Category Archives: Animal antics
Driving from Cagliari to Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda gives the option of two main routes: one zig-zags you up the island on an efficient, wide autostrada (the SS131); the other snakes precariously around the sheer cliff faces of the east (the SS125). Never again do I want to travel the second way.
At various junctures along this serpentine route signs may be found warning of wandering livestock. They do not lie. We encountered quite a few four-legged friends, most often pondering life in the middle of the road or grazing calmly beside it. Pigs, goats, horned cattle, sheep… all came dangerously close to losing their lives beneath a large Ford people-mover as Monsieur, impatient to reach our hotel, zoomed us around the corners like a Schumacher brother. For much of this journey, I gripped the seat and door handle for dear life, closing my eyes and silently imploring St Christopher to protect us against what I now saw to be our inevitable end: diving down from the road to an untimely death, which, given the desolation of much of the area, I was certain may not be discovered for some weeks. If you’re even a slightly nervous passenger, I certainly do not recommend travelling this way. If you must, be warned: you may need to pop a few dozen valium to get through it.
At one point during the trip, when I felt momentarily calm enough to release my grip on the car and use the camera, I snapped the Three Little Pigs, calmly trotting across the road, impervious to the real threat of slaughter by automobile. A few nights later, as Monsieur devoured a good portion of juicy Sardinian suckling pig, we wondered aloud if it had been a relation.
The food of the island is certainly excellent and now we understand why: they raise happy animals like this example of proper, free-range pork. It was pleasant to see so much of Sardinia’s GDP ambling about her country roads, but once is enough for me. Next time, I’m determined to stick to the autostrada.
When I was a child, we always had prints of famous paintings on various of the walls at home. It’s little wonder I grew up with a taste for things French (including a certain man), because most of these prints were of works by French painters – from Chardin to Lautrec.
One of my favourites was the depiction of a nineteenth century couple walking along a Paris street in the rain. The man holds up a large black umbrella to shield the pair against the downpour and the streets are cobbled in that tell-tale European way, evoking daydreams of times of yore. I always loved looking at a particular building in the background, which is shaped like a piece of pie, the point of which is aimed directly at the viewer. “Why would an architect make a building that shape?” I’d ask, “To fit the parcel of land, I suppose, but it’s not very practical. How on earth would you furnish the triangular rooms in the point?” No one ever had an answer for me, but it didn’t matter one jot. I loved that painting regardless of the fact that I didn’t understand the reasoning behind triangular buildings, or why the beautiful woman wears black. Had she and her husband been to a funeral? Or perhaps were they in mourning? Regardless, as an artistic device their sombre clothes match well the drizzle of the day. Yes, it was likely that they were sad about something and that gave me yet another mystery to ponder.
Gustave Caillebotte was the artist responsible for this work, named ‘Rue de Paris; temps de pluie’, or ‘Rainy Day in Paris’, the original of which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Those In The Know refer to Caillebotte as an impressionist, yet there’s a realism in his work that the Seurats and Monets lack. Caillebotte’s paintings are like snapshots of the époque in which he lived. You could almost walk into them, they’re so lifelike.
Given my interest in Caillebotte you can imagine my excitement when Monsieur’s Maman suggested lunch at the Parc Caillebotte in Yerres. Caillebotte had been born into a well-to-do Parisian family that spent many of their summers at the family property in Yerres, a small town on the Yerres River, to the south of Paris. This property has been named Parc Caillebotte for its former owners and appears in various of Caillebotte’s paintings, such as Les Oragers (The Orange Trees).
Le Casin at Parc Caillebotte
The ‘Mairie’, or Mayor’s office, for Yerres has invested much time and effort in restoring the Parc to create a leisure destination which successfully blends culture, relaxation, and natural beauty, whilst celebrating the work of its famous son. Sadly, it was a grey February day when we made our visit to the Parc, but that didn’t detract from its interest. The large, white Caillebotte family house known as ‘le Casin’ stands proud at the entrance to the Parc. It is home to two permanent exhibitions, but was closed when we visited. Outside, there are various buildings of different styles and purposes dotted around the grounds, like the funny little pagoda atop a rockery with grotto beneath. This was also closed but in the summer months it serves as a refreshments kiosk. On a day like this, there was little need for a bottle of something refreshing. The weather was fresh enough.
Down by the river, there’s a long, white orangery with outdoor seats, where a couple of local dames sat and gossiped, quite oblivious to the chill in the air. Monsieur’s Maman told us that further afield lay a chapel and vegetable garden, but we all agreed that, on this occasion, it was too cold to hang about and explore. Warm interiors beckoned.
