Category Archives: Travel

Author Interview: Geoffrey Paris

I recently read a memoir/true behind the scenes account of a hotel manager spanning over four decades. The book, “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” by Geoffrey Paris was an interesting account of how a shy and awkward young man coped with working long hours and being faced with embarrassing incidents from naked guests to drunken porters; and his gradual climb through the hospitality sector to become hotel manager, enduring fraudulent proprietors, incompetent waiters, con artist customers, prima donna popstars, royalty and love interests along the way. The book was an entertaining read, and it gave me an insight into the working lives of my own daughter who is a food and beverage manager (previously in hotels) and both my son and son in law who are both Head Chefs previously in hotels but both now cook in restaurants. I thought the book also gave an honest account of what to expect when working in the hospitality industry, especially useful if that is your intended career path. There is some swearing in the book and there are some adult themes discussed but neither are distracting the book flow. I received a complimentary copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” for review purposes and my views are 100% my own.

So, after reading the book I managed to get a chance to chat to Geoffrey
Paris about his memoirs. Hi Geoffrey and welcome…

Hello! I’m Geoff. Having enjoyed a 40 year career in hospitality, as a hotel manager, mainly in Devon & Cornwall, I have semi-retired from the rigours of the job to enjoy a bit of time for myself. Having attended weekly pottery classes, I was given the opportunity to teach pottery, which I still do once a week. I concentrate on modelling, mainly marine life and animals. After 6 months out of work, I began to miss the camaraderie of hotel life so went back full-time as a receptionist at a local hotel. Ironically I am therefore working 6 days per week. So much for semi-retirement!

What made you decide to write down your memoir & stories about life as a hotel manager?

I had always kept diaries as a teenager up to the age of about 30, which helped immensely once I started to write after a particularly bad experience as a Manager at a Torbay hotel. I felt the world needed to know what we went through.

Your book highlighted for me that there can be fun times, chaos, extreme hard work, stress, companionship and loneliness in following a hotel manager based career. What were your expectations about being a hotel manager before actually becoming a hotel manager? Was it better than you thought, or worse or just different?

I actually wanted to be a chef, perhaps aided by the fact that I was incredibly shy at the time, so would be kept out of the public eye. To my annoyance, my Dad, who was paying for my college education, forced me to study hotel management. Working as a member of staff in hotels was easy in the sense that responsibilities were minor. I looked at managers and how they operated (good and bad) but still thought it an impossible hill to climb. For instance how would I, a small shy person, tell a beefcake chef what to do? I have worked for some excellent managers, for whom you would do anything, as well as alcoholic and dishonest managers, who were impossible to respect..

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to relate than you expected?

Once in the mood, meaning no hangover, food and coffee easily available, no commitments that day, and several hours free, then I could go for it and the words just flowed. I enjoyed researching former work places on-line. Time was the main issue, what with the long hours worked in hotels, as well 6-day weeks on occasion. The editing and publishing process, with Mereo Books, being a totally new experience for me, was thrilling.

What main advice would you give a young person hoping to go into a hospitality career – aiming to become a hotel manager? What attributes do you think they should possess?

An HND or degree is one direction to start off, but chain hotels in-house training schemes are a good option, not afforded to me due to epilepsy, which in my younger days was regarded as a disability due to ignorance. You may have the opportunity to work overseas and meet some fascinating people. You may work long anti-social hours, but the rewards of seeing people enjoy themselves thanks to your hard work is satisfying. If you work your way up the ladder, which might at times be a challenge, you can end up at some marvellous hotels, have a good salary, and mix with the stars. Attributes – definitely a people person, positive, outgoing, eager to help others, and a can-do attitude. Patience, quick thinking, multi-tasking, and an eye for figures. Communication at all levels is a major factor. Understanding the needs of customers and staff.

So, we know you became a hotel manager, but as a child had you always wanted to have a career in the hotel trade or did you have other aspirations?

Yes I wanted to be a fighter pilot or work in submarines, but due to my epilepsy drugs, which as a teenager knocked me for six, could not pursue a career involving high academic standards. I couldn’t even become a chemist, which has always interested me. Chain hotels would not touch me, which nowadays would be classed as discrimination, so I was restricted to privately owned hotels. But I didn’t give up!

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

I don’t always have time to read, but since publishing my memoirs, all I read now are other memoirs/autobiographies. My favourite author is probably Thomas Hardy. ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ is a favourite. On holiday I might buy a thriller at the airport.

Is “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager” available to purchase worldwide?

Most definitely. Through Amazon, WH Smith, Waterstones, Blackwells, etc, as well as from my publisher Mereo Books.

When you are booking a holiday for yourself at a hotel – what criteria do you look for when choosing where to go?

I always read the Trip Advisor reviews, both good and bad, and form a general opinion. I prefer leisure facilities, a good food recommendation, and a hotel with character. I also check the booking.com prices (if listed) to compare the tariff. Location is fairly important.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

At home jeans and polo shirt. Slippers inside. At work, suit trousers, white shirt, tie, black shoes and socks.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Marks & Spencers where I buy all my clothes. Shoes from Clarks. Groceries/weekly shop stuff from Sainsbury’s.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Trainers, so I can go back in the gym…., but not in a hurry 😊 I need some more swimming shorts, different colours – from M&S.

Boots or Shoes?

Always shoes. I did have some boots once as a teenager, but it was too much of an effort putting them on/off. I can’t wear Wellington boots because I have smallish feet and large calves, so can’t get into a Wellington. If anyone knows where I can buy wider ones, please let me know!

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Website: www.geoffparis.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/geoff.paris.5
Twitter: http://Twitter.com/ParisGeoff

And for my ceramics: www.geoffparispottery.com

Instagram: www.parisgeoffpottery

Geoffrey Paris is the author of More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager – a candid, eye-popping memoir of more than four decades working in hotels, restaurants and pubs. Geoff’s book is published by Mereo Books (paperback, £12.99) and available through the publisher, book shops and internet booksellers.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Geoffrey Paris – apart the foodie photo which is by Linda Hobden showing food made by my eldest son Chef Dan!

My thanks to Geoffrey Paris for the review copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager”.

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Interview: True Business School

Head or Heart? When it comes to business, things tend to orientate around the head and gut with decisions made from the heart often dismissed as being over-emotional. However, founder of True Business School Kat Byles disagrees – she feels that following your heart within your business can transform your success. I caught up with Kat recently to find out more …. Hi Kat and welcome…

Hello I’m Kat, founder of the True Business School for creative leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, healers, artists who want to do business differently – business aligned with Source, your purpose and creativity, because this creates a happier, healthier, wealthier life, business and world. A few years ago, I followed my heart to the Caribbean Island of Antigua from Bath in the UK, and it has now become a home, in a village on the beach, with the sea as divine inspiration. 

What was the inspiration behind the setting up of the True Business School?

As a global communications director working with the biggest names in Sport I burnt out. I left with a desire to fulfil my purpose, make a contribution AND enjoy wellness, and time with my family and friends. 

My intuition guided me to Antigua, for a holiday or so I thought and, on the last day, I heard the words loud and clear: ‘You are not done. You need to come back for a month and float in this sea every day.’ I listened and went back 5 weeks later, walked barefoot on the sand, ate mangoes from the tree and floated in the sea every day. Nature restored my wellness and then began to feed me with inspiration. 

While swimming I clearly saw the True Business model in my mind’s eye – blending Source energy with the practical business structure – to create a business that is a full expression of who you are and what you came here for. The Caribbean Sea was the divine inspiration. 

What are the main differences between your approach to business and traditional business ideas? 

True Business leads with your creative spirit and orientates around the heart to fulfil your purpose and creative expression. 

Traditional business leads with profit and orientates around the head and gut, fulfilling shareholder returns. The heart is typically dismissed as airy-fairy, woo-woo, over-emotional, misguided, dangerous, weak. It is none of these things. 

The heart transcends the egoic mind, power struggles and agendas bringing connection, inspiration, vitality and wellness. The heart opens us to our higher nature of wisdom, compassion, understanding; into deep listening, intuition, receptivity and appreciation, which creates different outcomes. The heart liberates our true self, purpose, creativity, contribution and legacy. The heart is also a gateway to Source, universal energy and a world of possibility. 

By following the wisdom of our heart, we direct our energy and resources towards business structures that are expansive and yet regenerate and support flourishing and wellness. We create deep, authentic relationships. My experience is that the heart is deeply transformative and we build businesses more in harmony with our true nature, in harmony with the earth. 

You do run a business retreat in Antigua.  I know Antigua is a beautiful island, but why did you decide to base your school retreat in Antigua? 

My intuition guided me here. It’s the perfect place to immerse in nature, relax and receive pure source inspiration. It’s also relatively easy to reach with a relaxed, go-with-the-flow vibe. 

