Friday, September 30, 2011


Alfie has reached 'that age', an age where he is MAX everything.  Exploring the boundaries of everything ... from the basic limits of 'klutz' right through to the edges of my patience.

Today is an ideal example of this, and Tash rightly pointed out I should make a note of such events for future reference.

The morning was crazy, trying to get stuff sorted around the house and some bits prepared for the weekend.  We've had this freak 27+ degree weather recently and so it seemed the ideal opportunity to let Alfie play and run around whilst I was in the kitchen ... meaning he had full access to the kitchen as well as the garden.

With bottles filled and buckets brimmed he went about causing mayhem ... requiring me every few minutes to correct his behaviour.  First he tried to 'superman' through his chair, then it was attempting to steal knives from the kitchen worktop, covering the garden path in a carpet of straw, trying to break into the barn ....

For 5 minutes I had my back turned to make some pastry.  I turned back round to find the outside was inside.  A perfect tripwire lined up behind me consisting of watering cans, buckets, playhouse stools, dog bowls ...

You know that film Parenthood?  Remember that little kid?  If not, let me jog your memory;

Well Tash and I have often said "thats gonna be Alfie!" .... And then this morning it finally happened ...

But lunch would come and afterwards he would nap and I could straighten out the house.  Or so I thought.  We had lunch and he was put to bed, that much is true.  But nap he did not.  After an hour of listening to what could easily be mistaken for seismic activity in his bedroom I figured a) he might as well play outside if he was awake and b) I'd better see what destruction he was up to.  Amongst his usual destruction it appears he can now remove pictures from his walls via the cunning bed/storage box combo!

Once back downstairs he continued from where he left off.  Largely using his little stool to gain as much height as he could manage.  He climbed the chicken pen;

He tried to whack the washing with a fishing pole;

He climbed up to the kitchen light switches.  And when he got caught he gave me that 'what? I wouldn't do anything wrong' look;

He climbed the raised beds;

And he even tried to mount an escape!

And so my day finishes and I am totally shattered.  Absolutely cream crackered.  But truth be told I wouldn't have it any other way!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

De donde eres? Soy de Madrid!

As soon as I learnt Tasha's Dad was working in Madrid I had been keen to arrange an opportunity for Alfie and I to visit.  Stories of an apartment around the corner from the Santiago Bernabeu had me itching to board a flight to see a city I briefly glimpsed in 1998; then to visit Real's local rivals Athletico Madrid.

And so with The Gathering done and dusted we cashed in some Air Miles and last Monday (12th) Tash dropped Alfie and I off at Heathrow Airport to board a BA flight to Madrid.  We were there by 7:30am, and after over 2 hours of Airport Athletics we were finally able to board our plane ... to share a seat for the next 2 hours.  Thankfully BA seats are fairly spacious and we managed OK, largely aided by the check-in desk having left the seat next to me empty!
We arrived at Madrid Airport, somehow stumbled our way through the minefield of travellators and escalators, and eventually found ourselves at baggage reclaim.  By now it was lunchtime, and I had been with Alfie - but without buggy - for over five hours!  All I wanted to see was that Land Rover luggage appear so I could finally put him down!  At which point I realised there weren't many people about.  And there was virtually no sign of ANY luggage on our carousel at all.  And then it appeared, the only piece of luggage going round ... no, not Alfie's buggy, but the extending handle of some poor sod's samsonite.  I laughed.  Alfie laughed.  My recently gathered fellow passengers ... didn't laugh.  They clearly haven't seen this Rhod Gilbert sketch ...

Fred met us at the airport, and we jumped on the metro to head across to the apartment where Fred and Lydia stay.

With our cases unloaded we set off for a wander.  Just 5 minutes down the road is the Santiago Bernabeu, and as we took a stroll towards it I noticed what the Spanish call a petrol station.  Basically a pump in a bus stop - I'd hate to be a biker around here, there must be diesel all over the roads!

We rounded the corner and there in front of me was the enormous concrete theatre - Santiago Bernabeu!  Not the most attractive of venues, but certainly imposing.