“It’s true, I swear. Marie-Claude buys the Chinese escargots. Quelle horreur!”
At the Parc I did, however, talk to the animals again. There are hens of all descriptions and a pair of flopsy white rabbits in a large chicken coop behind the Parc’s restaurant, Chalet du Parc, so I clucked at them and they clucked back and Monsieur’s Maman must then have realised that her son is marrying a madwoman. As for Monsieur, well, he’s just used to it. His ears are now deaf to my clucking sounds.
I loved these cotton wool hens with their little blue faces. And so did the four year-old next to me!
One day, when the sun shines and the arctic air has gone, I hope we will all return to the Parc Caillebotte. There are the exhibitions to see, naturally, but on the Halcyon day that I imagine, we won’t want to linger indoors. We’ll buy cold drinks at the Pagoda kiosk, picnic on the broad lawn and then perhaps rent a couple of canoes to paddle up and down the river, just like the man in Caillebotte’s painting, ‘Les Périssoires sur l’Yerres’ (‘Oarsmen on the Yerres). To that day I do look forward, very much indeed, but first I should really tell you all about LUNCH.
Last Sunday I decided that something had to be done about my current addiction to (a) duvets, (b) blankets and (c) our gas fire. Donning as many layers as possible I took my camera to photograph the canals of Little Venice, which had frozen over.
Looking down Regent’s Canal from the blue Warwick Avenue bridge the canal looked more like a road you could drive along, rather than a waterway to float along.
A rare patch of water was visible under the other side of the blue bridge. Further along I found the beautiful red puppet theatre barge, which brought its optimism to the otherwise grey-and-white day.
Around the corner, poor old Jason sat quite inert. In the warmer months of the year he keeps busy chugging tourists up to Camden Lock and back, but now the canals are frozen solid so there’ll be no chugging for Jason for a while.
Some local folk had been testing the solidity of the ice, throwing bricks and other rubbish onto the canals to see whether the ice would break. It didn’t for this piece of scrap metal that will soon be polluting Browning’s Pond.
I once watched someone walk across an iced-over canal in Regent’s Park, but didn’t feel like risking an icy bath by trying to do so here. Meanwhile, in Scotland, a couple of joy-riding youths narrowly escaped death this week when they took their Peugeot 406 for a spin on the frozen Union Canal. Were their brains frozen? Apparently so.
This barge-café was open as usual, serving mugs of tea and coffee to walkers in need of somewhere to thaw.
Looking back at the Puppet Theatre and the blue bridge on Warwick Avenue, all of Browning’s Pool had disappeared beneath the ice.
The seagulls and other inhabitants of Browning’s Island took to their feet, walking about the ice in confusion. Where had the water gone?
Bilster wisely wore a coat against the weather.
And Bilster had obviously been around for a while, having been part of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, in the days where the canals were used to transport goods up and down the country. FYI London hasn’t seen a phone number like CITY 4755 for quite some years.
The plants on this barge were hardy in the cold, but still I wondered if they might like to be taken inside to warm up, if only for a little while.
Further along, I met a swan in a patch of water near Paddington. He was swimming in circles, bleating at me as he searched in vain for his friends. Where had they gone? How ever had he been abandoned?
Still, he seemed happy of my company, even if the other walkers looked at me with concern each time I replied to his cries with a quack of my own.
Near Paddington I found a barge with homely plume of smoke coming from its chimney and two loads of firewood stacked on its roof. The occupants must be long-time residents of the canal and know how to protect themselves against the elements.
It was time to turn back. At Browning’s Pond the island’s usual population of Canada Geese were on the ice, preening themselves with the aid of watery reflections.
But now it was time to trudge home, careful not to slip or do involuntary ballet-like manoeuvres in an attempt to stay upright on icy patches. Enough of ice and snow. Bring on the gas fire, duvets and blankets!
When I was a wide-eyed early twenty-something, I moved from my hometown of Auckland to Sydney to work at a hotel in King’s Cross and no, it wasn’t offering ‘private client services’. At work, I made many wonderful friends, most of whom were gay because (a) the hotel industry is known for being a pink profession and (b) this particular hotel was located within a stone’s throw of the gay mecca that is Sydney’s Oxford Street.
My education there was manifold. The (male) switchboard manager knew more about face creams than I did and during Mardi Gras another manager offered me a ‘bonus’ of those little tablets that would make you see the good side of Ted Bundy, serial killer. I declined. Perhaps Obama is right when he says we need to regulate bonus structures.