So, as we are talking Antigua, what would budding business entrepreneurs expect from your retreat if they attended ?

The space and time to relax, let go, and reconnect with Source, universal energy that delights in creating and dive deeply into your heart to explore what you are called to create now in your business – when we let the creative lead it is full of vitality, expansion and growth, personally and professionally. The retreat is guided by the needs of the people there but can include morning meditations, swimming in secluded bays, creative immersion sessions on shady beaches, walks to hilltops and sea horizons, yoga, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, massages, supporting local businesses and immersing in the natural local environment. 

Apart from your retreat in Antigua, can you give us some details about the courses offered online?

PR with Heart is an online course to grow your audience, visibility and impact for a thriving business and world.

Your True Business is an online course to align with Source, your purpose and creativity for a happier, healthier, wealthier business and world.

The Creative Leader is a year-long program for established business leaders to amplify their impact and visibility, leading transformation from the heart.

I also work one-to-one with a few clients each year via Zoom and in person in Antigua. 

As you have had vast experience working with entrepreneurs, pioneers and global brand, what projects gave you a real buzz? 

So many!

I love seeing creative and spiritual entrepreneurs, leaders, teachers, healers, artists, writers and coaches arrive at PR with Heart, daunted by visibility, frozen by overwhelm, repelled by marketing and then, after just 6 weeks, opening up to inspiration, flow and a simple structure that allows them to fulfil their purpose, make a contribution and an income with joy and ease. Witnessing this transformation, the creativityand inspiration will never get old. 

A shout out to the Homeless World Cup because of the transformation it created in the lives of people who were homeless coming off drugs and alcohol, reuniting with families, finding homes, setting up businesses, becoming leaders in their community. And for the magic we created, the people it attracted, the countries we visited, the magnitude of it. I got to work with high calibre creatives at Nike, UEFA, international film makers, media, designers and event producers. 

Commissioning a documentary narrated by Colin Farrell that made it to Sundance Film Festival and commissioning a feature film that, 14 years later, has just been made for Netflix, creating magical events with the likes of Desmond Tutu, Eric Cantona, Lewis Hamilton were highlights. But I’m always left with the memory of a man in Chile who had spent 8 years living in a doorway taking drugs, now standing in the doorway of his home next to his pregnant wife, telling his story to national TV, as a leader of the football program inspiring other homeless people off the streets. Powerful. This was also the burn out project! But it inspired me to a new experience of being in business and life in Antigua.

 In general, what reasons do your “students” give for wanting to learn or improve their business strategy and find their calling by following their heart when it comes to business?

They have a sense of, or are already connected, to a higher calling, a desire to express their creative potential, and make a contribution. They are not primarily motivated by the sport of profit-making, are repelled by greed, corruption, destruction of the environment excused as ‘just business’ and may have experienced burn out. They are also repelled and overwhelmed by pushy, sales, formulaic traditional marketing as a betrayal of their integrity and authenticity. 
So, they are looking for a different way to be in business, a new pathway. They want a business that fulfils their purpose, makes a contribution, provides them with a great income, plenty of time and space to be with their family and to be creative, and enjoy a life they love. True Business does that – by listening to your heart, you create a business that builds a structure that meets all your needs for a prosperous life. 

 As a child, what was your dream career?

I always felt I’d make a contribution to business but never had an idea of a particular career. Guidance at school was unimaginative nonsense with options of being an accountant, doctor, accountant, lawyer or a teacher. I still remember a careers test that recommended a career as a car park attendant or prison officer.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac where all the kids played on the street together. We organised dance performances and fetes that brought all the kids, parents, grandparents together. We loved organising it all, making up different stalls, drawing up the signage and promotional leaflets. My 10-year-old niece is doing it now – last year it was a cake business, this year it’s a jewellery business. And I love this creativity and life experience as a kid that blends into a business as an adult.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Bikinis, shorts, the odd shirt to throw over, maxi dresses with beautiful prints and flip flops.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love independent shops and online sites set up by people who are passionate about sourcing beautiful pieces and pay attention to sustainability like Tribe + Fable, established by Julia Watson. My Boutique in my Mum and Dad’s UK village in the UK, a family business is a wonderful part of the village community. And Portobello Boutique in English Harbour in Antigua run by Choy are my regulars

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Bikinis – can’t get enough, mix and match.

Boots or Shoes?

Barefoot or flip flops!

Boots after a year of barefoot for the funny heavy clodhopping sensation!

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Links you wish to share:

http://Katbyles.com

True-business-school.com

https://www.instagram.com/katbyles

What a picturesque place! Thank you for the chat Kat and long may the heart rule the Head!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kat Byles.

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An Interview With Author Martin Gore

British theatregoers relish the theatre all year round but at Christmas time, nothing can beat the lure of a traditional pantomime and at the height of summer, the seaside revues. The Cromer Pier Show is an iconic piece of British theatre that is of the standard of a London West End production. Author Martin Gore set himself a real challenge – a work of fiction set in a real place, namely Cromer Pier. Having written, to date, 9 pantomimes, 3 plays (and 3 novels), as well as dabbling in Amateur Dramatics himself, I believe Martin is possibly well placed to write such a book. And what a lovely, feel good read it is too! This book has it all : a goody, a baddy, a misunderstood, a love interest, a starlet, a has been and a hero. The ideal book to curl up and read during the Winter before planning your road trip to Cromer, of course. I caught up with author Martin to find out about the lure of Cromer …. Welcome Martin….

Hello, I’m Martin. I’m a 64 year old Accountant who semi-retired in 2015 to explore my love of creative writing. In my career I held Board level jobs for over twenty five years, in private, public and third sector organisations. I was born in Coventry, a city then dominated by the car industry and high volume manufacturing, but when I was nine years old I told my long suffering mother that as I liked English composition and drama I was going to be a playwright. She told me that I should work hard at school and get a proper job. She was right of course.

I started as an Office Junior at Jaguar in 1973 at eleven pounds sixty four a week. I thus grew up in the strike torn, class divided seventies. My first career ended in 2015, when I semi retired as Director of Corporate services at Humberside Probation. My second career, as a Non Executive Director, is great as it has allowed me free time to travel and indulge my passion for writing, both in novels and for theatre.

The opportunity to rekindle my interest in writing came in 2009, when I wrote my first pantomime, Cinderella, for my home group, the Walkington Pantomime Players. I have now written nine. I love theatre, particularly musical theatre, and completed the Hull Truck Theatre Playwrite course in 2010. My first play, a comedy called He’s Behind You, is now available on:

https://www.silverbirchingtonplays.com/product-page/he-s-behind-you-by-martin-gore

Pen Pals was my first novel, but the two that followed, The Road to Cromer Pier, and the newly published sequel, The Road from Cromer Pier, are based on family holidays as a boy, including trips to the end of the pier show, known then as the Summertime Special Show.

I’m an old fashioned writer I guess. I want you to laugh and to cry. I want you to believe in my characters, and feel that my stories have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfactory ending.

The Road From Cromer Pier” is the follow up book to your previous novel, “The Road To Cromer Pier” – although it can be a stand alone book –  the story is set in 2019 in Cromer.  How difficult was it to write a work of fiction based around and about a real place? 

Very difficult, for a number of reasons. When I approached the theatre in 2017 they kindly invited me to a meeting to discuss the current show, and I discovered that far from being an archaic piece of British theatre it was, in point of fact, a West End standard show. This in itself required a pretty fundamental rewrite as I needed to do justice to the show and its cast. Another practical difficulty were names. To inadvertently portray a person with the same name as a baddie was one of my biggest fears, so I went for relatively obscure names, and googled them first. On the other hand, readers who love Cromer love the story too, so being set in a real place does have an upside. Some places are renamed too – in particular you won’t find a Majestic Hotel in Cromer!

What was it particularly about Cromer Pier, Cromer and its Theatre that inspired you to write your novels?

My father was from Norwich, and we lived in Coventry, about as far from the seaside as you could get! So, for a seaside holiday Cromer was an inevitable choice, given his love of fish & chips and Cromer crabs. We stayed in several different holiday flats, included Mrs Rippingales on the sea front, called Bloomingdales bed and breakfast in the first book. As I grew older I came to love musical theatre as my father did. I’ve been involved in the Amdram world for sometime as a writer, sound technician and actor, so writing what started out as a play about the end of the pier show seemed interesting. I liked the idea of someone suddenly faced with a life changing disaster running away to a place where life was so much simpler, the safe haven of his childhood holidays.