It was then a case of finding a bar for a drink, followed by a venue for food.  This was pretty much the same scenario every evening. Not just so we had an excuse for a drink, but due to the fact the Spaniards don't do dinner till gone 8pm.

I'm not your typical tourist, I don't visit somewhere and look to hit all the attractions, I just like to 'exist' in a place and watch it all happen around me.  However Madrid was slightly different; obviously I wanted to see the Bernabeu and I was desperately keen to visit the Angel Nieto Museum.  Unless you're into Motorbike Grand Prix racing you probably won't know him, but he's quite a legend.  Anyway, Tuesday morning we negotiated the Metro to find ourself in the opposite end of Madrid and greeted by this;

Right place, wrong time.  Royally the wrong time too, as the exact four days I was in Madrid happened to be the exact four days they were closed!  I peeked through the windows at the displays of trophies but I wonder what other joys I missed.  It sure looks like it needs a tidy up though, I can't imagine the Italians ever letting Rossi's future museum getting into this state!  Btw, the 12+1 is recognition of his thirteen world championships ... but he was very superstitious!

So what did we do?  Why we sat down to eat of course!  And I had a cerveza in THE BEST Mahou chilled mug!

We then made our way back, Alfie fell asleep, and I managed to grab a 20 minute siesta (I had been up since 4am!) before our planned tour of the Bernabeu.  It kicked off at 6pm, and was a brisk walk through the home of the most successful football club in Europe.  If I was on my own I would have felt robbed - it was too fast, and covered too little.  But I was carrying Alfie the whole way round so actually I was pretty glad it was so rapid!

By the time we had completed the stadium tour it was 7pm, and Fred had made it across from work to join us.  Which meant it was "drinks followed by food" 'O' clock.

Wednesday arrived, and as Fred had taken the day off work we had planned to visit Madrid Zoo.

As I mentioned, I'm not a great fan of 'attractions' but I was quite looking forward to taking Alfie to the zoo.  He's at that age where he has a massive interest in animals, and seems to love elephants.  I couldn't wait to show him the real life versions that really go PAWOO! I was right to look forward to it too, for I was truly blown away by just how good the zoo was! 

Just a few weeks prior I had been so impressed with Shepreth because of their lack of 'cages' and Madrid was very similar.  It is possible to house man eating monsters without trapping them behind steel bars.

After Alfie did a lot of running, and we had checked out the sharks in the underwater enclosure, we stumbled across a display of birds of prey and various other feathered oddities. 

What amazed me was that the birds we free to leave the arena, and it seemed to me as if they were free to land where they wanted.  This massive eagle landed just behind us on a bin, and at one point was on top of the lamp post we were stood next to!

As we meandered around we happened to stumble upon the dolphin arena, just as they were getting ready for their next show. 

We grabbed a seat, and I have to be honest the whole experience very nearly brought a tear to my eye.  Alfie is quite familiar with animals, but it occurred to me he would have no idea that a dolphin might jump out of the water or put on a display for him. 

He was truly gobsmacked, and concentrated so hard on the whole experience there was no energy left for an expression on his face!

After all that excitement Alfie fell asleep.  It was about 1pm (so too early for lunch in Spain) and the mercury was up around 37 degrees!  We opted to find some shelter and sink a drink whilst Alfie recharged his batteries.  Once he awoke it was time for lunch, and then onto more zoo based adventures.

Amongst many others we saw Anteaters;


The 12 month old Panda cubs;

And of course the ELEPHANTS!

Do you think he had fun?

You may know that Alfie has a stuffed toy Koala, which has taken the name Walla, and unsurprisingly the zoo had an enclosure with a pair of Koala's.  Being nocturnal they were both asleep, and I was amazed at how close to the real thing Alfie's stuffed toy was!  So was Alfie, as for a few minutes he seemed quite distressed at having to leave Walla behind a glass panel!

Madrid Zoo also has a 'Madagasca' themed area.  We walked past and saw a sign saying you can go in the enclosure with a guide for 'x' Euro's.  I wondered what they meant by that, cos surely you can't go in with those crazy monkeys, right?  I was proved wrong, and those monkey are actually very friendly little folk.  When Alfie spotted a few up against the edge of their enclosure he did what he does with all animals - and tried to feed them stones!