One of my best friends from that time was a Japanese girl called Kay. If there was a gay man in the room with her, she was prone to fall in love with him. If the man was straight, she wasn’t interested. Kay was one of those girls who thought that her special breed of love could make a gay man straight so, as she lived in the gay capital of Downunder and worked in a predominantly gay environment, she was in a near-constant state of heartbreak.
One day, Kay went shopping at a big weekend market down by Chinatown. There, she spied a rabbit in a cage and stopped to stroke it, thinking it was a pet. The Chinese stallholder was keen to make a sale, chatting away about rabbit preparation techniques. Realising that the caged fluffball was ‘fresh meat’ destined for someone’s dinner plate, Kay was horrified, quickly pressing a crush of dollars into the stallholder’s hand in a bid to save the rabbit’s life. And so, a bunny named Minnie went to live with Kay in an apartment overlooking Rushcutter’s Bay.
At work, Kay kept us all intrigued by her tales of house-training the rescue bunny and from her brightened eyes we could tell that this was one love for Kay that wouldn’t be returned to sender. Then, one day Kay (and Minnie) invited me over for lunch.
I already knew that Kay’s landlord had a no-pets policy, so we’d have to be discreet about Minnie’s existence, but hey, how much noise can a rabbit make? I wondered. As Kay prepared a delicious Japanese lunch in her tiny steam-filled kitchenette, I watched Minnie. At first, she lay full-length along the top of the sofa, looking at me hard with her stony little eyes. I wondered what she was thinking because she was definitely thinking something. It was as if she was trying to work me out in the same way as I was trying to get her measure. You have to realise that this was no ordinary bunny. To this day, I’m sure she didn’t like me.
A little later, Minnie moved, jumping down to the ground and across the pristine living room carpet to the bathroom. Then she jumped up onto the toilet seat.
“Kay, I think we have a problem,”
I called through to the kitchen,
“Minnie’s on the toilet seat. Should I get her down?”
“Oh, no, don’t worry about that. She probably just needs to go.”
“Yes, you know. To go pee pee or something. Didn’t I tell you she was house-trained?”
“But I thought you meant house-trained like cats with kitty litter and stuff.”
Kay laughed at my lack of sophistication.
“No, no. Kitty litter stinks. This way is better because I can flush. More hygienic.”
Meanwhile, I’d watched open-mouthed as little black rabbit poo pellets fell straight from Minnie’s bottom into the bowl of the toilet. When she was done, she jumped back to the floor and headed for a patch of sun to bask as bunnies of leisure tend to do. Apparently.
Kay and I sat at her tiny table, chatting over our meal, the rabbit dozing nearby. As we polished off the home-made red bean dumplings with some green tea, Kay suggested we go for a walk. With Minnie. Images of rabbits disappearing down holes, never to be seen again, flooded my head.
“Are you crazy?”
“She’ll get lost!”
“No, no, don’t worry about that,”
Kay reassured me,
“I’ll just put her on the lead.”
An already surreal afternoon was about to intensify as we smuggled Minnie out of the no-pets building and let her bounce along at our feet as we walked to Rushcutter’s Bay.
Minnie’s collar was regular enough. Kay had managed to find a little pink one with a bell – something you’d usually see on a cat. But she hadn’t yet located a store with little pink leads, so Minnie was currently tethered to her adoptive mother by a length of pink curling ribbon.
“Minnie’s a girl so she has to have pink.”
Kay explained. That’s when I thought I’d seen it all.
A couple of years later, I was living in London and there I received a letter from Kay. On opening the envelope, out dropped one of those photos with a printed greeting down the side. The photo was of Kay’s wonder bunny and the greeting said:
Dear Friend, I am sad to say that my daughter, Minnie has now passed away. Thank you for being a friend to her during her short life.
Oh, my sainted trousers, I’d just received a death notice for a rabbit! Now, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. Poor Kay was devastated. There would be no more bunny plops to flush in her loo and the little pink collar with the curling ribbon need was no longer required. On the other side of the world, I smiled as I remembered the day when I first met a toilet-trained rabbit and took it for a walk in the park.
Once upon a time in Venice, I was a museum intern, and once upon that long time ago I fell in love with this dreamy little metropolis of canals and palaces and chilled glasses of sgroppini and steaming plates of fresh spaghetti alle vongole. How can one not fall for a place where you wake to the sound of church bells, where angelic music wafts out of buildings as you pass by or where art is everywhere, even in the paving stones? When I left, I thought I’d be back within a year, but real life got in the way so I wasn’t back for the longest time. It would take me more than a decade to return, but when I did, it was with a man we’ll call Monsieur.
