Thursday, 15 October 2009

Grand Design A.K.A how to grow poor rapidly - featuring Shakespeare and fine dining

It was off to the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) in Birmingham last weekend for the Grand Designs Live Exhibition. Mrs B has plans (grand plans) for chez Black.....Eeeek that sounds like it's going to be expensive.

Within 20 minutes of getting through the door my worst fears came true and poverty was staring us in the face as Mrs B found the sofa she "just had to have". (Those 20 minutes included 15 minutes spent waiting for a coffee that never materialised). The sofa was:

(a) designer (i.e expensive);


(b) an Italian import (i.e.even more expensive).


The cost of replacing the standard feet it is supplied with is more than the average punter spends on a sofa from DFS. We still had another 7 hours and 40 minutes at the exhibition to go. At this rate of spending I was worried that I might actually have to start working for a living. Fortunately things calmed down after that.

Other than the financial hole that it left in our now decimated bank balance and the coffee incident (don't get me started), I have to begrudgingly admit that I quite enjoyed the show. It was a real mixed bag - loads of electrical items i.e huge Plasma TV's (my plan for a cinema room is on hold for the moment) 68" with a picture that I would gladly sacrifice my readership for. (Don't feel down, it had a truly fantastic picture and I would think about everyone of you, each time the lights of Bishops Stortford dimmed when I press the power on button). OK, so I admit that's another pipe dream........Don't worry there will be quite a lot of convincing of Mrs B before I start having to sacrifice any of you.

Some of the products on sale looked like they were rejected from the shopping channel. Let's face it, if you can't sell an item to drunken punters at 3am what chance to fairly sober people wandering around a giant warehouse near Birmingham...?

"What do you mean you add the word "Designer" to the product description?"

"You claim it imported from where?"

"Did you say Italy?"

"and you charge over the odds"....sniff, sniff

OK, moving swiftly along...... without even mentioning the designer vacuum cleaner or designer light fittings. Neither of which, and I stress this, were imported from Italy or anywhere close to Italy.

Let's make a weekend of it.
As we were 200 miles from home we decided to make a weekend of it. Mrs B found a fantastic B&B in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was not cheap but sometimes it's worth paying a bit more (It was not designer either, or Italian........Just let it go!). Our hosts, Decima & David, were utterly charming and made us feel very welcome. We have stayed in some places which are so regimented that unless you make it to the breakfast table within 30 seconds of your allotted time you will go hungry and don't even think about staying out after 9:30pm if you want to spend the night in the room you have paid for.
Cross o' th' Hill Farm we highly recommend it

This B&B certainly attracted a better class of clientele. Before you ask, I was Mrs B's guest and she is universally welcome everywhere - and just about makes up for me....
Mrs B on our Balcony - Shakespeare meets BlackLOG

Mrs B Juliet - "O, Romeo, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo?"

Me Romeo - "I'm down here, scraping off some cow dung....Bloody countryside....It's unhygienic I tell you!"

I have never stayed anywhere where your hostess produces sketches of rabbits after breakfast and gets you to compete against your fellow guests in a watercolour paint off. (Well, not since I was four and I think that was with crayons). The fact that I was judged joint winner, along with Mrs B and another guest leaves me with a warm feeling (no, I did not wet myself with all the excitement - the damp patch on my trousers was where I spilt the paint water) and happy memories.

I'm not sure what I would have felt had I lost but looking at the pictures I don't think the art world will be beating down any of our doors any time soon...... Perhaps I can pass the damp patch in my trousers off as something arty....
This year's entries for the Turner prize prompts
art judge to exclaim "Art might not be dead but
if this is its future it might as well be!!!"

Stratford-upon-Avon - Anyone for Shakespeare?
They seek him here they seek him there but unlike the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel old Shakey could be found everywhere........

Almost every house, shop, park or restaurant had a plaque claiming the Bard or one of the fruits of his loins had slept, stepped, owned, fallen over, passed wind or died on these very premises. The hardest place to find was his grave and that had huge signs pointing the way.

To find Shakespeare's grave just follow
the yellow brick road. Hang on a second
who's levitating the bricks? Harry, Ron
put them down at once, or I'll have to
send you to Dumbledore....

From a cultural point of view and much to my relief we unfortunately managed to pick the only weekend that there was no play on at The Royal Shakespeare Company. (They were between sets and the curtains had been sent off for their annual clean.) We had to make do with "The Spirit of Sheep Street Experience" - a one man ghost show. This involved being taken through a Tudor-age house in almost total darkness, while a resting actor told us local ghost stories.