Metro home, and it was soon time to head out for food.  We had spotted the local Harley dealership setting up an event outside the Bernabeu the previous night, and so took a stroll down their for BBQ and a beer.

An evening outside a football ground, surrounded by bikes, BBQ and beer ... does life get better?  Oh yeah, traditional Spanish baked offerings too!!

On Thursday I got my day of 'mooching'.  Taking it easy amongst Madrid, as life goes on around me.  Tasha's Mum took us past the 'Kings Crib';

The Cathedral;

And then whilst Alfie grabbed some shut-eye we found a nice little place to eat.  By the time he awoke it was lunch time and we dined well!

We meandered our way through the streets of Madrid, stopping off at a few shops along the way, until we found ourself right in the middle of Madrid!

Another evening was enjoyed, and before we knew it it was Friday morning.  Just enough time to grab a map of Madrid (for planning the bike ride) and a Real Madrid lapel pin souvenir before we had to board the Metro once more, this time bound for the airport to board a plane home.

A perfect week away, and what could be a better welcome than have your wife meet you in the arrivals area of Heathrow!?!  Except I kinda took the edge of that surprise by calling Tash as we went through customs to ask where she was ....

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Poppy Seed Roll Loaf

This one's for Urvashi!

After last weekend's joyful stollen my thoughts once again turned to a sweet loaf to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea.  Lacking marzipan, but with an abundance of poppy seeds I turned my focus to a rolled poppy seed loaf.

The rest of this post is going to be fast and simple and to the point - Alfie has just woken up, so I need to get up to him before he manages to further his attempts at bookcase basejumping.

350g bread flour
3g salt (don't scrimp on it here Urvashi!)
25g caster sugar
10g dry yeast/20g fresh yeast
120g milk
1 egg, beaten
50g butter, melted
115g icing sugar
lemon juice

Warm your milk.  Add the yeast.  In a bowl add the flour, salt & caster sugar.  Once the yeast has done its thing, add the milk, egg and butter to the bowl.  Mix together, turn out onto your worksurface and knead until nice and elastic.  Clean the bowl, gather your dough into a ball, and place the dough in the bowl and cover with clingfilm.  Leave to double.

Whilst the dough goes about its business make the filling.  Get about 120g poppy seeds and pour boiling water over them.  Once cooled, strain through a fine sieve.  Melt about 50g butter in a pan, add the poppy seeds and cook for a minute or two.  Remove from the heat and add 75g caster sugar, 50g ground almonds, 50g candied peel, 75g raisins and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.  Leave to cool.

Once the dough had doubled in bulk turn it out onto your worksurface, knock back and spread out into a shape roughly the size of a magazine page.  Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a little gap around the edge, and then roll up from one of the long edges.  Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with lightly oiled clingfilm.  Leave to double.

Get your oven warmed to 190 degrees and once the dough is ready bake for 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

To finish mix the icing sugar with about a tablespoon of the lemon juice and add whatever water might be required to give a nice glaze that just runs off the back of a spoon.  Drizzle said glaze over the loaf and add a few almonds to make it all look pretty.

This recipe is winner.  Alfie says so.  He even prefers it to pecan pie!  Speaking of the 'child of max doom', I'd better go get him up now ...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back On Two Wheels

This is another one of those blog posts which is me attempting to catch up with events 'pre-Gathering'.

Having built the single speed I decided I wanted another mountain bike to hack about around the local trails and get some fitness back.  Running around after a 'nearly two year old' can be tiring work, and Tash had warned me I would need todo something about my fitness!

And so I started pricing up frames, forks and cranksets on ebay and came to the conclusion I could get much better value for money by buying new.  And so my research began.  I must have spent about two months checking out the spec of bikes, working out which things I had to have and which areas I was happy to compomise on.  I found Genesis Bikes, a British company who's bikes had fantastic reviews.  The frame was highly regarded, and it came with a nice spec Rock Shox fork.  Test ride done, my mind was made up.