I loved the variety of characters – are the characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ?  Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Having spent a good deal of my career in financially troubled companies I guess Tom Stanley is a bit autobiographical, so the business stuff in the book has a basis in first hand experience. Portraying his feelings for his wife in bereavement was very difficult of course, but comments I received suggest I pulled it off. As a male writer, writing female characters is inevitably challenging. The second book deals with stage fright and domestic abuse, so I researched those topics very carefully to make sure that the story line was credible. 

I had a soft spot for the widowed turnaround expert Tom and for Janet, Karen’s mother. Do you have favourite characters? 

Lech Wojiek is probably my favourite, as he makes a journey from hapless magician who could barely speak English at the start of the first book to successful mainstay of the show in the second. Lauren’s developing relationship with Cyril in the first book, in particular when he turned up at the railway station and talked her out of leaving, is probably my favourite moment, and it was the lack of Cyril’s back story that gave me the idea for the sequel, which I never intended there to be.

You have, so far, written 9 pantomimes, 3 plays and 3 novels. Were there any aspects of writing your Cromer Pier book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

To be honest I’m most surprised that I’ve written three full length novels at all! I’m delighted that they have been well rated on Amazon, and earned the lovely comments people have made about them. I learned a good deal through my first novel, and the work of my editor, Alice Bayton, who ruthlessly culled my tendency for repetition. I guess that commencing my writing journey with pantomime was a good way to start, given that you start with the framework in place. The most difficult pantomime to write was Beauty and the Beast, because there is no natural comedy in the story, but it’s still my favourite. Hearing people laugh at what you write is simply wonderful. My biggest frustration is that I haven’t managed to get the play version of the first Cromer Pier book performed, but I haven’t given up yet!  

If “Cromer Pier” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Tom,Karen, Lionel, Cyril  ? What about the singers, Hannah & Amy?

Well obviously, they’d need to be Britain’s greatest! Emma Thompson as Janet? Bill Nighy as Cyril? Jim Broadbent as Lionel? Lily James as Amy? Colin Firth as Tom? Kate Beckinsale as Karen? Kate Winslet as Hannah? Well, I can dream!  

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you have other aspirations? 

Only as a nine-year-old, then the reality of earning a living and raising a family took over, and I don’t regret that. As a council house kid who made it from Office Junior to Director, I’m committed to building aspirations and life chances of our young people, and launched the ‘Song for Hull’ project as part of HullCity of Culture, linking schools with NHS careers via a rock concert experience. The last one featured 400 kids and an audience of 1100 at Hull’s Bonus Arena.

Are you a  bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

No, I’m not really. I tend to read more biographies to be honest, on ebook. When I read fiction, I tend to go to Hailey, De Mille and Goddard, but my wife is trying to broaden my horizons. My writing is rather Archer like by way of genre; family sagas with lots of interwoven story lines.

Is “The Road from Cromer Pier”  available to purchase worldwide?

Yes indeed, via the mighty Amazon.

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Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Smart casual is a far as I go really, even for Teams meetings in my Non-Executive board meetings. I haven’t worn a suit in two years, and I don’t like formal wear like DJ’s. I do have a couple of formal pairs of shoes, one brown and one black, but I mainly wear casual now.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I wear a lot of Crew, but I do like shopping, unusually for a bloke. I like independent shops, and Jarroldsin Norwich and Cromer have stocked my books when others will only accept orders. I like to support the smaller guys whenever I can.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

To be honest I daren’t buy any trousers as I’ve put on some lockdown weight and won’t admit it! My golf shoes are pretty near worn out, so my trusty Echo’s need replacing. I have big size eleven feet with a wide fitting!

Boots or Shoes? 

I only have walking boots, so casual shoes are all I need now.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

www.martingore.co.uk / @authorgore on twitter / Martin Gore on facebook / instagram

Fabulous chatting to you Martin! Thank you for the copy of The Road From Cromer Pier for reviewing.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Martin Gore.

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An Interview With Travel Expert, Mark Bibby Jackson

At the moment, travelling anywhere is pretty restrictive wherever you live due to the pandemic and various rules imposed by most countries. However, you can still dream and plan those trips – and this week I’m chatting to travel expert Mark Bibby Jackson whose knowledge of those far flung places knows no bounds! Hi Mark and welcome!

Hello. I am Mark Bibby Jackson, the editor of the websites Travel Begins at 40 and London Begins at 40, as well as the award-winning author of three thrillers set in Cambodia (one of which is yet to be published). I write about travel for a number of publications around the world.

You have lived in Cambodia for over a decade and travelled extensively around south east Asia – what made you decide to move from the UK to South East Asia?

Initially I came to Hanoi in Vietnam as a VSO Volunteer in 2004 and settled in the region. I discovered that I could re-invent myself as a magazine editor and freelance writer having spent far too many years chained to an office in London. It also gave me the great opportunity to explore the region I had first visited in 1992.

You have written 3 thrillers set in Cambodia. Why did you decide to write books of this genre based in Cambodia?

I have always liked the thriller genre, although I read little of it in my youth. When I had lived in Cambodia for a number of years I realised the wonderful material it provided for a thriller novel. I am a massive fan of the late Andrea Camilleri. I felt that I could create slightly comic thrillers set in the same tone as the Montalbano series, rather than adopting the noir tone of many novels set in South East Asia. 

You’re passionate about travelling and South East Asia, especially Cambodia, is close to your heart. What are your top 3 tips for travellers venturing to that part of the world? 

My top tip to everyone for all regions is not to rush your travel. This applies to Cambodia as it does to everywhere else. Take your time and try to discover the real Cambodia, you won’t regret it. My second tip is again pretty generic – push your comfort zone. Whether it is eating spiders, sleeping on a mat in a monastery or driving a tuk tuk through Northern Thailand you gain so much more by pushing yourself just that little bit. Finally, although I normally advise people to try to get off the beaten track, if you are in the region you really have to visit Angkor Wat. There truly is nothing comparable with this majestic temple. Halong Bay in Vietnam and Luang Prabang in Laos, are the other unmissable South East Asian destinations. 

So, as we are talking travelling, where have been your favourite places you’ve visited or lived in so far? 

I normally answer Nepal to this question. The first time I visited was in 1994, and I was immediately blown away by the mountains. I still think this is my favourite travel destination, although for travel experiences the Galapagos Islands tops the lot. 

Having been to Thailand myself, food is a big thing and the spice markets are a lovely assault to your senses! Your 1st novel based in Cambodia is “To Cook A Spider” – and spiders/other insects are certainly on the menus! What was the most unusual meal/food you have eaten?

My big confession is, despite my earlier advice, that I have never eaten spiders! I did drink snake blood once on the streets of Vietnam, and often ate strange dishes that turned out to be the intestines of some animal or other. I always try the local food and drink wherever I go, but especially now that I no longer eat meat, I don’t really try anything too exotic. I did eat Cholera in Switzerland, but this turned out to be a very tasty potato, cheese and apple pie that the locals had developed during the time of cholera when food was scarce.

If we were in a cafe/bar/restaurant in Cambodia, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles/meal – What would you recommend we ordered?

Most tourists try the amok which is coconut paste dish normally made with fish. If you really want to try what the locals eat then you should go for the prahok fermented fish. It tastes far better than it smells. However, I would recommend you go to Kep and eat some crab in the local crab shacks overhanging the sea at the crab market. Try one of these cooked in Kampot Pepper. It really is quite magnificent. 

When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book? 

I mainly read thrillers nowadays. However Dostoevsky, Camus and Hardy are my favourite authors. The Outsider is one of the most amazing books I have read, and I think it changed my life in many respects. The Brothers Karamazovis the best novel I have ever read, although it took me at least three attempts just to get over the names. I haven’t managed to get into the Kindle craze. I just love the feeling of holding a book in my hand and flicking through the pages. 

 You are also Founder & group editor of websites – Travel Begins At 40 and London Begins At 40. In your opinion, what are the top 5 things that people over the age of 40 consider important when choosing a travel destination? Is there much difference from the desires of younger travellers?

I think it depends very much on the traveller, and there are many 40-year-olds who travel just like they did in their teens. However, I think that the 40+ traveller is more inclined to be interested in the food, culture and history of the people they are visiting. Although younger travellers are very much interested in food and sustainability, when travelling they are more likely to look for bargains in order to make their money last longer, as well as places with a lively nightlife. The older you get as a traveller the more likely you are to look for places away from the crowd rather than trying to find the crowd. Beaches are for leisurely strolling as the sun sets, rather than for partying under the full moon. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy. I have a massive neck so shirt and ties really never worked for me. I am also totally informal, although I do like wearing hats. I have had the same suit that was tailored for me in Cambodia quietly collecting dust in my wardrobe for a decade – it probably no longer fits me. Again my footwear choices are determined by necessity rather than fashion, as I have very wide feet and a high instep. So, its trainers and comfortable walking shoes for me. Although I am partial to Campers. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I normally buy my clothes at stores like Mountain Warehouse or Blacks. However, I recently got an Azuaya Panama hat. I think this will definitely be my hat for the summer. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Some comfy walking shoes, preferably ones that can cope with the English winter.