Bar da Gino
I felt a little nervous as we wended our way along the Dorsoduro calli to the Guggenheim Collection where I’d once dressed and undressed the artworks, told visitors “Please don’t touch!” in umpteen different languages and giggled at the Marino Marini with the unmissable erection. Along the way I showed Monsieur the cafe where I’d seen Woody Allen when he was filming ‘Everybody Says I Love You’, and pointed out the bank where interns cashed their monthly stipend cheques, becoming millionaires for a day because the Italian currency was still lira back then and because we hadn’t yet paid our rents. Then, there it was: Bar da Gino, the witness to many pre-, post- and during work snacks. This was where Kim bought her morning coffee, where I’d hum and ha over which tramezzini sandwich to have for lunch or groan if my lunch break was late and they’d all been sold. It was also where we’d take empty water bottles to be filled with table wine for a couple of thousand lira (roughly 80 pence) a time, and we’re not talking small bottles here. Across the way, the tabacchi where I used to buy stamps and phone cards and Baci chocolates wrapped in love messages was still there, and further along, near the Anglican Church there was the Aladdin’s Cave grocery store, filled with pyramids of Ritz cracker boxes, Cipster potato snacks and Kinder Sorpresa eggs, just as it always was. A jumble of happy memories returned with a rush as if I’d only left Venice yesterday.
The Guggenheim Collection lives in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, a squat white palace of one tier only, slightly reminiscent of a half-eaten wedding cake as it looks out at the Grand Canal. For many years it was the home of art collector heiress, Peggy Guggenheim, whose patronage of many of the great artists of the early twentieth century helped build one of the best collections of art from that era. In her lifetime Peggy was a character, to say the least. She had two children with her first husband, Laurence Vail, before divorcing with Olympian acrimony and going on to marry surrealist painter, Max Ernst. That marriage wasn’t destined to last, however, besides which Peggy had affairs with almost every man she ever took a liking to, including Jackson Pollock and the husband of her daughter, Pegeen. Pegeen died young, nurturing the rumour that she’d taken her own life as a result of her mother’s inability to steer clear of her son-in-law. Others say she died mysteriously. Either way, Pegeen’s story is sad. Regarding her mother, whether or not she was the most faithful or amiable of characters as far as people were concerned, she certainly enjoyed her Tibetan terriers, calling them her ‘babies’ and as their respective doggie lives ended, Peggy had each successive dog under interred beneath the paving stones at the back of the Palazzo, before being buried there herself.
Peggy and ‘babies’ in her own, private gondola
As I led Monsieur through the new entrance to the Collection, it was already dark outside and the bright lights of the tickets area made us squint. We bought our tickets and an up-to-date guide, casting a glance at the Guardaroba or wardrobe area. The Guardaroba intern’s face showed misery, pure and simple. In spite of the new entrance and other developments in the gallery’s layout, Guardaroba had obviously not changed that much since I was there. On wet days it used to fill up with umbrellas, dripping backpacks and coats within minutes of opening. Tempers would fray because once the area had reached capacity, we couldn’t take any more belongings from visitors, yet we also couldn’t admit them with bulky day packs or shopping. Arguments were inevitable. Today, Guardaroba certainly looked busy, thanks to the rain outside, but I thought I’d ask anyway. Our coats were drenched through. But before I even opened my mouth to speak, the intern pre-empted my question:
“We’re full already,” he said, with a voice so flat that he might just have been more miserable than he looked.
That settled, we’d just have to try hard not to drip all over the artworks.
To the side of the garden is the gate by Clare Falkenstein that used to be the entrance point for all visitors to the Collection and my way both into and out of work. Made especially for Peggy Guggenheim in 1961, it’s a big, rectangular web of blackened metal, with orbs of glass in different colours appearing at intervals within the web. Then, in the freezing drizzle, we scuttled through the garden and up the stairs into the Palazzo proper. There was the Calder mobile, just where I’d left it, dangling from the ceiling in front of the doors opening onto the terrace. Then we wandered through the room filled with splashy Jackson Pollocks before visiting the old Barchessa, or boat house, which now houses visiting exhibitions. It was crowded down there. We didn’t have much patience for our fellow visitors today, elbowing their way as they were into viewing positions, where they’d take forever ruminating over some technique or muse or artistic attribute, thereby blocking the flow of visitors (including us) behind them. Back in the main palazzo, we found it less oppressive. The fabulous Calder bedhead was still on display in Peggy’s former bedroom and the dressing room was still a shrine to Pegeen and her naive paintings of gondoliers and palazzi. In the past, I’d stare hard at these splashy artworks, trying to imagine Pegeen’s life. The paintings, so bright and child-like, indicate innocence and positivity. Discovering her husband’s affair with her mother must have devastated that part of her personality.
