Hooray – It’s the Guernsey Literary Festival!

Last weekend I was in a local dance competition – Strictement – to raise funds for St Saviour’s Community Centre. Huge tick on my bucket list, I can tell you… But I won’t go on about that here. Instead, it’s time for the Guernsey Literary Festival, and I get almost as excited about books too. I’m helping out at a couple of talks, and really looking forward to the (sorry, sold-out) session tonight with Adam Kay, of This is Going to Hurt fame.

It always astounds me that our little island is such a creative hub, and the range and fame of authors coming to treat us this weekend is as mind-boggling as ever. As a volunteer I could have given Lionel Shriver a lift from the airport but I was worried I’d be too star-struck and might say something stupid (although I adored her short story collection, Property).

There’s always too much to cram in – next time I think I need to book myself a mini-break at the Old Government House Hotel and pretend to my family that I’m not here, so I can max out on all the opportunities.

But back to that family… My daughter was thrilled to write to Nigella a few months back, and get an actual hand-written response to her questions, so now, enthused by the Literary Festival, she’s penned a little note to David Walliams in the hope of getting him over next time:

Fingers crossed. In the meantime, there are still tickets available for a number of child-friendly events, including story time with Sophy Henn and her Ted stories, and a session with local husband-and-wife team Charlie and Magnus Buchanan with their original illustrated folk tale, Invasion of the Wavelets.

There are also some mummy-focused talks by blogger and novelist Helen Wallen, and by author and adventure activist Jessica Hepburn who will be discussing her biography 21 Miles – the story of how she met and ate with 21 inspirational women and then swam 21 miles in search of the answer to the question: ‘Does motherhood make you happy?’. Great question. I can’t wait!

It’s about time for “40 Acts”

It’s got to the point in our house where we all need to have a sit-down and re-think what our family values are. I’m tired of the way the older two children are talking to each other, weary of the niggling and the knee-jerk aggressiveness. I’m utterly fed up with the general lack of kindness being shown. It wasn’t always like this, and we, as parents, are starting to think, ‘What on earth did we do wrong?’.

In a way, it’s good timing: for the last few years, in Lent, we haven’t given anything up, but have instead taken up the mantle of the award-winning 40 Acts Lent Challenge. You sign up, and every day a mini challenge is sent to your inbox. There are ‘green’, ‘amber’ and all-out ‘red’ versions of the challenge so, depending on your time and resources, you can choose how you respond. You can also dip in and out as you please.

There’s also resources for families and I’ve printed (and laminated – it makes it feel more official) the wall chart to put on our fridge.

One of the first family challenges was, simply, ‘try not to argue, disagree or interrupt. Only speak encouraging words.’ That day, I only got to talk to Number One son briefly as he flew out of the door to school, but I talked to the younger two about the importance of listening to someone properly, and they discussed the ‘Decider Skills’ they’ve been learning at school – which included respectful listening this week. Something went in!

One of my favourite quotes ever is by Simone Weil: ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.’ I know I’m guilty of not listening properly or giving people my full attention, but, wow, what a difference it makes when someone does.

Here’s the little introductory video. I challenge you not to be moved!

 

New day, new recipe

The lowdown on the nut roast is…. The adults LOVED it, the 10-year-old pretended to like it (because she made it), the 12-year-old pushed it around the plate and ate a little, and the 5-year-old actually gagged. I was glad I was out of the house when that happened.

I won’t let that get me down. It was a tasty recipe, I promise. In the meantime, we’ve been having a bit of online chatter about upping fibre in general, as Michael Mosley suggests, for all sorts of good health reasons, and a couple of friends have asked me for my favourite granola recipe.

Granola can be absolutely loaded with butter and sugar, so not healthy at all, but I’ve tried a few healthy, oil-based versions and have come up with a true family favourite – which WE ALL EAT.

It’s a nut-and-seed-heavy version,  loosely-based on Nigella’s Toasty Olive-Oil Granola (which you can find in ‘Simply Nigella’). I tweak things, include whatever seeds and nuts and sweetener we happen to have and occasionally stir in some dried fruit at the end (although I like it nuttier and seedier in general). The main difference with my version is that I halved the amount of oil and sweetener, removed the salt she adds, and I think it works well. So here goes:

Ingredients and Method:

Pre-heat oven to 150deg and line a roasting tin with re-useable liner.

In a Pyrex bowl, weigh out:

300g jumbo oats (or whatever ones you have, but these are the best)
100g nuts, chopped into non-choking pieces (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazils are all favourites)
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
50g linseeds – any colour
25g sesame seeds….. (or any combination of seeds roughly totalling 175g)
1tsp ground ginger (or more to taste)
1tsp ground cinnamon (or more to taste)

Stir ‘dry’ ingredients together.

In a small jug, put:

80ml sweetener – I like maple syrup but golden syrup or agave are both good too
1tsp vanilla extract (optional)
80ml oil – I use mostly extra virgin olive oil, adding a heaped tablespoon of coconut oil (if you like it). Briefly heat these in the microwave to melt the coconut oil if using.

