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Under a Blood Moon, Michael Andrews

underabloodmoon

I really enjoyed this book.

It is not the genre I would usually read but I was pleasantly surprised. It was an easy read, light, fast-paced and imaginative.

I particularly enjoyed the mix of vampire lore with other fantasy concepts and modern day crime fiction.

The characters were unexpectedly engaging and I read quickly wanting to find out what happened to them.

 

I loved the idea that there is an intricate underworld of vampires, vampire hunters and witches just beneath the surface of our ordinary lives.

I would recommend it, especially for young adults, and plan to read the others in the series when I get through my current reading list. For the genre, I would have given 5 stars were it not for the fact that on occasion it felt a little rushed and some incidents were glossed over a little as the story jumped to the next stage.

Pho, Grand Central, Birmingham

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Fresh, clean, authentic and good value.

Stephen and Juliette Wall fell in love with pho after a trip to Vietnam and came home and built a brand around it. Their first restaurant opened in London in 2005 and they now have branches all over the country. Pho reached Birmingham in 2015 when the successful Vietnamese street food chain opened a branch in Grand Central.

Like the Walls, we became pho-lovers following a trip to Vietnam. We knew about Pho but were put off by our snobbish assumptions about the likely poor quality of chain restaurant food. How wrong we were!

Situated on the upper mezzanine, overlooking the concourse, the restaurant is always busy. Expect to queue, but turnover is fast so it won’t be for long. As we waited, our fears about the food were instantly dispelled as we watched a couple of young chefs deftly rolling a batch of handmade spring rolls. The menu is simple. A few appetisers and sides, broken rice, a couple of additional rice and noodle dishes, salads and pho, lots of pho!

I started with summer rolls. Fresh, cool, crunchy vegetables wrapped in a soft, wafer-thin rice paper with nuoc cham dipping sauce, a mixture of fish sauce and lime. My partner had light, crispy chicken wings with sriracha, a fierce garlic and chilli paste. We both had pho to follow. He had spicy chicken and I tofu and mushroom, big bowls of steaming sweet, sour and salty broth, and soft slippery noodles. You can choose between flat pho or round bun noodles. Personally, I think the flat noodles are easier to negotiate with chopsticks reducing the splash factor.

The selection of condiments on the table is essential to the experience. A key principle of Vietnamese cooking is to make your food taste the way you want it to by adding sauces, garnishes and seasoning. Options include fish sauce, sriracha and homemade garlic and chilli paste or vinegar. Every bowl of pho is served with a side of fresh chillies, herbs and beans sprouts.

To drink, my partner had Saigon Beer and I had mint tea. Handfuls of fresh mint packed into a mug and covered with boiling water to create an explosion of palate-cleansing flavour. My real guilty pleasure in Vietnam was the coffee. Rich, strong coffee served with condensed milk in a battered metal mini drip-filter over a glass. Not how I would usually have my coffee, but utterly delicious and indulgent. Even here, Pho did not fail. Apart from the pristine, shiny drip-filter, I could have been back in Vietnam.
The service is good and the staff friendly and helpful, especially for diners who are new to Vietnamese cuisine. Pho is a fast food concept and there is a certain expectation that you won’t want to hang around. Our bill was presented to us before we had a chance to order our coffees.
If I was to choose one word to sum up Pho it would be authentic. Everything smelled and tasted just as I remembered it in Vietnam. The two Vietnamese girls at the table next to us, live-streaming footage of their food back home, were a testament to that.

Food 4/5
Service 4/5
Ambience 4/5
Overall Value 4/5
OVERALL 4/5

Discover the real Barbados!

Are you one of the many people who have visited Barbados for a holiday and, in the usual way, booked your trip through a travel agent and spent a couple of weeks in an all-inclusive, beach-front resort hotel?

IMG_0171We’ve been regular visitors to Barbados for over a decade now and it saddens me when I hear people say they have been to the island, but have rarely ventured beyond the confines of their hotel. Barbados is a country with a rich and interesting history and culture. There is much more to experience there, than simply lying on the beach all day. The local people are hugely proud of their beautiful island and are warm and welcoming to visitors who make the effort to explore its charms.