In another room, we considered the use of light in the Magritte canvas of a lit lamppost at dusk, and the whacky imagination present in Max Ernst’s paintings, before stepping through the doors onto the slippery terrace for wicked photos with the Marino Marini bronze of a naked rider with a rather noticeable erection. “People kept pulling it off and it was misplaced,” I explained to Monsieur, “so Peggy finally had the rider’s member soldered on.” From the way he looked at me, I’m sure Monsieur wonders where on earth my next comment is going to come from.
The Marino Marini sculpture, Angel of the City (1948)
Back inside we saw the cubists on display, including works by Picasso and Braques, before braving the garden yet again. We had to. There’s no other way of reaching the New Wing, a separate building at the rear of the property. En route, I showed Monsieur where Peggy lies with her thirteen Tibetan Terrier ‘babies’, and patted Jean Arp’s bronze called ‘Fruit Amphora’, which has always reminded me of a flipperless seal pup.
Shaking off the fresh splattering of rain, I looked hard at New Wing. It had changed completely. Now much larger than when I’d been in residence, it houses a cafe/ restaurant, sizeable boutique and a large exhibition space where a fantastic array of photography was being shown during our visit. But Monsieur and I had places to go and Venetians to meet so back to the ticket counter we went to ask the interns’ advice. “We’re staying on the Fondamenta Nuove,” I explained, “and we’d love to find a good restaurant near there that’s not touristy and not too expensive.” This is just the sort of question that Guggenheim interns love, so we soon had recommendations flying at us. “What about that place near Tre Archi?” proffered one, “oh, yeah. D’you think it’s still open?” asked another. “Sure it is. I was just there the other night.” “Mmm hmmm, you’ll love this place.” Everyone was in agreement, drawing maps and scribbling directions for us on the back of a museum leaflet. “It’s walking distance to your hotel, locals love it, it’s off the beaten track so not that many tourists even find it, and the food’s great.” We were sold. We visit an art collection for the culture and leave with a restaurant recommendation. Well, you can’t get much more Italian than that.
To visit a great site with loads of Venice accommodation options in all price categories, please click here.
Some while back, My Friend, The Planet (otherwise known as Planet Ross) sent me his blue monkey. He’s a funny little figurine with a pointy hat that probably has some sort of spiritual significance, but the only spiritual influence he’s had so far in London has been scaring one of my colleagues so much just by looking at her that I had to take him to live at home. Prior to that I thought he’d have fun living at work, but that was probably a mistake on my part. Only sad people like living at work. In any case, when Blue Monkey lived with The Planet in Japan, his life was fun. He played with puzzles and predicted the future all day long. Now his days are spent presiding over my shrine, scaring visitors and drinking from my rapidly diminishing bottle of sake when he thinks I’m not looking.
I knew I should send something back to The Planet, but wasn’t sure what to get. Then, one day when Blue Monkey and I were out shopping, we saw the ideal book for this man who loves word play so off it went to Japan for The Planet’s birthday. Here’s the post written by The Planet about his late birthday snail-mail from Blue Monkey and me.
PS Planet Ross thinks he’s old this year, but as Blue Monkey told him “you’re actuarry very young for a pranet”. (Blue Monkey’s still having problems with the English L sound but we’re working on it. ).
Reluctantly leaving the toasty interior of Taverna San Trovaso behind, Monsieur and I headed for the Collezione Guggenheim, or Guggenheim Collection. This is where I had served as a museum intern, many a moon ago, in the days before every kid had a mobile phone and when we all wrote snail mail, not e-mail, to our friends and family. Instead of a blog I had notebooks filled with scribbled observations, cameras still used film and notes for the evening lecture series were copied using carbon paper. As I explained all this to Monsieur we realised that we were about to take a trip down Epic’s Venetian Memory Lane.