Pour ‘wet’ ingredients into dry, stirring to incorporate evenly. Spread out evenly in the roasting tin. Cook for about 20 minutes, stir and return to oven for about 30 minutes.  For the last five minutes you can stir in some shredded coconut if you fancy – it will burn if you put it in sooner. You want the granola bits hard and brown but not burnt.

When cool, you can stir through some dried fruit if you wish, then transfer to an airtight container. It will last for ages if you can keep your hands off it.

 

Mealtime Mission

I love cooking but find family mealtimes can be exasperating and exhausting. If I didn’t have three fussy what-nots to appease each day, I’d be a whole lot more adventurous. It’s very soul-destroying to labour over something to have your offspring pick and sneer at it, even if I know you’re supposed to put new things in front of them 28 times, (or whatever), before they try it. As if.

Oh well, New Year, new optimism. From time-to-time I try dishes where gurus such as Annabel Karmel swear they’ve ‘never met a child who doesn’t like it.’ Well, that’s a load of rubbish too. But there’s also a thinking that the more the kids get involved in the kitchen, the more likely they are to try new things.

So, on that note, my 10-year-old received a lovely book for her birthday, Nadiya Hussein’s  Bake Me a Festive Story, which, like Nadiya, is charming and down-to-earth. It’s peppered with interesting little illustrations, stories and recipes ranging from the simple to the more demanding. My daughter, who likes a bit of a challenge, wants to cook the Festive Nut Roast BY HERSELF.

Although it’s vegetarian, this also kills another bird, so-to-speak, as I’m on a mission to use up our Christmas surplus, and it’s ticking that box nicely. My sons, who both love nuts, have already turned their noses up at the concept. I’ll let you know.

Going palm oil-free?

I’m sure many of you saw this moving and thought-provoking ad from Iceland over Christmas – not on TV, as it was deemed ‘too political’, but on social media. Here’s the YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdpspllWI2o

I applaud Iceland for being the first UK supermarket to take a stance in this way – their own-brand products now contain no palm oil – and this fact has certainly encouraged me to shop there.

It’s made me think carefully about avoiding palm oil where we can. So, at the busiest time of year for our family in terms of grocery shopping (and pretty much everything else), I’ve also been scrutinising ingredients labels on the food we’re needing to buy.

In my experience, products such as biscuits, crackers and cakes are major culprits and whilst the best way of avoiding palm oil is to bake these things from scratch, we don’t all have the time. So, choosing ‘all-butter’ varieties such as shortbread and butter biscuits is a helpful step.

Shopping at Alliance and Morrisons, I found some good snacky options:

And whenever we’re in France, we stock up on this brand of palm oil-free choc hazelnut spread.… But Nutella’s palm oil is at least sustainable, according to their website:https://lets-talk-quality.nutella.com/en/sustainable-palm-oil-nutella

It takes a bit of time and effort, and a brief search on the internet for brands which are palm oil-free was a help. I found this little list of brands which use sustainable palm oil, and thought you might find it helpful too:

shoppinglist

I’d love to hear about your own efforts to go palm oil-free in Guernsey… And I haven’t even started looking at things such as shampoos and conditioners, which can also be palm oil offenders. Have you?

Showtime with Gandeys Circus

It was the Royal Wedding day – and a stunning one at that, but that didn’t deter a fantastic crowd turning out for Gandeys Circus on Saturday afternoon. We were treated to some great grandstand seats, and thoroughly enjoyed a good two hours’ thrilling family entertainment.

As we arrived at the site near the old Bowl, there was a lot of traffic piling out from the previous matinee performance, so we had to be patient, but it was so worth the wait. I noticed that the clever ones had cycled there. Noted!

The set inside the colourful big top was intriguing – cables, trapezes and mini ladders everywhere; all would soon come to life after the sparkly opener.

First up were the incredible (and extremely muscular) Havana Troupe, and we were soon introduced to Andrea, the cheeky and loveable clown who would call on a number of ‘willing volunteers’ from the audience and keep us all entertained during scene and equipment changes. The Portuguese juggler astounded us with his dexterity… juggling tennis racquets, and catching juggled balls from on high in little pockets on his belt!

The award-winning hire-wire artists truly took my breath away. My heart pounded and I could barely watch those daredevils, who balanced on a chair and rode a bike (yes, really) across a wire seven metres above the ground, with no safety net. It was genuinely challenging, definitely dangerous and I was very relieved when it was over!

We had a bit of light relief before the next adrenaline rush, in the form of the trapeze artists – the Flying Havanas. Their awe-inspiring performance culminated in a BLINDFOLDED triple somersault and ‘double passage’ where they pass within inches of each other and somehow land in each other’s arms safely. I wasn’t surprised to hear that one of the guy’s names was Danger. That adrenaline gene must run in his family.

I loved the acrobatic artistry and core strength of the aerial artists and my son enjoyed the stunt biker who wowed us with his balancing expertise – involving a park bench and a brave fellow performer/hurdle who took it all in her stride.

Andrea did a lovely job of getting three volunteers from the audience to perform a Star Wars-esque Attack of the Clowns (and they stepped up to the mark admirably).