Very entertaining, especially the local woman who took in every word, becoming almost possessed as each tale unfolded. She got cold as the tour leader told us the room we were currently bumping our way through never got warm because of the presence of spirits (try turning the heater on you tight git) and jumped to order whenever he dropped anything or stamped his foot. I'm pretty sure she was not a plant (no leaves being the main indicator) but not even Nicholas Cage can act that bad and he regularly practices...... The darkness was a nice touch but I suspect more because they had failed to pay the last electricity bill.
Rather disappointingly William refused to sign autographs,*
which makes him no better than Virginia Wade in my eyes
(long story involving her refusal to give a young boy her
autograph in 1977, the year she won Wimbledon. It's not as
if I said that I loved her or even hit her or anything.
Needless to say I supported Betty Stöve that year, which
probably accounts for Ginny's win. Before you ask, No Ginny
did not write to thank me.......How ungrateful)

* It's not surprising when you learn that of the eight
authenticated Shakespeare signatures the man employed
six different spellings...

Dining out
We had been recommended two restaurants in Stratford, both in Sheep Street

- Lambs and Vintners.

We were planning to eat in Vintners on the Friday night. Just before going in, however, I said to Mrs B let's just check that we can get a table for tomorrow night in Lambs. We dragged ourselves the 30 yards down the road and tried to book a table. There was absolutely nothing available unless we wanted to eat at 5pm. Did we look like children or Americans? Lambs did, however, have one last table available at that very moment, so we jumped at the chance. The food was just sublime, so good in fact that we ended up having three courses, which is most unusual for us.

I'm sorry to report that despite having my camera with me I was enjoying the food too much that I forgot to take any pictures. As we waddled back down the road we dropped into Vintners and managed to book the last table available for the following night.
Even the sign looks good enough to eat. I'll
have mine done rare with a little herb butter

At first we thought we had got a bad table, it was right by the front door and we assumed we would get disturbed all night. Far from it. Within moments of sitting down we discovered we had got the best seats in the house. It was equally heartbreaking and satisfying to see couple after couple look at the menu outside and get excited by the prospect of the fantastic food within. They would push the door open and enter, all big smiles, the odd few salivating in anticipation of the fine food, only to have their dining plans dashed on the rocks of "Saturday night should have booked ahead" blues.... I don't mean to be mean but somehow it makes you feel really good, especially when you know that you grabbed the last table.... For the record we managed three courses again and thus wobbled away for the second night running from yet another fantastic meal.

Missed picture opportunity
I have let you down and missed a fantastic photo opportunity. We had gone for a walk down by the River Avon. A woman walking her dog coaxed (ie threw) the poor thing into the water in an attempt to clean off the mud that caked it from head to foot. It was not keen, especially as a rather large swan was hanging around and making menacing moves towards anything that took a slight interest in the water. I mentioned to the woman that her dog was bound to get his own back. Sure enough he jumped straight out, ran up to her and shook himself dry, absolutely soaking her in the process.

I was laughing so hard that I missed the opportunity of the shot, that in truth I knew was coming. Doh! Must remember take shot first, laugh later....So I'm afraid you are left with the following -

I can't work out if this is Zeppo & Harpo
in 'Duck Soup' or Groucho & Chico in
'A Day at the Races'?

The duck equivalent of musical chairs, when
the music stops they all try and sit on her.
Who says romance is dead?

1,2,3,4,5 coming ready or not....

Some National Trust pictures
Since becoming Life members of the National Trust (NT), about 10 years ago, we have managed (if you exclude Newark Park , where we are privileged to be invited as guests) about 3 trips to NT properties. This is partly due to the fact that the nearest NT property to us is about 30 miles away and more than that, whenever we vacation in the UK, we invariably forget to take our membership cards. The NT in England are delighted to charge you again but will not provide refunds. Compare this to our treatment in Northern Ireland - when we asked if they did refunds for members who had forgotten their cards they told us "No" but then promptly waived the entrance fee.  Now that's service for you...

