longer. I am now seriously considering not going online to trawl the internet for a hotel when we next visit London. Why keep looking? With the Taj 51 and St James' Court available, our search for the perfect hotel experience in the capital is over.