First we walked up to the gate of the palazzo where I’d once lived. The home belonged to the family of the green grocer who sold his fruit and veg from a barge a bit further north, making an absolute fortune from his humble trade. I’d shared the apartment at the top of the building with two other girls and the rules were strict: no boys allowed, not even brothers. The landlady or ‘Signora’ wore house dresses in busy floral prints, always cut a little too low in the chest region, allowing us to be distracted by her breathless and ample bosom. She did our washing on Tuesdays (this was included in the rent), our telephone calls were measured on a counter and paid for per click, itemising each call in a battered notebook, and the Signora’s husband would always pop some free extras into our bags when we shopped with him, frowning at us as if we were underfed and always encouraging us to eat more. Strangely enough, eating more was never the issue as we were walking all over Venice each day, meaning we could eat what we wanted, including an almost daily gelato, and never gain weight.
Standing outside the palazzo, I remembered the ground floor vestibule, filled with a mess of wet weather gear and footwear in all styles and sizes, from baby shoes to gigantic black wellies. Then there was the climb, past the floors inhabited by the family, the kitchen from where the Signora ruled the roost, with the stairs becoming narrower the higher we rose. By the time we reached our apartment, my fellow tenants and I would be breathless and beyond speech for a good few minutes. No matter how fit we were, those stairs were a killer. We lived at the top of Everest, it seemed.
The bathroom was tiled in sickly olive green and the shower was not partitioned from the rest of the room so when we used it, water went absolutely everywhere. The kitchen was a sink and tiny bench with a skirt around the base, behind which we could store kitchen things, and the gas stove was so fierce that I gave up using it after a while, simply because I valued my eyebrows.
In that apartment, we didn’t need alarm clocks. The church bells woke us early each day, continuing to ring at snooze-type intervals until we were all safely out of bed, and the water buses coming and going from the nearest stop on the Grand Canal made whooshing noises that form part of this musical memory. Whilst remembering the sounds of Venice, I couldn’t possibly leave out the mosquitoes, which buzzed mercilessly around my head each night until I was too tired to fight them, only to wake with a new welt or two the following day. In any case, those Venetian bloodsuckers were always invisible if I turned on the light, and with or without insect repellent they ate at me until my blood’s taste was ruined for them by their own poison.
At the back of the palazzo was a small, walled garden, underused and overgrown with straggles of thriving foliage. We palazzo-dwellers could come and go through a gate in the garden, especially if it was late at night and we needed a quieter way to enter the house (the weighty front door always closed with a bang and a small quake, potentially waking anyone sleeping within). One such evening, I walked back from a gathering in the lively square of Campo di Santa Margarita, where we interns would congregate for birthday drinks and other celebratory occasions. I carefully opened the garden gate and closed it again as quietly as I could. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I heard a rustling from one of the bushes. I froze. Still not quite able to see what or who was making the rustling, my heart pounded as the bush started to shake. After a few seconds, the shaking stopped and something plopped onto the path in front of me. Off it ambled across the paving stones towards another patch of greenery and as I finally managed to focus on the stalker in the bushes, my breathing returned to normal. I’d just been welcomed home by the family tortoise.
Splendid’s been at it again; this time Splendid people Rax, Chris and Jenny invited me along to a dinner party celebrating GOOD Oil. This is a relatively new concept in cooking oils, being made from hemp seed. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the creators of GOOD Oil and the off-shoot products of GOOD Seed and GOOD Dressings are none other than Glynis Murray and Henry Braham, probably better known for their combined film credits, including The Golden Compass (Braham was Director of Photography for this Philip Pullman fantasy), Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned (on which they both worked) and many more.
Needless to say, the crew of foodie bloggers, including myself, Chris from the Londonist, Niamh from Trusted Places and Eat Like a Girl, the enviably slim Lizzie of the aptly-named Hollow Legs blog, Mel of Fake Plastic Noodles and Helen of Food Stories were all intrigued to be invited along to a traditional London dinner party at Murray and Braham’s West London home to see GOOD Oil in action.
Tikichris, Eatlikeagirl, Food Stories and Hollow Legs
Prior to arrival I did my research, courtesy of Splendid’s staff and trusty Google. Hemp seed and the resulting oil is incredibly GOOD for you, apparently, containing half the saturated fats of olive oil (of which I’m already a huge fan), and zero trans fats. I was interested to note that a mere 10 ml of GOOD Oil contains the same GLA (Gamma Linolic Acid) dosage of 6 Evening Primrose Oil capsules, therefore enhancing one’s Omega 6 intake with physical effects such as improved skin, hair and nails, and reduced symptoms of PMT. Omegas 3 and 9 are also present, and the overall health benefits can aid arthritis and eczema sufferers, reduce cholesterol and the oil has even been used positively by the RSPCA in helping rescue animals regain condition. The GOOD Oil profile is also beneficial for the maintenance of a healthy heart.