Incidentally, the only time that our lifetime membership was acknowledged was a week after we coughed up the readies, when we received a letter asking if we would like to give them some more money. If memory serves me right we spent the next six months fighting the cats for their leftovers, so declined the NT's splendid, if speculative offer. I'm not sure we could afford the stamp to send them another cheque anyway.  Now I'm not expecting them to bow and scrape whenever we produce our lifetime membership cards (or invariably the little hand written note from our parents saying 'yes they are lifetime members but left their cards at home') but surely a little tug of the forelock wouldn't go amiss... ? For the avoidance of doubt I have a lot of respect for the work that the NT does, plus they generally do very nice cakes, not quite up to the standards of the WI (Women Institute) but not far off....

Fortunately this time we remembered our cards as the area is awash with NT properties. We even managed to visit two of them Charlecote Park and Upton House .

Stairway to Heaven at Upton House - The Led
Zepplin version, not the Rolf Harris. While
Rolf has his place in the music industry it
should not include murdering rock classics.

Pan in the grounds of Upton House

Charlecote Park

I appreciate that times are hard for the
National Trust but using pensioners to
cross pollinate the flowers?

The grounds of Charlecote Park

Reminds me of the secret garden.
The grounds of Upton House

"There's no place like home". Just two clicks
of Mrs B's sparkly red shoes, plus a two
hour drive and we were home...

The Gull
Thank you to Kathryn (who writes a brilliant daily Blog - I would however recommend that you Don't go there, as I fear you will never return for my meagre once a week offering) for my one entry to last week's bird question. A game effort but not even close I'm afraid.

For those of you who laughed and thought why is he asking about what is obviously a seagull, I have managed to establish, it is not a seagull. No, I have not become a twitter, tweeter or twitcher (whatever the term is) overnight. It's just by chance we ran into a BBC producer of Natural History programs, Stephen Moss (who by coincidence just happens to be the producer of Autumn Watch, the very TV program I just happened to mention in last week's blog - how spooky is that?) He was with his friend Nigel a publisher of bird (the feathered variety) books and their respective wives, who were staying at Cross o' th' Hill Farm . I learnt a number of interesting facts.

For instance the Gull has two outfits - pulling and non-pulling gear

i.e Black head plumage = Come and get me

Apparently my picture in last week's BlackLOG was of a Black-headed Gull in "I'm sorry I've got a headache" plumage.

Despite its name, the pulling gear is in fact brown....

OK. That's enough education for one blog, I don't know about you but I could probably do with a bit of a lie down.

All that remains is for me to apologise to J.K.Rowling (author of Harry Potter), Shakespeare (author of some badly spelt plays. At times he makes even me look like an academic...) and L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz) for the misuse of their work in this weeks BlackLOG.


  1. Loved your blog. BTW even though I visit Kathryn's blog religiously, I will most definitely come back to yours weekly. ;)

  2. book*addict Thank you. I don't know how Kathryn does it. Not only the Blog but she has time to rip me to shredds (in the nicest possible way) off air as well....

  3. jajaja, I think you should thank Kathrynm though, because it's due to her blog I came to yours and started to follow. So somehow she writes daily, rips you to shreds, and gives you unpaid for publicity. ;) She's like superwoman.

  4. I have voiced the opinion in the past that she is either cloning herself. Opened up a Kathryn Franchise operation, or my brand new theory she has got hold of a Harmione Grainger Time Turner

  5. I think she stole the time turner, even though it was broken. But with the Franchise they probably fixed it for her.

  6. Okay, now, I really want to go to that B&B! It looks beautiful. Those rabbits are quite, um, impressive, as well. Hahaha. One time, I won a watermelon eating contest at a hotel in Mexico (I was 10). Never a rabbit painting competition, however. Sadly.

  7. I like the secret garden piccie.

    You have my permission to get a 68" plasma screen, the subsequent power cuts and flickering lights won't affect my end of B/S, we're on a different circuit board!

  8. book*addict she has a Franchise that fixes things...Do you think she would fix my car speakers the bass is sounding really fuzzy....

  9. Brooke you should so visit the "Cross o' th' Hill Farm" it is fantastic. If you ever visit Britain put it on your tick list...

    I wish you had not laughed at the rabbits, you almost had me with 'impressive' even with the, Um, beforehand...

    Well done on winning the Watermelon eating competition and indeed surviving Mexico - I love the scene in the Sex in the City Movie where Charlotte gets a mouthful of Mexican shower water and .....

  10. IMO you are back, I missed you not commenting last week (see I do notice. Alright, alright I happened to call a register after last weeks practice fire drill. Everyone was out of the BlackLOG within the required 5 mins but it highlighted your absence). I hope you have brought a sick note with you....