If you’re thinking of visiting Barbados and want to see more than the view from your sun-bed, taste some real Bajan food and drink, meet Bajan people and have a totally authentic Caribbean experience, why not think about travelling independently? It’s easy, fun and safe and, better still, can be less expensive than the typical all-inclusive package.

Getting There

British Airways and Virgin fly direct to Barbados every day from Gatwick, and Virgin now operate flights from Heathrow on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Expect to pay between £500 and £600 per person for a return flight, but sometimes more in peak periods. It is possible to pay less with some of the budget airlines if you are prepared to make a couple of stops. However, by the time you have paid extra for your seat, your bags and food and entertainment for the eight hour journey, these apparent savings are often diminished.

When to Visit

IMG_0223People often ask what time of year is the best to visit Barbados? Personally, I’d be happy to visit Barbados at any time of year. The temperatures are constant, in the high twenties all year round. Being a tropical island, rain showers are common all year but rarely troublesome enough to drive you indoors. The official wet season is between June and December and the dry season during our winter, between January and May, which is the peak tourist season. However, prices can be high and the island busy during the dry season, and it’s sometimes worth risking the odd shower or two to get a better deal.

The Crop-Over Festival begins in July and reaches its peak in August, and this is when the island is at its busiest and prices at their highest. This is the period that we tend to avoid but, if you like that sort of thing and don’t mind the crowds, Crop-Over is a vibrant and colourful spectacle that revellers travel from all over the world to take part in.

Accommodation

There are a multitude of villas and apartments available to rent all over the island. We prefer to use websites that allow you to book private properties directly through the owner, avoiding the additional fees and charges that come with booking through a travel company or agent. A good place to start is www.homeaway.com. We have been using them for years, have stayed in some beautiful properties and have never been disappointed.

Where to Stay

So, where on the island should you stay? There are three distinctly different areas to choose from.

The luxurious and expensive west coast is where most people head on their first visit. It’s easy to see why. Calm turquoise seas, white sandy beaches and a plethora of luxury hotels and high-end shops and restaurants, combine to make a popular playground for the rich and famous. The downside is that it can be crowded, and drinks and food are a bit pricey compared to other areas.

The south coast is the other main tourist area but is less expensive than the west. The capital, Bridgetown, is situated on the south coast and the area is considerably more built up and crowded than other parts of the island. It has its merits though, including a good choice of shops, bars and restaurants. If you are going to Barbados for the nightlife, the south coast is the place for you.

We have fallen in love with the wild and rugged beauty of the Atlantic east coast. The north east is remote and impractical for shopping, eating out and getting around the island, but the south east corner is ideally located for the airport and the main road network. Rental accommodation is plentiful and reasonably priced. A three-bedroomed villa with a private pool can cost between £2000 and £3000 for two weeks, depending on the time of year and the location.

Getting Around

Without a doubt, to see the best of Barbados you’ll need to hire a car. This can be expensive, usually around £500 per week, so we prefer to shop around and book in advance online, often opting for one of the smaller, family run businesses like MAH Cars who provide more flexibility and a personal service. You can pick up your car at the airport but most companies will deliver to your accommodation when convenient, avoiding that stressful jet-lagged journey from the airport on unfamiliar roads.

Self-Catering

IMG_0139The joy of a self-catering holiday for us is the opportunity to make the most of the local produce. One of the first things we do after we arrive is take a trip down to the fish market at Oistins. You can buy a whole Mahi Mahi (known as Dolphin in Barbados), Tuna, Shark or Swordfish, depending on what the catch brought in that day, and get the fish monger to fillet it and cut it into steaks for you, for about £20. Pick up some home-grown vegetables at one of the roadside stalls and pop into the local supermarket for some Bajan staples and a bottle of Mount Gay rum and you will eat and drink like locals.

