Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Angel of the North has a lady friend

I've always been a fan of the Angel of the North as you may remember from my post and photos last year. On our way back from our holiday in Seahouses last month, we took a short detour off the A1 to visit another extradordinary spectacle - Northumberlandia or The Lady of the North.

My column in this week's Lincolnshire Free Press will tell you all about this fabulous woman:

A magnificent lady, made from the land.

I was able to use one photo from our trip but to get a fuller picture of this extraordinary sculpture you really need to see a few more pics. So, after you've read all about her in the link above, here are some extra snaps, including one of Dougie taking refuge from the chilly wind in her cleavage.

View from the top of Northumberlandia's head

View of her head taken from the top of her right breast.

Dougie finds the perfect spot to keep warm


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Gallery - Family

Gosh it's been a while since I joined in with The Gallery, the photography feature run by Tara at Sticky Fingers. But, like meeting up with an old friend, it doesn't take long before the time spent away disappears and the enjoyment you always had together is remembered and continues.

The theme of 'Family' is very pertinent this week as my own little family, which has numbered three since our son was born in 1996, has temporarily reduced to two while he is at university. We have always been a close little threesome, going from this:

to this....

to this.....

Rory has been away for just over a week now and, although it's tough, I've been more resilient than I'd anticipated. However, the week before he left, I was feeling very emotional and wrote about my feelings in my weekly newspaper column. If you want to know how it feels when your baby leaves the nest, you might like a little read. Just keep the tissues handy!

Will there be tears at the uni gate?

For more Gallery entries, have a look here.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Guest is God at the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate

Guest is God. For those of you who have been watching the recent BBC series, Hotel India, about the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, you will appreciate the lengths the staff go to, to ensure their guests have an exceptional stay.

Looking for somewhere to stay in London recently, we came across the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, part of the same group as the illustrious Taj in India. We rather fancied experiencing this hospitality for ourselves so took advantage of a discounted last minute break with Late Rooms, only to discover that the hotel's own website had an even better offer which included breakfast. A lesson learned.

The Taj 51 is a beautifully appointed hotel located near Buckingham Palace; very close to St James's Park and Victoria underground stations. Porters spotted us as soon as we turned into the courtyard from the main street, checking our names off their list and ushering us to reception. We were treated with the utmost courtesy yet with a warmth and friendliness which made us feel at home.

Taj 51 buckingham gate exterior
The exterior of the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate

All the rooms in the hotel are suites and designed to interconnect to accommodate large families or VIPs and their entourage. Dougie and I opted for the Junior Suite, an entry level room in the newly refurbished Kings Suites. As we were shown around, it soon became apparent this definitely wasn't a Junior Suite. Space is usually at a premium in London hotels but our accommodation was vast. We had been upgraded to a one-bedroomed deluxe suite but that description does little to explain how spacious and utterly gorgeous it was.

Take a look at the short video below and consider that Dougie proclaimed he could happily sell up our home and retire here indefinitely. A large bedroom, a dressing room (yes, a walk-in dressing room, in central London), a bathroom you could party in (with a tub), an extra loo, fully fitted kitchen and a living room/dining room which oozed comfort and style. Apologies for the appearance of my husband at the end of the clip, but I had to put him somewhere and he wasn't for shifting....

Full marks for the accommodation but what else does the Taj 51 have to offer? There are several dining options as the hotel is located next to its sister hotel, St James' Court. We could have opted for the Michelin starred Quilon restaurant for some seriously good Indian fare or the sophisticated but bright Bistro. In the end, we plumped for Bank as it had a conservatory overlooking the Taj's courtyard and its bar, Zander, boasts London's longest bar and some rather delicious cocktails.

But before we got to Bank, we stopped by the hotel's  library for what was my favourite aspect of our stay at the Taj. Every evening, from 6.30 to 8.30pm, guests of Taj 51 are invited to the library for complimentary drinks and canapes. Finding a cosy corner with a comfy sofa, we ordered a couple of Bombay Sapphire G&Ts and sat back to enjoy them with a plate of canapes and a bowl of mixed nuts. The atmosphere was very relaxed, the waiter service so friendly and welcoming, I was tempted to kick off my shoes and put my feet up. I resisted but we were so chilled that we found ourselves chatting to the couple at the next table. They were staying at the Taj for their wedding anniversary, had also been upgraded and were thoroughly enjoying the attentive service and free gin. After our second drink the atmosphere was most convivial but dinner beckoned. We just managed one course at Bank - plus a cocktail - but there was a real buzz about the place: I would recommend it. We promised ourselves another trip to the library on the second night where we were offered Champagne to ring the changes from the gin. I liked this. A lot.

How else can I tempt you to go? Breakfast the next morning was civilised, unlike many a hotel buffet bun fight, and the food lovingly prepared and beautifully presented by courteous, efficient staff.

If you love a spa or fitness centre, that's provided too, although we didn't try them. If you want to bring children then they are more than welcome. Yes, it's a luxury hotel but if you can afford it and your children would appreciate being treated like little princes and princesses then the Kids@Taj programme will appeal. Rucksacks filled with activity books, passports, crayons and a Taj teddy dressed as a Queen's Guard are just the start. Mini bathrobes, slippers, baby bath products and customised dining menus plus a baking lesson with the hotel's chef. The attentive service received by adults is extended to every child.

We have tried many hotels in London over the years but the Taj 51 is now my favourite. A little more than we have paid before but you do get so much for your money, considering the size and quality of the rooms, plus the superb service. For a special occasion or just because you want to feel special, choose the Taj.

To give you some idea about costs, the published rack rate for a Kings Junior Suite is £780 per night but there are discounted rates on the website. We paid £240 per night but were upgraded to a one-bedroomed deluxe suite where the published rate is normally £1020 a night. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on any offers to be had and, if they have availability, upgrades may be possible. 


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Florentines, guitar riffs and the Nobel Peace Prize

Often when I do a quick round-up of my columns for the Lincolnshire Free Press, regular blog readers will have noticed that some of them have content from previous blog posts: snippets from a number of posts to create an article about Scottish memories, for instance.

My latest offerings are all brand-spanking new so I hope you enjoy reading them, as you would a normal blog post. Feel free to comment on the articles on the paper's website.

So who won Great Burgess Bake Off?

I was challenged to make Mary Berry's Florentines by food blogger, Helen, at The Crazy Kitchen. Dougie was keen to get involved so we had a Burgess Bake Off. Find out who was the best baker.

'Are we nearly there yet, Mum?'

A miserable Bank Holiday journey home was made more interesting when we listened to Radio Two's Top 100 Guitar Riffs.

Nobel Peace Prize winner of Holbeach

During our recent trip to Oslo we discovered a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was born in our town, Holbeach.