On the tiles at The Vyne

Small son and I both enjoyed more than 300 years of history come to life when we were up on the roof at the Vyne near Basingstoke the other day.

The National Trust property is spending well over £5m on fixing the roof of this Tudor mansion and have installed a frankly incredible rooftop walkway allowing visitors to see the layers of history as they take the roof off and put it back on.


There’s a lift that takes you above the roof level so you can peer down at the work that is being carried out. A comprehensive walkway takes you all around the roof so you can see the work as it unfolds on the chimneys, tiles and stacks. Small son was impressed with that, but what was a very nice touch was the placing Lego workmen that you can find dotted around.

We also loved the opportunity to throw money down the drain – literally! Guests are invited to throw a pound coin (or smaller change as we didn’t have any!) down a drain pipe and you can hear it trundling its way down to the ground. Extraordinarily satisfying and we weren’t the only ones who thought so as this little invention has brought in something like £12,000!

As well as the chance to see the improvements as they happen, there’s a fabulous view over the estate and you can also design your own tile that will go up on the roof and should be up there for the next 300 years at least!

Highly recommend a visit to the roof and there are also some talks from the project manager over the next couple of months:


Making a splash at Thames Lido, Reading


If you know me (or if you’ve had a look at my hair), you’ll know that I am always looking for new places to swim. I find disused lidos and abandoned outdoor swimming pools extremely depressing – you just can’t help but think of all the history and memories that the place retains.


So when a pool is brought back from the brink, it’s truly cause for celebration. And that’s why I’ve kept a keen eye on the developments in Reading on the site of the former Kings Meadow Lido. The team behind the hugely successful Bristol Lido have now worked their magic on the site in Reading and have opened a beautiful little oasis called Thames Lido.


The site is right next to the Thames and dates back to 1902 when it was the ‘Ladies Swimming Bath’. Sadly the pool closed in 1974, but after three years of building work, it’s now a contemporary spa and restaurant.


I was so keen to get in to see it that I asked to be shown around by a lovely staff member who didn’t mind me oooohing and aaaahing all over the place.  It’s such a beautiful building and probably best to think of it as  an affordable spa rather than an outdoor pool. With a nod to its past and touches such as beautiful tiles, it’s bang up to date with the pool at the centre with the seating area around it.  You can book massages and other treatments and even have a Christmas party there. Thank you to everyone involved for preserving this bit of history and see you at the deep end!




Hungerford Literary Festival

If I could have attended all of the events on the programme, I would have done. I was lucky enough to get to three of the Hungerford Literary Festival events and without exception, each was exhilarating.

The theme of the festival was ‘journeys’ and these ranged from the local to the far-flung.  The first I saw on the Saturday morning was travel writer and journalist Tom Fort who gave a light-hearted talk on village life.


“You may be expecting a jolly jaunt in the style of Penelope Keith meets Bill Bryson, but this book is about something completely different,” he said.

 The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to preserve their village’s life while remaining modern and vital. This is an author who has written entertaining books about the A303 and also on lawnmowers, so it was great to see his equally witty, but forward-thinking take on development.

The next event we attended was travel supremo Alastair Sawday who talked on his new memoir Travelling Light; Journeys among special people and places. And while there were occasional references to his highlights of a career in globe-trotting, the talk focussed mainly on responsible tourism; highly topical in light of the recent backlash against tourists in Barcelona and Venice.

Last, but definitely not least was Jules Mountain who provided the finale to the Hungerford Literary Festival, with a nail-biting talk on his book Aftershock.

This was a fascinating, yet understated talk from a man who has cheated death on more than one occasion. After undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, the plucky engineer decided that he would put his physical ability to the test with an attempt at climbing Mount Everest in 2015. Midway through the expedition’s ascent, an avalanche hit, triggered by the infamous earthquake that devastated Nepal. He returned the following year and this time successfully reached the summit.




Armed with a slideshow and the actual suit and oxygen tank he used, this was an exhilarating  talk. It would have been hard to exit the Town Hall on that Sunday night without being inspired by this extraordinary story of survival and resilience. Profits from his book go to a cancer charity.