I took delivery about a month ago, along with a new bash hat and a pair of gloves, and have been trying desperately hard to rack up the miles.  Not just to get fit, but because there is a bigger agenda on the cards now.  A while back Tash got a British Heart Foundation leaflet through the door, and amonst its pages were details on a cycle fundraising activity that they do - 'clock to rock'.  This is a bicycle ride from Big Ben down to Gibraltar.  As you can imagine, this pressed a button with me; not only cos it involved Gibraltar but also because it would be a real test of personal endurance.

There was no way I was going to sign up to the £6k commitment, but it got me thinking about doing it on my own.  After speaking with Tasha's Dad recently he's bang up for it as well, and so it appears that next May we will attempt to cycle the length of Spain down to Gibraltar!

Tash is great at planning these kind of adventures, she has previous after our tour round Ireland on our motorbikes, and knowing what we were planning she set about finding hostels down the length of Spain that we could reach without having to cycle on major roads.  I'll get a copy of the map uploaded soon, but its looking like about 850 miles over 10 days!

I really cannot wait for this, and I'm getting in all the training that I can.  I'm cycling about 20 miles a ride, about twice a week, quite comfortably at the moment.

Obviously I won't be attempting such a long road ride on a mountain bike, and after Tash stuck a post on Freecycle I acquired a Raleigh Phoenix road bike that about 15 years old.  It needs a good service and overhaul but thats something I'm really looking forward to doing.  It even came with the original purchase documents!  Once the weather really turns, and I can't ride the local trails, I'll turn to cycling the roads during the cold winter months on the Raleigh.  That part I'm not looking forward to so much!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Feed Him To The Tigers!

And so with it being Bank Holiday Monday, and our son in his usual Pterrordactyl mood, we decided to find our most local Tigers to feed our little son too!

I still live in a world lit by candlelight (she never lets me have the light on in the lounge ya see) and the simplest of technological advances blow me away.  Wondering what to do with an additional day to our weekend I successfully discovered an unknown wildlife park, found its opening times, and even worked out how much it would cost us ..... from the breakfast table ..... ON MY PHONE!!

So we set off for Shepreth Wildlife Park, only about 30 mins from us but we never knew it was there!  They have weird furry creatures, guaranteed to be a hit with kids!

And all of the exhibits are within enclosures that have fairly low walls so you can see in really easy, which makes you feel a lot closer to the animals.  There was some really well thought out pens too.  I neglected to include the animals in this shot, so god only who was inside, but it looks like a fun place to be don'tyathink?

It definitely wasn't the weird furry creatures though, they were elsewhere still eating lunch!

All these open pens did have me slightly concerned for when it came to the Tigers.  Although I figured it would make it easier to feed Alfie to them!

I was relieved to find them safety contained behind some steel mesh though.  The same steel mesh that the local chicken shop says won't keep out foxes!  But I guess foxes won't attack Tigers anyway.

As it turned out feeding Alfie to the Tigers would have been much easier than I though, he seemed to be quite willing 'Tiger Bait'

Alfie had an awesome time squawking at all the animals though.  Even if his face didn't always show it.

They have an open bat 'cave' where the bats fly all around you which is pretty cool!  Even if only one bat came out to play. 

And there is also a super cool reptile enclosure where kids can really get up close and actually see whats inside.  Alfie was a big fan of the Bearded Dragons!

As every parent does, we had bought some fish food to feed the fishes that live in the big pond.  I'm tempted to report them to Trades Description people though cos what they actually sell is 'try and feed the fish while the f*cking swans eat everything' food. 

This gorgeous little bird joined in though - I have no idea what it is, answers on a postcard!  Its a real sweet little thing, the kinda animal that you hope means 'money luck and love' just so you can find a reason for having it tattooed!

The history of  Shepreth is originally a family home that became a rescue shelter.  At first primarily for hedgehogs, and everything has grown from there.  As more animals have come in, the place has got bigger ... and I like to think the park grew up around the tractor until they could no longer get it out.  And so they fenced it in.

Shepreth also has a kids play area indoors by the canteen, an outdoor adventure zone, and a kids research/discovery 'treehouse'.  It was fantastic, I recommend it to anyone who needs to amuse small people!

They also have signs which would do good as Tshirts for Alfie!