Boots or Shoes?

Neither. Trainers work best for me. But I never buy boots as I hate the feel of something rubbing against my ankles. It’s a big foot thing.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For Pinning Later

Web: https://www.travelbeginsat40.com/

Twitter: @TravelBegins40

Facebook / Instagram: @TravelBeginsat40

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-bibby-jackson-aa541613/

Thank you Mark for your fascinating insight into the world of travel – I’m hoping that the world will soon open up again so that the many wonders of this world can be experienced once again.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Mark Bibby Jackson

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Spotlight On The Andalusian Mystery Series

In the UK, the nights are drawing in and what can be nicer than cosy nights by a roaring fire, curled up in an armchair with a hot chocolate toddy and a good book? Even better when the books are mysteries based in the sunnier climate of Andalusia in Spain. Author Paul S Bradley has written 5 books in the series so far, and I was fortunate to receive his first book in the series to review: Darkness In Málaga.

MY REVIEW OF DARKNESS IN MALAGA

Darkness in Málaga is a crime mystery set in Spain and a story of many parts expertly woven into one. It is a book inspired by a true murder and a dedication is made at the front of the book to the memory of Cecilia Natalia Coria Olivares who was murdered in Nerva on September 8, 2008. So where do I start? It begins with a young girl being abducted; a group of African refugees fleeing Africa to reach Spain; a corrupt official; a wily detective, Leon Prado, who fears he may have lost his way as he tries to solve the abductions; then there is Phillip, who was in the British Intelligence Corps, who retired in Spain to lick his emotional wounds after his acrimonious divorce from his gorgeous Russian wife; Juliet, a beautiful British waitress, half Phillip’s age, but somebody he would love to know better; Amanda, the CNN film maker, following the refugee story. When Juliet goes missing, Phillip helps Detective Leon Prado, to piece together the kidnaps, along with Amanda. But that is only the start of it….things get darker, much darker. I loved it! It had enough suspense to keep me interested, some romance and light hearted moments too…

So, I just had to invite author Paul Bradley onto my blog about his writing, his life in Spain and his fashion choices, of course! Hi Paul and welcome:

How does one describe a person who lives in a quaint village by the beautiful blue Mediterranean, and travels, pandemics permitting, around the Iberian Peninsula with small groups of North American Alumni showing them the fascinating mix of ancient and modern Spain? Fortunate, one could say, but as it is me, I will go a step further. I have not lived and worked in Spain for over thirty years by accident. Coming here was a deliberate and planned attempt to redesign my life away from the London rat race. I had always dreamed of loving what I do and not just work because I needed to earn money. I risked all, and thankfully it paid off. It was dodgy restaurant translations that opened the door. When I informed the beach restaurant owner that he was offering me Ironed Squid instead of grilled squid, I was immediately pressed into service to fix his poor communications materials. Then the restaurant next door wanted the same and I was in business. That evolved into property and lifestyle magazines, guidebooks, and travelogues. Pre-Google, someone had to physically gather material about this marvelous country and happily that fell into my lap. As I grew older, and some kindly Governments started sending me money every month for not doing much, it gave me the opportunity to switch to writing novels, something I can do until the wooden box beckons.

“Darkness in Málaga” is the first in the series of 5 books of the Andalusian Mystery Series. The others are: Darkness in Ronda; Darkness in Vélez-Málaga; Darkness in Granada; Darkness in Córdoba. What inspired the book series?  Are they stand alone books or best read in numerical order?

According to Mark Twain, one of the key ingredients to good writing is; write what you know. I’ve always admired JK Rowling for her ability to conjure up imaginary worlds from nowhere, although I suspect that the smoky gothic spires of Edinburgh contributed much to her fantasies as she gazed out of the window of the café where she started writing Harry Potter books. After all these years, I know Spain better than most Spaniards, so it seemed logical to set my books in my adopted homeland. Agatha Christie stories have endured many treatments over the years, and I love them all. Around the time that I was thinking about starting to write fiction novels, I happened to be escorting a group around Northern England. We stayed for a few days at the Old White Swan in Harrogate where during the winter of 1926,the enigmatic crime writer stayed to escape the madding crowd. She posed as Mrs. Teresa Neele until after ten days the banjo player recognized her. It prompted me to write crime mysteries set in Spain from where emerged the Andalusian Mystery Series. The first four cases can be read alone but are linked together. Darkness in Córdoba, which is currently a work in progress, is a stand-alone case but involving the main characters.

Having lived in Nerja, Spain since 1992 , are your characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ? Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Following on from my preferences to write what I know, readers may be interested to discover that all the characters in my books are loosely based on people that I have met on my travels. I change their namesand personal details, but their physical descriptions and behaviours are recognizable. I often use the threat of including my travel clients in my book if they complain too much. If they are particularly bad, they are likely to be the antagonist. I can’t say it encourages people to behave any differently, but it raises a titter and helps with sales. Without a doubt the hardest characters to invent are politicians. I say this becausethe motivations of policemen and criminals are pretty much the same the world over, but politicians are a breed of their own. Trying to keep them well grounded in any plot is difficult because they are always trying to self-promote, or make a point, and I’m often tempted to let them to the detriment of the storyline.

Were there any aspects of writing your book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

Writing experts, particularly my editor, bang on about showing not telling. This was a difficult transition for me as a travel writer because I was used to describing what I saw and weaving those visual memoriesaround historical facts gleaned from guides, brochures, or libraries. Fictional stories need real characters that actually think, speak, eat, sleep and dream. The story is revealed through their thoughts, dialogue, and deeds. It took quite a while to develop the required experience to do that with any level of competence.

As you not only live in Spain, but have also travelled extensively around the Iberian Peninsula, what are your top 5 favourite places that you recommend visiting whilst in Spain.

Spain is one of the most diverse countries I have ever been to. It is more mountainous than Switzerland, and the landscapes vary from emerald-green to dusty desert the further south you go. It’s the gateway to Africa. Travelers from all over the dark continent have been crossing to her shores since time began looking to trade or discover a better life, and continue to do so. It has abundant agriculture of almost everything imaginable. It’s safe, affordable and has an unbeatable climate. Wine lovers could spend years exploring the vineyards of La Rioja or Ribera del Duero. Historians can drool over the wealth ofmonuments and there are so many archeological discoveries, they now tend to photograph them and carry on with whatever building project revealed them. Numerous languages are spoken, and every town has a beautiful church or cathedral packed with religious artefacts. But it is the people that set this country aside. They are the warmest, kindest, and most considerate that I have ever had the pleasure to have known. The consequence of this is that everywhere you go, is a memorable treasure. You would have to waterboard me to extract five preferences so assuming you have, here goes. San Sebastian is for the gourmet; Toledo is unbeatable for religious history and dramatic location. Ronda for bullfighting fans,bandits and so much more, Barcelona for the young and dynamic, Madrid attracts the elegant and discerning.

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you have other aspirations?

Writing was the only subject I was good at during my school years. Regrettably, I didn’t recognize the importance of that at the time and no one pushed me in that direction. I recall doing homework at the military boarding school I was sent to sitting next to several boys who knew exactly what they wanted to do. I could never work out if this were true or if their parents had told them what to aim for. My father was keen for me to join the army but polishing boots and being shouted at for six years deterred me from more of the same. Like most lost souls of limited academic achievements, I launched myself on a voyage of discovery trying numerous jobs eventually ending up in sales and then running my own business. The writing of proposals was all I excelled at which prompted me to enter a writing contest for the Sunday Telegraph. I came second and won two hundred pounds. This minor event was the spur that changed my life. For the first time I felt I had accomplished something and built on that, eventually coming to Spainand putting it into practice.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

I grew up in Market Harborough, Leicestershire where my mother was an infant teacher. She took me and my sister to the library every week. I love everything about books. From the browsing experience to the final choice, to the thrill of opening the first page. I don’t mind ebooks, but I do prefer an actual book.

Are your Andalusian series of books available to purchase worldwide?

The Andalusian Mystery Series is available globally in ebook and Print format in most major online bookstores and can be ordered by your local bookshop.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a jeans, shirt and V neck pullover person in the short Spanish winters, and because I love hikingalong the beach or in the mountains, I’m well provided with Mephisto walking shoes. In the warmer months, like most of the year, it’s shorts, short sleeve shirts and Mephisto sandals with a rather weird Australian paper hat to keep my scalp from frying.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love playing virtual golf on wgt.com and occasionally browse Facebook to see what my daughters and grandchildren are up to. However, as I spend most of my days in front of a screen, I try and avoid them in the evenings. With the outdoor life in Spain, that is not too difficult.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Even after, thirty years away from the UK, I still haven’t changed the Marks and Spencer’s socks and underwear habit. With such a long lockdown marooning me here in Nerja, stocks are starting to dwindle.