Hungerford has a post office again!



It’s been an interesting few months since the shutters came down in Martins on the high street. If you wanted to post a parcel or use any other post office facilities, you could head to Kintbury (which meant a bumpy cycle ride or two-hour there-and-back-again walk along the canal path) or Shalbourne; or use the makeshift post office in the library.

While it was kind of the people who ran this to provide the service, the hours were limited to a couple of lunchtimes a week and every time I tried it, I was met with a huge queue, an IT glitch, the inability to print a receipt, or annoyingly, a note on the door saying there was no service that day.


So when I saw a man on stilts striding up and down the High STreet at the weekend, I crossed my fingers that it was good news. It was! The post office is back! I can eBay again!


Hungerford Literary Festival



Just off to see Tom Fort talk on his new book The Village News; The Truth Behind England’s Rural Idyll as part of the Hungerford Literary Festival. I’m also suffering from a huge bout of wanderlust at the moment, so excited about the talk tonight from travel guru Alastair Sawday.

The theme for the weekend is ‘journeys’ and culminates with a talk tomorrow night from Jules Mountain who conquered both Mount Everest and cancer.

Check out the line-up here and I’ll take this opportunity to post a review I wrote on Will Self at the neighbouring Marlborough LitFest a couple of weeks ago 🙂


Will Self

Golding Speaker

Town Hall

Friday, 29th September.

“There’s barely anyone under 40 in here” observed novelist and journalist Will Self during his talk to a full Town Hall at the opening of the eighth Marlborough Literature Festival on Friday night.

The ‘ageing’ audience might well be a reflection of Self’s own protagonist Dr Zack Busner, who is now almost 80 in his latest work, Phone, the final novel in Self’s trilogy. The collection explores the inter-relationship between psychopathology, warfare, and technology. Each of the three novels explores emerging technologies and how they can ruin our collective mental health.

The consequences of this are all around us, Self says. In Phone, Busner is in the early days of dementia.

“Pathologies that have come to the fore are Alzheimers and Autism – things that we’d barely heard of 25 years ago. Now they’re all we hear about.”

The first in the series, Umbrella, tells of Busner’s interactions with encephalitis lethargica sufferers and “awakening” them using the drug L-Dopa. Shark is named after the fate of the Indianapolis. This was the ship that delivered the nuclear bomb that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima. More than a thousand of its crew perished in after being torpedoed by the Japanese – languishing in the water in a shark attack, some say, as punishment for their part in the war.

Fittingly for a literature festival, he also talked movingly on the future of books. Fans of the printed word will be reassured to hear that in 2016, sales of physical books increased. But Self says literature is losing its place in society and claims the increase is ‘cannibalistic’ as many of these titles were written by vloggers.

Self wasn’t sure whether to take questions, citing “Brexit” as the reason why. One poor soul who argued the case for antidepressants got short shrift, putting paid to any other questions.

Self is a force of nature and his talk will be on people’s minds for a long time to come. A fitting opening for the Marlborough Literary Festival.



We didn’t really enjoy the five-a-side football sessions that small son took part in last year for a number of reasons. So when school offered outdoor training sessions, I had small son straight into the car and en route to the sports shop in no time!


The thing is though, no matter the location of the game, it’s small son’s complete disregard for the game and its rules that is the problem. I noted this as soon as I saw him put his brand new shinpads on his arms. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I tried to help him put them on his shins (the clue was there all the time, my friends!), he told me off for messing about with his (and I quote) “shin PANTS”.

There was no time to waste though, as I then had to help with the shoelaces which is a skill he has not quite mastered. This of course, had to wait until we’d had a row about whether to wear trousers or shorts.  When I used to play football, we played in shorts, no matter what the weather. I remember playing in snow and even below freezing, and the pain as the ball would smack the skin on your thighs which was preferable to playing in trousers which felt like running in treacle. If these trousers are up to your nipples as the exhibit in front of me though, it’s actually more akin to swimming in treacle.