Chef Ben and Splendid Chris
At the Braham and Murray home I was greeted by their right hand Frenchman, Aymeric, and three lovable dogs. Passing through their warm, red-walled drawing room, I was led down the stairs to a buzzy eat-in kitchen, where Glynis greeted me like an old friend as she tossed salad, and her son, Ben, our chef for the evening, stood guard over the Aga. Once the round of greetings and introductions had been made it felt as if I were visiting pals for a reunion dinner party, as opposed to meeting film world icons and revered foodies. Then when Chris and Niamh arrived, they called out ”hey! third time in a week!”, as was certainly the case as our events calendars are quite full right now.
We all enjoyed some bubbly (as you do) and conversation flowed before sitting down to sample Ben’s examples of how GOOD Oil works in daily cooking. Rax and Henry chatted about New York, Mel talked about how nervous she’d been giving her presentation at the London Bloggers Meetup a couple of nights before and the dogs rolled over for tummy tickles. Then the first GOOD Oil taster was passed around – pea and pecorino crostini. Heaped green upon the crusty bread rounds, the pea and pecorino, blended with GOOD Oil, was simultaneously smooth and chunky (in a guacamole-ish way), not to mention tasty with a certain nutty tang. That was the oil at work. GOOD Oil, which I’ve had a chance to play with myself, has an earthy and nutty flavour; given how good it is for you (see the King’s report on the GOOD Oil website, link below) I was certainly keen to try more.
GOOD Prawn Cakes
At the table, the menu (courtesy of Ben) consisted of a much lauded Venison and Cranberry Casserole, and (as I’m not a big carnivore) specially conceived Prawn Cakes for me and anyone else who cared to try them out. The accompaniments were good, old-fashioned mash, tasting slightly nutty and extra earthy thanks to the oil, and broccoli florets. The conversation was vibrant as we discussed the taste of the oil (different and perceptible without being overpowering), the fantastic atmosphere, Glynis’s and Henry’s film experiences and tried out Splendid Rax’s photographic memory party trick.
Following the main we tried GOOD Oil on salad with cheese and slices of rustic bread, served the French way before pudding, and then ploughed through bowls of ice cream and GOOD Oil biscotti, the ice cream being drizzled with GOOD Oil. I know it sounds strange, but it worked surprisingly well and, if that’s the way you want to get your 10ml of cold and beneficial GOOD Oil per day, then it’s to be recommended.
Bad photo of GOOD ice cream
Henry Braham offered an extra helping of pudding to the person who first guessed when balsamic vinegar was first invented. Different eras of the past four centuries were offered before Henry told us that 1976 was the answer, making me think of tiramisu, which was only invented in the 1960s, in spite of being such a firm fixture on traditional Italian menus that it’s easy to understand why people might think it’s generations older. However, in reference to balsamic vinegar, the date of 1976 didn’t feel right. Otherwise, why would Modena sell bottles of its best balsamic aged fifty years, well predating 1976? I’ll come back to you with the answer for that one in another post… It’s not entirely straightforward, yet it’s a fascinating tale.
Glynis, the girls and a dog
Elizabeth David also came to mind as she’d famously first praised the cooking potential of olive oil in the UK, when it was something you bought from the pharmacist to help with certain ailments but would never have dreamed of cooking with, let alone eating. Lard and butter were the preferred fats of David’s time. Hemp oil has had a similar medicinal history and when attempts were made to launch it as a kitchen ingredient in the past, its strong, untempered taste precluded it from becoming a success. No more. Henry Braham and Glynis Murray have spent more than a decade researching, creating and launching GOOD Oil, based at their Devon hemp farm, and this has included a few wasted visits from the local constabulary who thought they might be growing a different sort of hemp for recreational purposes as opposed to culinary. They’ve worked hard to ensure that the taste is palatable and GOOD for consumers and they’re rightfully proud of introducing something new to the cooking and health-food world. It hasn’t been easy for them; a menagerie of kids, dogs, horses, a donkey, not to mention the demands of ongoing film projects, all combine to mean that one night out from their hectic schedules to educate food writers about their hemp oil passion tells us one thing: they BELIEVE in their product.