Eating Out

If you fancy a break from cooking and, let’s face it, washing up, there is no shortage of places to eat out. But please, try some of the local eateries that serve traditional Bajan food and are much better value that some of the international restaurants. Some of our favourite places include:
Oistins Fish Fry – next to the fish market, several open-air food stalls serve freshly grilled fish, rice n’peas, coleslaw and macaroni pie. On Friday and Saturdays the entertainment here goes on until the wee hours. (average £10 p.p.)
Fishermans Pub – situated in Speightstown up on the north west coast, this little seafront establishment serves delicious Bajan food day and night in a “rustic” environment. (average £10 p.p.)
Atlantis Hotel – for a special treat why not try their Sunday traditional West Indian buffet in an elegant setting with stunning views over the wild Atlantic. (average £30 p.p.)

Beaches

The west coast is famous for its white sandy beaches but there are beautiful beaches all over Barbados. We love these two in particular:
• Miami Beach – on the south east corner near Oistins and, while frequented by the locals, never crowded – this is our absolute favourite. It has everything – soft sand, calm seas, shady trees, and a food van that serves rum punch and flying fish sandwiches.
• Foul Bay – an absolutely stunning east coast paradise. Usually deserted and unsuitable for swimming due to the rough seas, this is wonderful place for a walk or simply basking in the sun taking in the power and beauty of the ocean.

Things to See and Do

IMG_0456Apart from beaches, the list of other things to do in Barbados is endless. Here are just a few suggestions:
• Races – have a day out at the Bridgetown Races on selected Saturdays
• Drive In –enjoy two movies for £5 at the outdoor cinema near Christchurch
• Seaside walks – all beaches are public access in Barbados. Walk the south coast Boardwalk or the west coast beaches from Paynes Bay to Holetown. Pop into the sea to cool off, or stop for an ice cold beer whenever the mood takes you.
• Catamaran Trip – no trip to Barbados is complete without a catamaran trip. Morning or afternoon excursions include unlimited rum punch, a Bajan buffet and swimming with turtles. One of the best is http://www.coolrunningsbarbados.com

So why not give it go? Experience the real Barbados! Have an authentic experience, save money and support the islands’ economy at the same time. Go independent on your next trip to this wonderful island!

Hornington Manor

Last weekend we went to a wedding. For us weddings are a bit like buses. We haven’t been to one for years and then, last year, our best friends got married and, this year, we were invited to the marriage of the son of a good friend.
When we were young, it felt like we were at a wedding every other weekend all through the spring and summer. Now, the formal ceremonies we attend on a regular basis tend to be of a more sombre nature.
The wedding last weekend took place at Hornington Manor, a “barn wedding venue”, on a working farm in rural North Yorkshire. It honestly was a truly delightful concept. As far as I could tell, the bride and groom rented the entire venue for the whole weekend. The “entire venue” consisted of a 19 bedroom Manor House, extensive, incredibly pretty grounds, and the Wedding Barn.
The accommodation is divided up into different sections, each with its own kitchen and sitting area. The Grade II listed Manor House dates back to 1770 and has been tastefully restored to provide luxury self-catering accommodation. It retains many of the original features including medieval ceiling beams, hooks for servants’ bells in the kitchen, deep wells and ancient cooking ranges.
The beds were dreamily comfortable and, it turns out, the mattresses are made from hemp grown on the farm. Hemp, apparently, does not require the use of pesticides in its cultivation and has naturally thermodynamic properties making it ideal as a mattress stuffing. Better still, the waste produce from the hemp processing is recycled as biomass fuel to heat the property. The mattresses can be bought at John Lewis or directly from the farm for their wedding clients.
The “whole weekend” consisted of the bride and groom, their family and a few close friends spending Friday night to Sunday afternoon together at the venue. It was relaxed, informal and a very contemporary concept, having everyone all together in this way, both before and after the wedding itself.
The only downside of the approach, for me at least, was the amount of work involved in self-catering for forty people. Everyone seemed to be rushing around preparing food, washing dishes and tidying up almost constantly throughout the weekend. I should say that nobody seemed to mind, and everybody mucked in with a smile on their face. I bet they were all exhausted in Monday though.
The wedding was part DIY and part catered. I believe that Hornington Manor wedding clients have the option of engaging external suppliers that are recommended by the venue, for as much or as little of the occasion as they desire. This enables them to balance their budget and how much they are prepared to do themselves. On this occasion, it seems that, apart from the catering at the wedding itself, they organised most things themselves including post-ceremony canapés and cocktails and all the decorations and table linen.
The result was a wonderfully unique and beautiful event. The bride and the bridesmaids looked stunning, the ceremony was warm and personal, the food was delicious, the speeches were sweet and funny, the accommodation was luxuriously comfortable and even the weather was fantastic.
Thanks to Dave and Jackie and Ben and Danielle for the privilege of letting us share your special day with you!