    Glad you liked the Secret Garden shot...

    I put your vote to Mrs B, she was not impressed.

  11. Ahem. Wonder Woman here....
    Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm of average energy and you are just....sluggish? Okay, so maybe that's not it. Those painting of the bunnies must've taken you some serious brush strokes...did you paint the one on the lower right corner? No judgment (God, I hope Mrs. B didn't do this one...) for I've never seen such a primary-colored bunny before. Maybe you have different rabbits in your neck of the woods.

    I would also like to suggest that you make sure you don't get the poop-infested shoes anywhere near the leather Italian couch, you need to quit bitching about not getting your freakin' coffee and I do believe that a BlackHeaded Gull is damned close enough to a seagull and I want my free BlackLOG martini variety pack with the "guaranteed you won't know where you've left your car" chaser.
    My attorneys are gonna be all over this. As for the comments above? People...(book*addict) I KNOW where you BLOG. Beware....
    PS: Where's my blood sample? Still waiting....and no "fake" blood, either. That cherry juice didn't fool anyone....

  12. That B&B is gorgeous! I have my eye on an Italian sofa too, but it will be quite expensive to have it shipped out this way. Maybe I'll just get a cheap sofa, and some Italian.

  13. Kathryn for the record Mrs B's Bunny is top left - mine top right. The painter of primary-coloured bunny is in a local institution awaiting assessment. The rather nice white jacket has, for the moment at least, put an end to their painting career…. I believe it is not down to different rabbits but different drugs….Can we never mention the bunnies again; otherwise I shall have to start calling you the ‘bunny boiler’ and you know I will.

    Since I can no longer afford shoes or for that matter to go out the sofas are safe for the foreseeable future.

    As for the gull comment – I have phoned Mr. Moss who is instructing the BBC’s solicitors at I write….I’m keeping well out of this one. It sounds like your attorney is going to be working overtime. So looks like no designer leather sofa for you. You can however pop around to your attorney’s new place and look at the one you are paying off for him….please don’t touch it though….that’s super soft Italian leather, so luxurious that to sit on it would ruin it….As a word of warning he earns enough to afford a proper attorney….

    You know the rules, you have to put your car keys in the bowel before I serve any alcoholic beverages and since this is not that type of blog* you will have to go elsewhere for your alcohol fix. …Besides Mrs B just finished the last four bottles of Gin, come on it was a Friday night

    * Mrs B does not approve she always gets the guy with bad breath, acne and dandruff….Oh that’s me ….perhaps she does approve… it’s just that no one else lets me play…

    As for the blood, I can’t help having fruity blood….

    P.S. I need you to breath more, I don't have death insurance on the BlackLOG - 'you need to quit bitching about not getting your freakin' coffee** and I do believe that a BlackHeaded Gull is damned close enough to a seagull and I want my free BlackLOG martini variety pack with the "guaranteed you won't know where you've left your car***" chaser'- I've not lost a reader yet - well not to death....OK, there was that pensioner but I think they were half dead when they came in anyway. The most I would get would be an assist for that one….

    ** Look who's bringing it up now...let it go.. I have

    *** Would need to know what type of car you have. Mrs B won't be driven around in any old rubbish.

  14. Nikki I'm sure you can afford it, i.e why should I go broke on my own. You could come and have a look at it when you visit the B&B.

  15. your soup nazi blog was hysterical--how can you not like soup!? living in nyc I have actually bought soup from the real soup nazi--frightening experience, I tell you, FRIGHTENING.

    as for items purchased by drunk punters off the home shopping network at 3am...I may, or may not have been guilty of that once or twice or five times.

    great blog!

  16. filmgirl welcome to BlackLOG. I maintain my argument Soup is just watered down food....My Soup Nazi would give your Soup Nazi a run for his money. I at least did not have to pay for my FRIGHTENING experience, which kind of makes me a little worried about you!!!!!

    Now young lady I want a complete list of every one of those drunken purchases and full details of what happened to each of them....

    Glad you enjoyed your first BlackLOG experience come back soon. Bring the family, friends, pets, people you bumped into on the street, all are welcome. Well people with a sense of humour anyway...Ok maybe that might have to be people who tolerate my sense of humour.

  17. BlackLOG said...
    IMO you are back, I missed you not commenting last week (see I do notice. Alright, alright I happened to call a register after last weeks practice fire drill. Everyone was out of the BlackLOG within the required 5 mins but it highlighted your absence). I hope you have brought a sick note with you....