Boots or Shoes? 

Believe me, after six years spitting and polishing boots at a military boarding school, it’s no contest. Shoes every time.

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

www.paulbradley.eu

www.facebook.com/PaulBradleyinNerja/

Thank you very much Paul for taking the time to chat on the blog, for the copy of Darkness in Málaga… I am eagerly working my way through the other books in the series 😊

Linda x

All photographs (apart from Pinterest & header) have been published with kind permission of Paul S Bradley.

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An Interview With Sussex Special Candles

Have you ever wanted to capture the unique scent blend of your favourite place ? To bottle up that essence of the sea, the spices, the woods, the flora? My guest this week is Maria Hallas, founder of Sussex Special Candles, and she has made some highly scented candles inspired by the English county of Sussex and also her personal experiences of her travels around the world….from Brighton beach to the smells of the Orient. I was sent the Brighton Essence and the Dark Nights candles to review (read my thoughts later in the post) and needless to say I was looking forward to chatting to Maria about her delightful products. Hi Maria….

Hello 😊 My name is Maria Hallas. I’m the founder and the owner of Sussex Special Candles, an entrepreneur and pastry chef by profession. 

What inspired the founding of your company, Sussex Special Candles?

The company was inspired by my family, as a stay-at-home mother with a young toddler I wanted to do something to support my family, that at the same time allows me to continue to be creative and artsy. 

You have 5 distinct collections: Sussex Special; Boutique; Limited Edition;Treasures; Charisma.  What are the main characteristics that set each collection apart from each other?

Sussex Special collection is inspired by iconic places around Sussex with the desire to experience the spirit and to bring this great outdoors inside in the comfort of our homes. 
Boutique collection is a collection with our first signature bestsellers with scents which are mirroring emotions and occasions. 
Limited Edition collection is for experimental and seasonal candles. For limited time we release some of the candles, in this collection you might also find our holiday themed candles. 
Treasures is a collection inspired by personal journeys around the world. 
Charisma is a collection created with the idea to bring charm and beauty through the fragrance of the candles. 

What is currently the most popular candle fragrance and/or collection?

The most popular collection naturally is The Sussex Special collection as the most purchased candles are the Brighton Essence and Enchanted Forest candles. 

What’s your most favourite candle fragrance or collection?

My most favourite collection is the Sussex Special collection, this is the collection that so far is the result of our longest labour and is the most intertwined with memories, emotions and experiences. As my most favourite candle fragrances are the floral River Adur, the citrusy Elegant Touch, the fruity Lucious Gem and the musky Golden Rush. 

When deciding fragrances to add to your soy wax candle collections, do you select by what has proved popular with other candle makers, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

I believe that a successful candle business is original and unique and must craft products that are different from what’s already available on the market. That been said Sussex Special is a customer orientated company and we do listen to our customers, for instance the Hurst Meadow candle is inspired from a customer who was looking for a freshly cut grass candle. 

What do you like most about using soy wax for your candles? Do you find candle making therapeutic? 

As a consumer I do enjoy the clean and the long burn of a soy candle and as a candle maker I appreciate the lack of any odour in the soy wax that might eventually interfere with the fragrance oil and affect the finished product. Candle making as a hobby might be therapeutic, but as a business owner, the therapy of making candles is somewhere lost along the lines. 

As Sussex Special is based in the UK, are your products on the website available to purchase & ship worldwide? 

Our online shop is hosted on Shopify, we do also have Etsy and Amazon shops and our candles are available for purchase worldwide. 

Hypothetically speaking, if you could travel to any place to inspire a new candle collection, where would you go and why?

I loved this question, thank you for asking! As a matter of fact, I have already been inspired and I’m currently working on a new collection that will be ready in the next couple of months. So if I were to be newly inspired, I would love to travel to Asia to experience a burst of spices, flavours, smells, colours, and textures. I’m absolutely fascinated by the Asian culture and so far, we have 2 Asian influenced candles Oriental Delight and Dragon Heart. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Normally I wear smart-casual with outweigh on jeans, t-shirts, and trainers. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

In our family we mainly shop online, from a variety of online stores. My latest obsessions are the home décor items, which I’m using for props, since at the moment I’m the photographer and the content creator of Sussex Special. We also do quite a bit of Amazon and eBay shopping purely because of the convenience. 


What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Dresses and jackets are always on my wish list, I just love a nice, feminine, and elegant dress combined with a chic jacket. 

Boots or Shoes?

To be honest, before I dived into the motherhood, I had a shoe addiction, I was the type of woman who bought shoes for the sake of buying shoes, as most of them has never been worn and were still packed in their boxes. But since motherhood creates substantial lifestyle changes, I would now answer boots to this question, mostly because of the weather in the UK. 

For pinning later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Sussex Special Candles

Our website is: https://www.sussexspecial.co.uk/ 
As you might also follow us on the social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sussexcandles/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sussexspecial/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sussexcandles

MY REVIEW

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The candles have been supplied by Sussex Special Candles for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

Hmmm…. Candles! These are certainly one of a kind. Smartly presented in glass jars – I particularly liked the fragrance notes that come with each fragrance. A bit like a wine connoisseur- you can read the fragrance notes, take a good sniff, light the wick and then take your bath luxuriating in your bubbles and the heady aroma. Out of the two candles I tried, Brighton Essence was a favourite with both myself and my daughter. You can definitely smell the jasmine, sea salt, and other fruity aromas …. I just love the smell of jasmine! I can’t decide which fragrance to try next … possibly the Mountain Dream limited edition 😊. Thanks to Sussex Special Candles.

Linda x

All photographs (apart from the featured /header/Pinterest photo of Brighton Essence/Dark Skies – that was taken by Linda Hobden) have been published with kind permission of Sussex Special Candles.

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The Cafe With Five Faces

Imagine a cafe with 5 different rooms, each room representing an iconic city and featuring food, chat and most notably coffee (some wine & mint tea too) …. that is the basis of a most excellent book by Chaelli Cattlin that I had the pleasure to review over the summer. Due to COVID-19 putting a dampener on my summer travels this year, having this book to read in my garden chair during lockdown was a real boost. Like always, I read the book and then got the urge to chat more with the author! But first, my review:

MY REVIEW
I used to work in a village cafe that used to be full of regulars and I often thought a book on overheard conversations would be very interesting reading.  The regulars in my cafe talked about similar issues, often with the same amount of intensity and repetition; that a newcomer would bring a breath of fresh air and a welcome change of topic.  So, The Cafe With Five Rooms, was the sort of book I was subconsciously searching for.  I absolutely adored the travel stories, the characters themselves were believable, loved the themed room idea, love the food and drink descriptions, love the details about coffee making – although I’m not a coffee drinker Chaelli so my drink of choice would be an Algerian mint tea! Or a glass or two of the Lebanese red wine 😊Maybe with a slice or two of Hungarian cake…..

LET’S MEET CHAELLI ….


Hello, I am Chaelli Cattlin, an author and a trainer working in the field of English language teaching, a job which has allowed me to travel all over the world for the past 25 years.

Your book, “The Cafe With Five Faces: What The Walls Heard 2018-2019   – is an engaging collection of short stories, presented as snippets within a fictional cafe with five rooms. Each room is themed and named after a location – Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada, Hebden Bridge. The stories feature everything including travel, gossip, politics, food , romance, and coffee. What made you decide to write a book of this nature?

While visiting Granada several years ago, I was sitting outside a cafe in the Albaicin district and surveying an empty property opposite, thinking what a nice cafe it would make. It had a few rooms / spaces and it occurred to me that it would save me from choosing between a Hungarian-style cake shop, a Spanish tapas bar, a Lebanese manouche shop and a CapeTown breakfast bar. So I decided to call my provisional cafe The Cafe with Four Faces. When I chose to make a book out of it, rather than a real cafe, I added my local village (Hebden Bridge) to the rooms as it fitted some of the characters I wanted to include. The five rooms of the book / cafe also allowed me to focus on different topics, each of which I wanted to discuss but wouldn’t necessarily fit comfortably in one setting.

I enjoyed reading the book  – I liked the mix of characters. I adored the travel anecdotes. My favourite characters were Zoe, Misha and “The Presence”. What character did you enjoy writing about the most?  Who was the hardest?