As the session was about to start, I relented. There were two youngsters from our local football team who split the children by age.  That meant that it was the woman who took the 15 or so boys and girls who were just as clueless as small son.

All of the other parents disappeared, while I asked if I could watch. “I promise I won’t get involved” I joked.  I did manage to keep my feelings to myself for a bit but then realised I was face-palming and tutting when small son lost control of his ball and ended up in the other group for a while, before noticing that he was meant to be playing “stuck in the mud”, not keepy uppies.

Bravely, the staff member then organised a game. Not entirely sure that small son knew the aim of the game is to get the ball into the other goal, I watched in disbelief as he chased the ball all over the pitch but then run away screeching when someone passed it to him.

When I saw one of the other team slide the ball into the goal while small son played some air guitar, I disappeared into the car park to avoid an aneurism.  But small son was undeterred and when we got home, we had a fun kick about in the garden until one of us chipped the ball over into next door’s garden. No prizes for guessing which one of us it was…..




RIP William G Stewart – 15-1

We were sorry to hear about the death of William G Stewart. My dad and I both appeared on the hit quiz show 15-1 that he created, produced and hosted in the 1990s.

Needless to say, my dad did much better than I did. I got my own name wrong and was out before the advert break (which from memory tended to be for adjustable beds and Otex eardrops), but dad got to the last three and got hilariously difficult questions while the other two had such doozies as having to name this: Screenshot (15).png

Having played a game of 15-1 at the audition in Plymouth, I couldn’t believe that I was invited onto the show, until a friend helpfully suggested that “they must get through quite a lot of contestants, and they probably need some at the lower end of the spectrum”.  Thanks.

We travelled up to Putney and stayed overnight with other quizzers in a nearby hotel before heading to the studio the next day.  This was the 1990s, remember, so things were decidedly lo-tech, and I always wonder what it would be like to appear on the contemporary version with Sandi Toksvig.

Screenshot (13)

The studio is tiny and the audience was a handful of contestants’ guests sitting on some school chairs.  The set seemed to be held together by gaffer tap and was much smaller than it seems on TV. They applied A LOT of make up to my face, before inviting us to select your number from a hat (between 15 and 1, of course.  I was 8, which meant that I appear behind the quizmaster a lot looking terrified) and they check the spelling of your name. I was so scared, I went blank and this took ages.

I then recall that the man at number 7 asked me if I’d like a Polo mint and as I’m unfailingly hilarious, I said; “Just the middle please”. He looked completely confused and then got both of his starter questions wrong. My fault; I’ve been carrying that one for 20 years.

The man himself then came out and made us all feel at home. He was extremely charming and efficient; firm but fair.  During my dad’s programme, one contestant kicked up a fuss about getting his question wrong believing it to be ambiguous. Stewart told him to investigate and write back. “If we’re wrong, we’ll give £50 to the charity of your choice” he said.

He told me to relax my shoulders as “they are around your ears” and asked me my name. This was the first question I got wrong. “PLYMOUTH” I shouted.

The rest of the programme went by very quickly and I remember the horrible sensation of having to nominate people. The question that knocked me out was about “trompe l’oeil”. Twenty-year old me had never heard of it, but it’s a term I hear all the bloody time now. Thank God this was before the age of social media!

So William G has joined the great gameshow in the sky along with Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse. RIP and thanks for 15-1.






New patron for West Berkshire Mencap

West Berkshire Mencap has announced its newest charity patron – Josh Dugdale.

The filmmaker and owner of the Wasing Estate joins a list of famous patrons including actor Lorraine Chase and celebrity chef Daniel Galmiche who support the charity and raise awareness of the work it does for people with learning disabilities and their families.

Mr Dugdale has supported West Berkshire Mencap for years, but decided to become a patron recently owing to the enthusiasm and leadership of its chief executive Leila Ferguson.

He said: “West Berkshire Mencap is an amazing charity doing incredible work, and it’s a great honour to help. Without the key work that they do – staff, volunteers and families- I can see that there would be an enormous gap to fill, so it’s a privilege to lend support.”