Henry and canine companion
GOOD Oil already has fans like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver to back up its credentials. At the weekend I tried a Hugh F-W trick of garlic toast with a drizzle of GOOD. It was delicious and alternative research tells me that an old-world method of ‘cleansing the blood’ suggested this very recipe only using oils other than hemp, or a spread of butter. Back in my own kitchen I’ve also been working on adjusting various recipes to try GOOD Oil in all guises. You see, following the magical, ever-replenishing postprandial port (which could easily have featured in The Golden Compass), Henry and Glynis suggested I replace olive oil in my cooking with GOOD Oil for 30 days, in order to see its physical benefits for myself. Never one to turn down a challenge, I accepted. I’m onto day three now and you’ll just have to watch this space to see how it all turns out; hopefully at the end of the month I’ll be a Glowing Goddess of GOOD. It’ll be interesting to see if the predictions are correct. I don’t know about the Goddess bit but I’d certainly settle for Glowing and I also know someone whose premature arthritis might just benefit from a daily dose of all things GOOD. It’s certainly worth a try.
- To check out the GOOD Oil website for further information, please click here.
- To go to the GOOD Oil Facebook page, where you can download screensavers and recipes and request free samples, please click here.
- The King’s Report
- Glynis Murray and Henry Braham
- Splendid Communications
- Tiki Chris
- Trusted Places
- Eat Like a Girl
- Hollow Legs
- Fake Plastic Noodles
- Food Stories
- Elizabeth David
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
- Jamie Oliver
If you live outside of the UK and you would like further information on the GOOD hemp seed products, please let me know in the comments box and I will try to find out how you might be able to purchase GOOD Oil from abroad. Can’t promise, but I’ll do what I can.
Epic and GOOD dog
My boss knows I like to cook; he should do since I’ve become a little more curvaceous than usual since I started working for him 4 years ago. When Boss returned from holiday at the end of the summer, he brought me back a gift for holding the fort: an apron with a design by English illustrator, Simon Drew.
Anyone who knows Drew’s work will smile at the illustration of puns, particularly those related to animals. In Shepherd Spy, the pun relates to a spying sheep dog working amongst his flock, the meaning of which has been punned out of ‘Shepherd’s Pie’. Here’s another one:
Drew’s puzzle or ‘SPOT the…’ cards keep everyone guessing for a while: each line of the cover consists of a combination of pictures. You say the word for each picture aloud until you work out the combination, for instance, in his Spot the City cards, you may have Hell+Sink+Key = Helsinki.
If you like this sort of humour, you can buy greetings cards, books and many other gifts with similar punning illustrations from Simon Drew’s website, here.
Following on from my recent experience with a sniffer dog who got it wrong, I thought I’d look into the success rates of these working dogs.
In Australia, they’re not convinced. Following research into sniffer dog accuracy a couple of years back, it was found that only one quarter of positive sniffs yield drugs. I don’t know why that should be a surprise, after all, no matter how much positive reinforcement you use to train a dog to recognise drugs on a person, they are still going to be interested in their own favourity doggie smells – food, bodily fluids, insect repellant (apparently). Here are some articles about when the sniffer dogs who bark up the wrong tree:
From Australia…, this report card for Downunder’s sniffies includes a lot of Ds and must sniff harder.
This post is from a chap who was stopped on the way to a legitimate meeting in Camden Town. The comments on this post are almost as good as the article! It would seem I’m not alone…
In Canada, they’re arguing over sniffer dogs and the infringement of civil liberties. Sniffer dogs should not be allowed to search for drugs in schools or public places – a recent ruling has decreed this to be the case – however, as the threat of explosives in airports is a more serious threat, sniffer dogs will still be allowed to operate there. I get it, but it is somewhat confusing. If an airport is a public place but I’m not an explosive, then why search me? It’s like those philosophical exercises: if a pig is pink and Maxine is pink then does that make Maxine a pig? It’s not exactly a yes or no answer. Besides which, in my experience, those bits of material that can be sniffed by a machine seem to be way more accurate than the dog (who’s probably more interested in food and people’s more delicate parts).
Without boring you with the other articles I’ve found, I can summarise by saying that sniffer dogs are far less accurate than we assume, so the next time you see someone being hauled off for further questioning by a customs official and a Sniffy, you should NOT presume they’re transporting illegal drugs. It could just be that the dog hasn’t had dinner yet and wants some of that duty free chocolate in the nice person’s backpack.
Meanwhile, Natasha Cloutier, my friend from Blog08 in Amsterdam, just sent me the link for a song about sniffer dogs. Can you believe it? Get those heads banging and enjoy (if you can). Personally, I think these guys need a spliff or something to calm them down…
The song’s called ‘I wanna be a drug sniffing dog’ (in case you can’t quite make out the lyrics). It’s by LARD.