 

This Blog

When I made the decision to try and make a living out of my writing, everyone told me I needed a blog.
Really?
Well yes, they’re probably right. If I am trying to sell my services as a writer, what better way to showcase my skills?

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588 (1).jpgThat then raises a whole load of other questions. What to write about? How often to post? How long or short should the posts be? What style should I write them in? What will people want to read about? What is a blog anyway? Who is it for? What is its purpose?

For days my head was buzzing with questions like these. It was a phrase in Module 6 of my Writers Bureau Copywriting Course, that finally silenced the voices in my head. It said, a blog is “a bit like an online diary”. I liked that description. It takes all the pressure away, relieves one of the need to conform, to do it right.

And so, this blog is essentially going to be an on-line diary that showcases my writing. There!

I hope that’s ok? I hope that at least some parts of it will be of interest to some people.

One of the features of WordPress is that it allows you to sort your posts into categories. I like that too. It allows me to write about lots of different things in my “on-line diary” but to categorise them so that my readers can choose the bits that interest them the most.

I have chosen some initial categories that represent the things that interest me, the things that that I’d like to write about and the things that I think will help to showcase my writing. I should clarify at this point, that what I mean when I talk about showcasing my writing, is simply about sharing examples of my writing so that any prospective clients can get a feel for whether they want to work with me or not.

The categories I have chosen are;
• About Me – articles about me, my family and friends and my hobbies and interests
• Creative Writing – examples of, and links to, my creative writing
• Food and Drink – anything relating to food and drink including recipes and restaurant
• Travel – holidays and travel experiences including reviews of locations, hotels, destinations and travel companies
• Local News – as my main target client groups are local, small to local business, this category will include stories about local events, communities, businesses and organisations
• Reading – books I have read and want to read including reviews
• Writing – general articles about writing and my own endeavours to earn money from writing

So there it is…now to start writing and posting and see where it takes me…

Ye Olde Pounde Café is 50!

Ye Olde Pounde

Anyone who has lived in the Solihull area for a while, will know Ye Olde Pounde Café at the top of Liveridge Hill, just north of Henley-in-Arden. Famed for its all-day breakfast, it’s been there for so many years that it has become a much-loved local landmark. Frequented by business people during the week, and by walkers and cyclists at the weekend, it is bright, clean and friendly and serves inexpensive, good quality, home-cooked food.

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The Connors

Founded in 1968, in 2018 Ye Olde Pounde celebrated 50 years in business, which is no mean feat in this day and age. During that time, it has been run by just two families. The current owners, Malcolm and Sherry, who have had it for 14 years, bought it from Mrs Connor, who had managed it for the previous 36, with the help of her two daughters, Angie and Kate. Mrs Connor originally bought the business with her husband. Mr Connor, an ex-marine who had a haulage company and was already familiar with the popular “transport café”. When it came up for sale, he persuaded his wife to give up her job as a typist and run it with him. After only seven years, Mr Connor sadly passed away leaving his young wife and daughters to carry on without him. Mrs Connor, now a sprightly 90 year old, who has tragically outlived both her daughters, still lives in Henley just five minutes down the road from the café.