Leila Ferguson added: “We are so grateful to all of our wonderful patrons and are excited that Josh is joining the team. He is a busy man and has such amazing experiences under his belt from founding the Glade Festival to documentary making that we’re thrilled to have him on board. We hope to collaborate with Josh to put on a fantastic Mad Hatter’s tea party in the ground of Wasing in the future to help raise funds for the charity.”

West Berkshire Mencap continues to organise fund-raising events in order to ensure the organisation can continue to provide services. Its next major events are a wine tasting event at Englefield on Friday, 29th September, a murder mystery event on Friday, 20th October, a quiz on Friday, 10th November and its annual race day in early 2018.


Northcroft Lido (and a whirlwind tour of other outdoor pools!)

19 Northcroft outdoor pool.jpg

So another season over too soon. I always have a mad panic in the final few days before Northcroft Lido in Newbury closes its doors, thinking that I must spend every spare minute in the water to avoid ‘swimmer’s remorse’*.

The weather has been hit and miss, but on hot days, there have been big crowds; it’s always heartening for me to see plenty of people on a cooler day. Much as I love having the pool to myself in the rain, we’d all much rather that the pool was well used!

So while Northcroft has closed early, we decided to venture a bit further to see what other lidos are in the area.

First up was CIRENCESTER which is a lovely 25m pool in the heart of the beautiful Cotswolds town dating back to 1869. There’s a gorgeous walk through the sandy brown streets to find it (because I couldn’t locate the car park) and it’s set under a stunning castle-like office building and most of the pool has been renovated. There’s a slide (that I was too old/fat) to go on and a reasonably big children’s pool.


Next was Cheltenham’s Sandford Parks Lido where I took small son who has been asking to return – he particularly fell in love with the slide!  This pool dates back to 1935 and is an art deco stunner with green spaces, a fountain, fantastic old school changing facilities and a huge café.



Next up was Portishead!



This is a glamorous affair. It put me in mind of how I used to picture the sea pool in Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books where the girls swam in a pool filled with sea water. Looking at the sea with a gorgeous café behind me, I honestly forgot about the stresses of life. As well as a swim in the 33m immaculately clean pool I was lucky enough to meet one of the trustees, who also happens to be the co-author of a forthcoming guide to every lido in the country. It needs a bit more support, but we NEED this, so check it out here:


*an as yet unrecognised condition!

The one where we go on the set of Friends

“So no one told you life was going to be this way…”


“And if you have a look in the freezer, you’ll find Joey’s Stephen King novel”.  For Friends fans, this sentence makes perfect sense set in the context of Chandler and Joey’s apartment referencing the episode where Rachel encourages Joey to read Little Women.

We were at Blenheim Palace on the set of Friends, celebrating the 236 episodes of a series that had a remarkable impact on hair dos, friendships, and even the way we speak: “Could I BE any more excited?” “That is SO not true!”

Small son of course had never heard of it, so our first stop at FriendsFest at Blenheim was to plonk ourselves  in front of a giant screen showing clips from all nine series. He loved it and ever since has  been quoting Joey in particular.



“The third day. All right? Monday, one day. Tuesday, two day. Wednesday, when? Huh? What day? Thursday! The third day! Okay?”



“Are you wearing two belts?”

After educating him in all things Friends, we looked briefly at the Lincoln High photo shoot and the Las Vegas chapel before launching straight into Central Perk where we sat on the sofa and pretended to sing “Smelly Cat”.



We then recreated the opening titles and then checked out Chandler and Joey’s reclining chairs and boat, the hallway and then Monica and Rachel’s apartment. It was great to see it, but we were among hundreds of other people so it didn’t feel particularly real.  The timed tour also gave fans the opportunity to see some of the costumes, including the ‘holiday armadillo’, plus the famous white dog statue and other props.


Small son was taken with the cop car and Phoebe’s taxi, while I was tickled by the quotes everywhere and the food options including Monica’s Moondance diner.

It was slightly pricey, but now small son is as obsessed as I am and the two of us haven’t stopped singing the theme tune since, so it must have been good.

Now sold out for the rest of the dates, the tour takes in Hylands House in Essex and then Clissold Park, London.