Misha was one of my favourites as he was so like me when I first moved to Poland 25 years ago and I quite enjoyed describing myself in self-deprecating but hopefully humorous terms. Mike rants in the way I like to rant myself, but rarely have the nerve to do so in real life, so he was a favourite too. And possibly Jimez, as I think he is such a lovable failure! The hardest ones were the minor characters who made infrequent appearances, like Anna and, I suppose, The Presence, because I would like to have made more of them, but seemed to let them down a bit.

The Five places featured as the rooms obviously hold a place in your heart – why did you pick Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada and Hebden Bridge?  Were there any other places you considered having as a “room”?

Beirut and Cape Town just picked themselves – they are unique cities and I just feel at home the second I arrive in them. Hebden Bridge was local – I could have chosen Haworth, but that is already very well-known for its Bronte connection. Budapest represents Eastern Europe (in its 1990s definition) – I could have chosen several others, principally Katowice, MInsk and Ljubljana, but I lived in Budapest for 7 years (just a little longer than in Katowice) and it has the old-style cafe society with its literary connections which I love so much. Granada represents the good life / place in the sun – it could have been anywhere in Andalucia, Sicily or Provence, all of which have very fond memories, but Granada is the city of most recent and lengthy acquaintance.


So, as we are talking travelling, where has been your favourite place you’ve visited or lived in so far?

In terms of full-time living, outside of the north of England (Lancashire and Yorkshire), I have lived in Opole and Katowice in Poland, and Budapest in Hungary. However, I have spent periods of 2-3 months in countless places and enjoyed so many of them for very different reasons, it’s rather hard to choose! As I mentioned above, Beirut and Cape Town are really special and I have lived in each for a total of around 3 years and 1 year respectively, and they really feel like home.

You are a coffee fanatic – that goes without saying – and I liked how you incorporated your coffee knowledge into your book.  What is it about coffee that really caught your attention?

This has been a slow burner for me, having grown up on Nescafe with milk and two sugars, and then Nescafe with milk without the sugar. I finally bought a percolator and started having one cup of ‘real’ coffee a day with fresh cream, Then I discovered speciality (third-wave) coffee shops and filter coffee where the addition of milk was frowned upon. It became a real interest to visit such cafes in every city I visited, and since 2016, there has been a dramatic growth in such establishments, which led to me wanting to own my own, In the meantime, I started buying a range of alternative brewing equipment for home use and then started taking training courses.


If we were in your cafe, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles – which room would you feel most comfortable in? What would you recommend we ordered?

Every room suits one of my moods. I am the political ranter (Cape Town), the failed musician (Budapest), the ardent traveller (Granada), the bohemian floor-sitter (Beirut) and the aging reminiscer (Hebden Bridge), so it depends how the mood takes me. In terms of order, however, it would have to be a Chemex and a slice of Eszterhazy (cake), Jen’s favourite in the Budapest room.

When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book?

My tastes are rather random. I have a real liking for the humour of PG Wodehouse, while loving the gritty Italian crime of Michele Giutarri. I have also whiled away hours in cafes reading the Brontes, Jane Austen and, particularly, Thomas Hardy. I also read the entire Harry Potter series more than once! Ironically, I prefer paper copies! 

Are there any other book ideas in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond?

Yes, but they’re still in formulation! 

Is “The Cafe With Five Faces” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, through Amazon, Apple and Google Play, with Barnes & Noble and Kobo on the way.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I can hardly remember pre-lockdown! There were some comments in the book about Matthew (Granada room) and his love of Armani jeans, and I have 5 pairs, accumulated over many years, which I wear till they fall apart (and beyond) because they are so comfortable. I have a substantial collection of headgear, including a Colombian hat just like that of The Presence (picture attached) and a larger choice of bandanas than Jimmy. At the moment, T-shirts are it (with the names of assorted cafes if I can manage it), because I’m not working in public, and I have a range of shoes which would terrify many women by their quantity, my favourites being Doc Martens and trainers.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Armani Jeans in Milan! For certain items of clothing, I like the street markets in Hanoi, while for shoes, I always check out the windows of Vagabond in Budapest and those of a shop in Palermo the name of which I simply can’t bring to mind. Otherwise, I only seem interested in cafes and online coffee retailers!

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I daren’t buy any more shoes for a while as I bought some pre-lockdown I haven’t worn since I left the shop. I love the shirts on the Konrit website, but unfortunately don’t like buying clothes online – I prefer to try them on and see before buying, so it may well remain on my wishlist rather than become reality

Boots or Shoes?

Doc Martens are a nice blend! Otherwise, comfortable trainers; nothing which comes up too high as I find them really uncomfortable.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc.
https://thecafewith5faces.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecafewith5faces/?modal=admin_todo_tour

@thecafewithfa1 (Twitter)

For Pinning Later

Fabulous to catch up with you “virtually” Chaelli and I really look forward to reading more adventures of the Cafe in the future. Thank you also to Ben Cameron for the copy of The Cafe With Five Faces to review. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chaelli Cattlin.

Linda x

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An Interview With Desert Bells

Dream weddings overseas have been popular over recent years with UK couples and the destination of Dubai is a particular favourite. Dubai offers perfect weather, numerous beach venues, plenty of catering options for all budgets, the chance to go OTT with the bling, good flight links – reasons are endless. Desert Bells are Dubai destination wedding planners founded by Emirati sisters Chandan and Dimple. Dimple is based in Dubai, whereas Chandan is based in London. I caught up with Chandan to find out more about the delights of Dubai … Hi, Chandan!

Hello, I’m Chandan, I’m an Indian Emirati who grew up in the beautiful city of Dubai, I’ve spent 30 years there and have been in Marketing and Events for over 11 years. I’ve planned and organised not only weddings but press days, fashion shows, corporate conferences and several themed parties. I’ve now moved to London and encourage newly engaged couples and their families to choose Dubai as a destination for their nuptials, moreover choose us to plan their special days for them 🙂

What triggered the eureka moment to begin your company, Desert Bells?

I did my own wedding independently. I did not have a planner, it was all done by both families and we did a great job which was appreciated by everyone who attended. Our wedding even graced 4 pages of a well known glossy in the UAE, that’s how much everyone loved and enjoyed it. So one day during a casual conversation, knowing my forte and experience, my father-in-law suggested that I do wedding planning as a business for UK based clients like themselves, interested in destination Dubai. It definitely sounded like a great idea and never left my mind, but at the time I had just moved to England and knew very little about the people, their preferences and the overall market. I then continued to do a job in London and pursued my forte i.e. marketing, PR & events. This helped me to understand my prospective audience a lot better, their mindsets, the budgets they allocate for weddings, their perception of destination weddings in general, their perception of Dubai and so on and that’s how Desert Bells Wedding Planners came into existence. 

Have you always wanted a career in weddings/event planning or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

My ultimate dream is to be a celebrity – I’m still working on it..haha !


What would you say are the most popular reasons that Dubai (& UAE in general) is a favourite wedding destination?

Dubai is a small city that packs a lot of punch. It is the city’s versatility that makes it extremely popular. With 7-8 hours travel time from most parts of UK & Europe, several direct flights and guaranteed good weather are, what I believe, make UAE very attractive. Moreover what lures couples is that they can visualise their wedding dreams coming to life given the luxurious venues, beaches, F&B options and the overall charisma the city exudes. It places a great deal of confidence in parties that both them and their guests will have a much greater time than anticipated. 

Which venue is the most popular place to hold a wedding?  Which is your personal favourite?

This is a tough one! There are so many amazing options available even with non 5 star properties, the venues are endless and that is without compromising a great deal. With clients who allocate huge budgets and desire the quintessential Dubai luxury it would have to be – The Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, The Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons Hotel and of course the Burj Al Arab. Obviously not everyone wants to allocate budgets like these to their wedding. Also in the interest of dispelling some common myths, one can get huge value for their money (specially when converting from pounds, euros or dollars to AED) with other 5* properties: there are numerous gorgeous venues on Jumeirah Beach, The Palm Jumeirah and exquisite ballrooms and garden venues too. My personal favourite would be any Marriott property – their hospitality and efforts are truly A-grade and I have never been disappointed by any Marriott in the world. Having said that, “JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS in Dubai is pretty much my second home and my other favourite is Ritz Carlton JBR. I had my own wedding functions at both these venues too 🙂 

What legal requirements need to be fulfilled before a wedding can take place in Dubai?

These would usually be carried out by the planning company or, if you are organising it yourself, then the hotel would guide you through signing contracts and procuring certain permissions for entertainers, fireworks, etc. Some of these are chargeable, whereas others are just about applying for the permission. One needs to own an alcohol licence in UAE as well (this is charged) – again the planning company would organise this for you or the hotel would present you with the options available to them for you to take a call. 

What clothing guidelines do you recommend for the bridal party & guests? 