The grand finale took the form of the legendary Double Space Wheel – a large rotating structure consisting of four separate person-sized wheels, three of which were manned by a running person within. Sadly one artist had had a bad fall earlier in the week from one of these wheels, but thankfully escaped serious injury and came on stage to say hello. The show must go on, and go on it did. I was already very impressed by the ‘wheel-walking’, which looked dangerous enough to me, but when they started skipping on the OUTSIDE of the wheels and walking – BLINDFOLDED – well that was the cherry on the cake!

We left feeling really uplifted; what a great time we’d had and what a professional and memorable show it had been. Thank you, Gandeys, and please come back next year!

 

Roll up, roll up! It’s circus-time

This time next week, I’ll be at Gandeys Circus with my family at St Sampson’s, opposite the track. We didn’t get there last time, but heard lots of great things about it. This year it’s their Greatest Showmen Tour.

What’s your favourite act? Is it the acrobatic aerial performers, the hire wire walkers, jugglers or the Double Wheel of Death you’re looking forward to? Perhaps you’re looking forward to seeing Europe’s leading female clown or the cheeky ringmaster? I can’t wait for some good old-fashioned fun, mixed in with some stunning, and death-defying performances. Glad it’s them, and not me.

Gandeys Circus has been touring since 1943 and this year is being put on by the family’s fourth generation. And my family’s certainly very excited to be going.

The circus is on here from Monday 14th May – Sunday 20th May, with various performance times to choose from. We’re going to the Saturday matinee, and I’ll do a review of it here, but by then it’ll be almost too late to go in Guernsey… So make sure you get your tickets now. You can book here, or call 0871 705 5507. Alternatively, the box office opens on site tomorrow (Sunday 13th May, 9.30am-8pm).

There are posters and flyers all ’round the island at the moment. If you pick up a flyer you can also get a special deal on the ticket price.

In their words, Gandeys Circus is ‘bringing together world-class performers, new and innovative presentation techniques and unparalleled sound, lighting and costumes, all staged within a state-of-the-art Big Top – it’s no wonder that Gandey’s is now firmly established as the UK’s premier touring circus.’

Just six sleeps to go!

GO GO GO Joseph!

We’ve had a busy season ’round here with the Guernsey Eisteddfod – with countless classes in Music, Speech, Drama, French and Arts & Crafts including a bit of family involvement – and just a teensy weensy bit of pride on my part – *sniff*. So many islanders really get involved and give the Eisteddfod their support, and I loved seeing the few classes that I managed to get to.

I never cease to be blown away by the incredible pool of talent we have here in Guernsey. I’m going to resist saying  that we ‘punch above our weight,’ because that phrase really annoys me, but you know what I mean. In sport, music, the performing arts…you name it!

We’re barely out of another incredible Eisteddfod season, and here GADOC are with their latest, wonderful production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. With quite a few, fresh-out-of-the-Eisteddfod faces too. How do they fit it all in, I wonder?

We had the privilege of a) actually getting tickets (as ever, it was a sell-out) and b) seeing the first performance. And it was jaw-droppingly good.

The choreography was first class, the singing and acting flawless and the costumes stunning. It was lovely seeing the 21 youngsters in the choir integrated with the ‘older’ cast members and I seriously had to stop myself from joining in with the iconic numbers. Not that it would have really mattered.

If you haven’t got tickets, I’m sorry, but for those lucky ones who have, you’re in for a treat.

Aquatic surprises

We had an afternoon with Grandma and were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I’d never been to the Guernsey Aquarium before but had heard that it had had a major refurb, so we gave it a go. I’m rather pleased we did.

My 11-year-old was grumpily adamant he didn’t want to ‘go and stare at a load of boring fish’ and trudged sullenly along. By the end of our very pleasant hour or so he was entranced and had taken ownership of my phone.  It turned out to be a great little place for our different age ranges.

We particularly loved the mini eels (adorable), the graciously sweeping rays and the camo-ready brill, and a couple of empty tanks meant that some exciting big fishies might be on their way soon. Our 3-year-old was given a little step so he could enjoy everything his siblings did. The aquarium is good value too – only £5 for adults, £4 for OAPs and £3 for children, and if you buy 4 tickets the 5th is free. They are open daily and even offer children’s parties.  It’s a great space which has been done really well. They even offer fishy pedicures – I’m not sure whether the advertised ‘2 minute taster session’ is meant to be funny, though…

 

 

 

 

Caring Café

My daughter spent yesterday evening fiddling around with an origami book and a stash of gorgeous paper squares, so she was tickled pink when we arrived at the Caritas Community Café in Town this morning to discover their perfect display of delicately folded paper cranes in the window.

It’s a wonderful community initiative, run by volunteers, and the inclusive welcome those people provide is heartwarming.  We’ve always been made to feel at home. The food and drinks are home-cooked and very good value (my coffee and three hot chocolates came to £5), and the philosophy is that, if you can, you pay a bit extra to pay ahead for someone less fortunate than you.  Continue reading