    HAVE NOW .............. Sorry I failed to comment sooner, and the sick note is currently stuck in the postal strike, even though it hasn't started yet!

  18. Hi!

    Just wanted to say thank you for dropping by my blog earlier - it was nice to meet ya!

    Hey, I really enjoyed your tour. The photos are FABULOUS!

    The one of Mrs B. on the balcony is awesome. Love the sky!

    That's the thing I enjoy about European countries more so than the U.S. all that wonderful "historical atmosphere and flavor."

  19. Ron it was a pleasure visiting your world. Thank you for the compliments on the pictures, the sky was amazing; the clouds looked like they had been drawn with a ruler. While Mrs B does the rest....

    Don't be a stranger - if you like the stage, you might enjoy the last BlackLOG Don’t put Mrs B on the stage Mr. Donovan

  20. HEY. Wonderwoman here. We need to lose the word verification thing. Be a MAN, MAN.

    If a spambot comes and tries to comment on your blog, I'll beat it up for you.

    Or, you could always just re-engage it.

    Love to Mrs. B,
    Wonderwoman Kathryn

  21. Kathryn I had forgotten that it was on. The BlackLOG I've gone naked now....

  22. Heya!
    The pictures you took are gorgeous,it looks like a lovely place.Pity there were no foodie pictures though,maybe next time?
    Smileyfreak :)!

  23. Smileyfreak welcome aboard.

    Thank you for the compliment on the pictures and sorry about the lack of food shots. I can assure it was so good, no matter what I did with the camera would have done it justice...Plus it would have gone cold.

  24. Alright, already....Your comment of encouragement is now available for viewing at my place. If you sense any sarcasm there, you're totally spot on. I just wish they'd invent a sarcasm font....I really need one. asked for it. (Why do I feel deja vu?)

  25. Kathryn why do you don't need a sarcasm font? You just need a font for when you are not being sarcastic...

  26. Waitaminute... I could have sworn that I had posted a comment to this thread... I guess I was mistaken. My internet went out at home *grumble* and I'm all out of sorts and waaayyyyy behind on commenting! Mea culpa!

    Anyway - I love the shots in this post and the information about the Black-headed Gull was neat! My favourite shots were of Pan and the stairway at Upton House. Absolutely beautiful!

    You and Kathryn are hilarious... ;)

    Have a wonderful day my friend! Talk to you soon...

  27. Picture Imperfect I was getting a bit worried about your none appearance this week. I thought you had abandoned me...

    I wasn't sure if I should put the Pan shot in, could not find anything funny to say about it. Glad I did now.

    At times it feels like Kathryn and I are an old married couple who have been together for sixty years and didn't particularly like each other when we met, the only thing keeping us together is the constant bickering...

    Same to you Penny, keep away from those bears

  28. Dear Mr. BlackLOG (If that is even your real name):
    As attorney for Ms. Kathryn Wonderwoman, I must ask you to cease and desist with this barrage of negative connotations with regards to the facsimile in the fastidious nature of your use of the terminology with which you refer to her in any way, shape or form as being a bickerer.
    (As I charge her $25.00 usd per word, I needed to make a long point here.)
    She said something more like "He's pissing me off. He's calling me names. I still didn't even get my blood sample. Earn your Italian leather loveseat, dammit."
    Sincerely and with the most affection one can presume and still stay on the side of propriety,
    The Big, Bad American Lawyer.

  29. Kathryn I have instructed - Bicker, More, Bickering and C-Ewe Ink-Hort (Solicitors to the formerly rich) to contact you through From the Inside...Out. These guys don't take prisoners and have already served me a writ for taking too many steps on their new carpet...Sorry that it has come to this.

  30. BleakLord,
    How many times do I have to scroll through the same post to get to the bottom to continue this petty, irreverent, irresponsible attempt on your end to imply an unusually high number of comments to said post when in fact it is really nothing more than a case of simple harassment?
    (Hangs head in shame)
    I'm sorry I called you an idiot. Oh, you didn't read that? Never mind.
    It's time for my evening medication.

  31. Kathryn you will probably need to scroll down the same post lets say 4 or 5 times but feel free to do more (thanks for the boost to my comments - I notice that you are not averse to a thread or two over at 'From The Inside...Out'). It's OK I don't feel that harassed. I'm currently still recovering from a 'Kathryn' apology but I'm not getting too excited as I realise it is probably due to over medication....


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