If you’re hosting your wedding in Dubai, I take it that you’ve come here to experience and show your guests the absolute luxe. Dubai is one destination where you can, without any fear, throw practical thoughts of out of the window and bring your Pinterest board to life. I’d say go with the theme, bring on the bling! Don’t wear dresses or footwear you think are comfortable to run around in, or worry about the weather. Your venue is not countryside and no, you don’t have to walk anywhere. Weather in Dubai is 99% guaranteed, it almost never rains and as most venues are within hotels you have the most convenient access to taxis, Ubers, the bridal suite, your rooms, butlers on service, tailoring teams at hotels and locker service too if you wish to put your expensive jewellery away safely before starting to dance all night long. It is really hassle free, so by all means go ahead and put on your sexiest heels and leave the pair of wedges in the hotel room for later. Do invest in a great pair of sunnies as you’d wear them most days. Anything you think is ‘EXTRA’ is perfectly acceptable in a city like this 🙂

Entertainment at a wedding is just as important as the ceremony itself. What activities are most popular?Most unusual or extravagant?

It varies quite a lot. DJ music is the most popular and a safe option guaranteeing everyone a good time; but things like Belly Dancing performances are very popular with the English, Europeans and Americans as it is a big part of the local culture which is entertaining and yet unusual for guests from abroad to experience. Other than that most Indian Weddings are very extravagant with singers, bands, performers – even Bollywood & Hollywood celebrities flown in for entertainment to wow the guests. 

Apart from Dubai, what other locations in the UAE do you think are worth considering as a wedding venue?

I’d say Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. There are lots of beautiful hotels in Abu Dhabi, from Emirates Palace which is a gorgeous 5* property to beach properties like Waldorf Astoria in RAK is a destination that would give you the getaway vibes. Known for its stunning beach resorts, it is a getaway from the city with lots of fun.


If I was to visit Dubai, what are the top places/activities I should add to my itinerary?

  • Dubai Mall + Aquarium ( largest mall in the world with all the brands under one roof and plenty of food and drinks options too). It’s so huge it’s like a neighbourhood.
  • Go up the Burj Khalifa for that mandatory tick in the box.
  • Do a brunch – plenty of fun ones, some night brunches too with an after party but my fav and an absolute must go is the ZERO GRAVITY BRUNCH. It’s the best combination of unlimited food,drinks, pool access, beach access, people and music – you can experience that too for less than £100.
  • Dubai nightlife is very popular too and is very safe for women. Head to Club White for the ultimate fancy night out – very popular with fancy hen parties.
  • Some very popular restaurants to try are: Fish in Westin, Carnival by Tresind, Ramusake and plenty others you’d find on Time Out Dubai.
  • Go see the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi if time permits  – It’s truly a piece of art. 
  • Another must do is a Desert Safari if it is your first

Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear? 

You mean when in Dubai? I’ll be honest, I’m a summer girl. Before I moved to England, I did not own a single pair of denims, trainers or a coat #notjoking. My Dubai wardrobe is pretty summery, all dresses – I love maxi dresses, skirts, flattering jumpsuits, off shoulders outfits and LOTSSSS of Stilettoes !   

Boots Or Shoes?

Stilettoes 🙂  because they are the sexiest and can uplift any outfit and/or look. I miss not being able to wear enough of them in England 🙁 

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about Desert Bells.

www.instagram.com/desertbellsweddingplanners/
I’d also encourage readers to take a peak into my personality and check out my blog Fcube Dubai – www.instagram.com/fcube_dubai/

Thank you for chatting with me, Chandan … It was great to see the photographs and I love your enthusiasm for Dubai too. I hope that life soon recommences outside of lockdown and that travelling, socialising and dream weddings can once again take place. In the meantime, thank you for providing us with some glamorous escapism.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chandan/DesertBells Wedding Planners

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Food & Drink Of Madeira

Ahh… Madeira. I could wax lyrical about this island for hours! However, this week I’m writing about the food and drink of Madeira. The Madeira Archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal, consisting of 4 islands lying off the north west coast of Africa. The island is closer to Morocco than to Portugal. The main island of Madeira is volcanic, green, rugged and extremely scenic. Known already for its Madeira wine and warm, sub tropical climate – the food and drink in Madeira warrants a special mention. Yes, there is a McDonald’s – in Funchal, the capital – and a Starbucks ( much to the islanders’ disgust) situated at Funchal airport. The thing is that Madeira’s soil is fertile and volcanic – the warm year round climate lends itself to producing a vast array of fruits, vegetables (especially garlic & sweet potatoes), sugarcane, wines, coffee – and its location in the North Atlantic Ocean …. the fish! And Madeira cuisine is absolutely delicious!

Banana Plantation in Ponta Delgada, Madeira © Linda HobdenA

BANANAS

Bananas, bananas everywhere! The bananas grown are small and sweet. Alongside the different types of passionfruit, they are the main varieties of fruit you will come across in Madeira. Unfortunately in the UK we tend to see the larger bananas imported in from the West Indies or from West Africa.

MERCADO DOS LAVRADORES

Mercado Dos Lavadores © AdamHobden

The main marketplace for fruit, flowers and fish In Funchal is a “must see visit” on everybody’s tour list. It is a fully functioning market – the upper floor is full of fruit, vegetables and exotic flowers. The smells, colours, varieties are intoxicating! There are many strange and wonderful hybrid of fruits to try – such as banana-pineapple; passion-fruit pineapple; passionfruit-banana; lime passionfruit; peach-mango. Stall holders will try to entice you with samples of fruit to try. Beware though – it is rather pricey and you might find better prices in the smaller stalls outside of the main market. However, it is still worth a wander around – great for people watching and photo opportunities. It gets very crowded and, in summer, very hot. I prefer the cooler lower floor which houses the fantastic fish market. Yes, it is smelly but I don’t mind the fish smell. The range of fish on sale straight from the harbour is amazing – tuna, black scabbard fish, parrot fish, mackerel, castanets, limpets …

THE FISH

Castanets are small fish that are seasoned with salt & fried. Parrotfish is fried also – pay a visit to the Doca do Cavacas Restaurant in Funchal which has a reputation of cooking the best fried parrotfish on the island. Lapas or limpets are a slightly chewier version of clams. They are usually served in the frying pan they are cooked in. Tuna is extremely popular – tuna soup with noodles; raw in sashimi; tuna & onion stew; marinated tuna cooked with potatoes and chick peas; grilled tuna medium-rare steak; tuna steak with fried maize …. I must admit I was very surprised to see just how big tuna was! However, the ugly looking Black Scabbard fish – Peixe Espada Preto is divine. This is the fish you must try when visiting Madeira. It is grilled or lightly fried in a crumb batter and served in restaurants with a fried banana and a passion fruit sauce. It is better than it sounds, believe me! The sweet/savoury combination works well. As a snack though, try a black scabbard sandwich – a local favourite – tastes a bit like an upmarket fish finger sandwich!

Black scabbard fish with banana & passionfruit sauce. Onda Azul Restaurante, Calheta Beach © Linda Hobden

MEAT

Being an island, fish dishes do dominate however meat dishes are popular too – mainly pork and chicken. Estapada means food cooked on a skewer. In Madeira, wooden skewers are made from fragrant bay laurels, which season the meat as it cooks. Casseroles consisting of wine, garlic & pork are on every restaurant menu too. Garlic is widely used in Madeiran cooking – garlic oil, garlic cloves .

VEGETARIAN OPTIONS

Vegetables grow in abundance on the island and the vegetarian dishes I have come across have been wholesome basic vegetable stews/ kebabs that are just as delicious as their meat counterparts. If you are a vegetarian that eats fish, then you have no trouble being well fed on this island!

BREAD

Bolo de caco is Madeira’s regional bread, named after the caco or basalt stone slab that it is cooked on. The bread is extremely soft and is often served up in restaurants as a starter, with garlic butter.

FENNEL

Funchal (Madeira’s capital) literally means “The Place Where Fennel Grows” . This indigenous plant is especially found in the rocky mountains around Funchal. It is used for cooking, in the production of cough candy, in essential oils, tea and liqueurs.

Fennel © Linda Hobden

DESSERTS

The main dessert is Passion Fruit Pudding, using the various species of passionfruit available on the island. Passionfruit pudding is made with passionfruit pulp, jelly, condensed milk and cream. Tasting like a cross between a mousse and yogurt, it is a refreshing and flavoursome end to a meal. Fresh fruit salads are a healthier option, especially with the various fruit varieties available that the dish isn’t boring at all! Madeirans do have a sweet tooth, and a popular “cake” is the “Queijadas” made with cottage cheese, eggs and sugar.