Early History

Although it’s officially only 50, in reality Ye Olde Pounde is much older. Mrs Connor believes there was a catering establishment, of one form or another, on the site for many years before she took over. The house attached to the café was built in 1907 and locals recall an eatery being there during the First World War. At the turn of the century, it is thought that a café on the site catered to the needs of cyclists and early automobilers. Even further back, records suggest that the location was a gathering place as much as three hundred years ago, when the Henley-in-Arden medieval pounde is thought to have been on the site, hence the name, Ye Olde Pounde. In the 17th century the location was probably the turning place for the cockhorses that assisted carriages up Liveridge Hill on their way on to Birmingham.

Recent History

In more recent times, Ye Olde Pounde has been a thriving roadside café for as far back as anyone can remember. In the 70s and 80s the A34 provided a steady stream of customers travelling between the West Midlands and the South. During the construction of the M40 the café was the busiest it had ever been and Mrs Connor had to employ extra staff to cope with demand. Inevitably, the ascendance of the M40 as the main route south, and the downgrading of the A34 to the A3400, had a negative impact on trade. But, despite some challenging times, Mrs Connor and her daughters clung on and gradually built a new clientele from nearby businesses and passing trade.

Famous Visitors

That passing trade often included some very famous visitors in search of a good ‘Full English’. In particular, Mrs Conner remembers serving The Stranglers, The Three Degrees and Cliff Richard.

Sherry and Malcolm

By 2004, when Sherry and Malcolm bought it, the café had become a popular breakfast and meeting spot for field based workforces from the likes of Lucas and MEB. Indeed, Sherry and Malcolm both worked for Lucas themselves, prior to taking it on. While some of that business has since disappeared as the economic landscape in the Midlands has changed, new groups of customers always seemed to have emerged to save the day. Today the majority of customers are local tradesmen, travelling sales representatives and business people. The good Wi-Fi network makes it an ideal location to stop and catch up with some emails in between meetings.

Menu

The interior is fresh and airy, skylights flooding the space with natural light. Food is prepared behind the counter, in full view of the diners, on a large, spotlessly clean stainless steel range. The menu is simple: breakfasts, hot and cold sandwiches, jacket potatoes and a few British standards like pies, lasagne and fish and chips. The tea is divine!

Opening Hours

Ye Olde Pounde is open every day except Sundays from 6.30am until 3pm (2pm on Saturdays). So, the next time you are passing, why not pop in for a cuppa and a bacon sarnie? Better still, make a special trip there for a Saturday morning breakfast treat!

Jackie Small Writing Services (JSWS)

So, I’ve finally done it! Last week I completed the Writers Bureau Copywriting Course and this week I’m finally setting up my own freelance writing business, Jackie Small Writing Services (JSWS).

I don’t plan to launch the business (or this web-site) until the 6th of April, the start of the new 2019/2020 tax year. I finished work on the 1st of March and get my final payment on the 28th. After that things will get real and I’ll be officially self-employed.

So far, I have;
• Bought a new computer
• Joined the Association of Freelance Writers
• Created a Swipe File
• Attended a number of LHH courses on Starting Your Own Business
• Bought my domain name from GoDaddy
• Bought my hosting and CMS from WordPress
• Bought a couple of books – WordPress All-In-One for Dummies and WordPress for Beginners 2019
• Started to build my web-site
• Created my own simple logoJSWS Logo 2
• Created my Letterhead
• Earmarked my business bank account
• Taken out Indemnity Insurance
• Set up an Accounts and Profit and Loss spreadsheet
• Updated my Linked In profile

Still to do are;
• Finish and launch my web-site
• Set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for JSWS
• Contact HMRC to register as Self-Employed
• Find an Accountant
• Further improve my Linked In page
• Create some Business Cards and A5 Flyers/Posters
• Register on Bark, Fiverr and Upwork
• Attend some local networking events
• Get out there and start selling my services!

WISH ME LUCK AND WATCH THIS SPACE!