Array of desserts, including the passionfruit pudding. Hotel Calheta Beach, Calheta © Adam Hobden

Talking of cake, traditional Madeira Cake isn’t the yellow light sponge found in the UK. Authentic Madeira Cake, “Bolo De Mel” is a sticky dark honey cake, a bit like a British Christmas Pudding. Served in slices, it looks like a thick gooey tart and tastes divine. The Calheta Sugar Cane Mill is famous for the dark honey cake and walking past the kitchens where the cakes are made … well, the air is filled with the delicious aroma of molasses, alcohol, almonds … in fact, the whole sugar cane factory is enveloped with the smell. A giant cake is made every January , which is matured and freshly basted throughout the year, and is then ceremonially cut a year later. The cultivation of sugar cane was the first significant agricultural product in Madeira. The sugar cane is used to make molasses, dark honey, Madeira Cake, rum & the island drink, Poncha. The mill in Calheta is still a working factory, open all year round and visitors are welcome. There is a small museum, the mill itself, a shop and tasting area. Free entry and I have visited many times over the last few years – it is a lovely place to while away an afternoon.

Although not Madeiran in aspect, the Reid’s Hotel in Funchal has a tradition that goes back donkeys years – the afternoon tea, British style. Every afternoon, proper brewed tea served in dainty wedge wood china cups ( or champagne) is served along with scones, sandwiches, petit four and cake. It really is quite a civil affair and a dress code is rigidly applied – no shorts, flip flops or trainers. Famous celebrities that have stayed in this hotel are numerous and include George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Charlie Chaplin.

The Madeirans are great sponge cake bakers – I tried a delicious slab of homemade orange cake ( and some chocolate cake) at a cafe near the church and cable car station in Monte, washed down with local Madeiran coffee. In Calheta, the homemade apple pie and ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon was a delight. And, cheese lovers need not despair – the cheese courses in restaurants are alive and kicking with some of the best European cheeses you can imagine.

Cheese … Calheta Beach Hotel, Calheta © Adam Hobden

DRINK

Like their Portuguese mainland counterparts, Madeirans do love their coffee. Unlike Italian coffee which is 100% Arabica beans, Portuguese coffee is a mixture of Arabica & Robusta beans. I was disappointed at first when my coffee with milk (Garoto) was served in a small espresso cup; but I soon discovered that asking for a Chinesa instead got me the same coffee with milk, but double the quantity in a larger teacup. All other styles of coffee, including cappuccino, espresso, iced coffee are available in the more touristy cafes in Funchal.

Brisa is a range of soft drinks produced and distributed in Madeira. A variety of flavours available include cola, cola light, cola zero, tonic water, orange, lemonade, apple, mango and, of course, passionfruit.

Madeira wine is one of the two fortified wines that Portugal is famous for – the other being Port. Unlike port, Which is stored and matured in a cold cellar, Madeira wine is stored in a warm place like an attic. The 4 most famous Madeira wines are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, Malmsey.

Madeira produces some excellent table wines also, although not widely exported, they are well worth hunting out. There’s around 12 table wine producers in Madeira; 24 varieties of red, white & rose. The vineyard I visited was high up in the mountains above Sao Vicente on the north coast. The vineyard is small but oozes character, the producers are knowledgeable and they are rightly proud of the wines they produced. After a tour of the vineyard, I was able to taste the wines – all were good, hic! – and all had a touch of sea saltiness from the air and volcanic earthiness from the volcanic caves they were stored in.

If you like chocolate and cocktails, then you won’t be disappointed with a “Ginjinhas” – a strong cherry liqueur served in an edible chocolate cup. Cheers!

You can’t visit Madeira without trying PONCHA. Poncha is believed to have been inspired by an Indian drink called “panch”. Panch means 5 and was named because it is made from 5 ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, tea or spices. Traditional Poncha consists of sugarcane rum, lemon juice, and honey mixed together with a wooden stick called a “caralhinho” – named for its distinctive male genital shape!! And is served without ice. Legend also has it that fishermen used Poncha has a remedy for sore throats when they disembarked from their ships. For tourists, Poncha is now available in various versions – Surinam cherry, passionfruit, tree tomato, tangerine, orange. I’m not sure whether it is a great remedy for a sore throat, but as a drink it is delightful. Best to drink some at a local rustic bar where it is made in front of you, of course. You can buy premixed Poncha in bottles at the airport and supermarkets, which are nice but a bit sweeter than the real mccoy.

For pinning later.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite! I know I’m craving for a slice of Madeira cake and a glass of Poncha now!

Linda x

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Steampunk Day At Bressingham

In July, my husband, myself and our teenage sons went on a day trip to Bressingham – a sort of steam railway/museum/gardens centre near Diss, in Norfolk. Finding a place that would amuse us all as a family, avoiding theme parks, is becoming harder now my boys are teenagers. Having not been to Bressingham before, and we all like steam trains, it seemed an ideal place to visit. The added attraction was that it was “Steampunk Weekend” too – but I was unaware of this until we arrived ….

Bressingham

So, what is Steampunk? According to the Oxford dictionary it is “A style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction”… According to Wikipedia, “Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery.” I first noticed as we arrived at 10am glamorous women in Victorian lace up boots and long corset style gothic/Victoriana style dresses… men in dapper jackets … top hats and goggles . I thought they must be members of staff …. I thought Bressingham was just about steam railways ….but then I realised they were members of the public mingling in the queue alongside those in bog standard shorts and t shirts. I did feel underdressed!

My 14 year old son Jack was hooked – he immediately purchased a top hat that was customised for him whilst we looked around Bressingham and we was able to pick it up later. My youngest son settled for some groovy goggles. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful bodices being sold on the stalls … and I enjoyed admiring the gorgeous outfits being worn.

Bressingham itself is a great place to visit, with or without a special event going on, but the Steampunk event certainly added a special air to the place. Bressingham consists of many parts: Bressingham Rides, Bressingham Gardens, Bressingham Museum.

Bressingham Rides

We were lucky because on the day we visited all 3 railway lines with their impressive steam locomotives were running . The railway lines covered the woodland area, around the gardens and around the perimeter of the site. The working locomotives were all different and the journey times were longer than the usual miniature railway ride.

However, the large Victorian steam galloper occupies a prominent position near the entrance, and although my youngest son had his leg strapped up as he had broken his foot, with a bit of help, he was able to ride on the horse alongside his dad and brother. In fact, him and his brother had quite a few gos over the course of the day. I must admit, the merry-go-round looked lovely but it made me feel dizzy just watching let alone riding on it. I stayed at the side, holding Ethan’s crutches and taking photos.

There was an old fashioned fairground full of penny machines, hoopla stalls and other attractions of the Victorian age. A small crazy golf course was a lot of laughs and at £2 per person provided a good half hour’s entertainment as we battled it out between ourselves to see who would become the family champion …. my husband came first, I came 2nd…

Bressingham Gardens

The gardens are renowned worldwide for their horticultural excellence – there are four linking gardens displaying over 8,000 species and varieties within its 17 acres. The gardens are privately owned by the, appropriately named, Bloom family. Adrian Bloom and his father, Alan, have each created a 6 acre garden : The Dell and Foggy Bottom. Unfortunately we only managed to view the gardens from the garden railway train journey and didn’t have enough time to wander through the 17 acres as well. I will definitely head for the gardens on my next visit, perhaps in Spring when the gardens are in full bloom.

The Bressingham Museum

In fact there are 2 museums ….

The Locomotive Sheds were full of trains and carriages from yesteryear – bringing the glory of steam engineering up close. You couldn’t actually step inside the locomotives or carriages but there were especially built platforms along the sides so you can have a good old peek through the windows . The royal carriages were really fascinating. The old posters dotted around the walls were interesting too – the old away day trips by train I can remember well as a young girl – I remember one day railway trip we made as a family around 1974 was from London to Blackpool via Preston ( we didn’t have long there as a day trip and it rained all day!)

National Dad’s Army Collection – based on the popular TV series, Dad’s Army, you wander through the fictional “Walmington On Sea” with the original props and vehicles from the series.

Other Facilities

There is a gift shop and a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating that served the biggest slices of chocolate cake I have ever seen and picnic areas. Warranting a special mention are the toilet facilities for both men and women. They are both sparkling clean – hard to achieve in a public place – but the floors, toilets, sinks were spotless even by mid afternoon.

There were extra shops and stalls as part of the Steampunk event.

Recommend?

Oh yes, definitely.

If you are into gardens, then Bressingham gardens would delight. Steam train/train enthusiasts would enjoy. Ideal family day out – for babies the gardens would be ideal pram pushing area, for older children and adults the merry go round, crazy golf, & trains would delight. Not sure there was enough to please a toddler though.

For Pinning Later

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden.

For more details about Bressingham check out their website: www.bressingham.co.uk

Photos and Article copyright © LindaHobden.

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