Most people seem to agree that finding the perfect gift for their dad is one of the least easy tasks of the year. Here are some ideas from our thoughtful team to inspire you:
Wine holiday in Oporto Built into the hillside of the spectacular Duoro Valley, The Yeatman hotel in Oporto is inspired by the celebrated wines of the region. Guests can seriously indulge themselves during the weekly wine evenings, tasting soirees and cookery courses. The extensive wine cellars hold 25,000 bottles alone and the in-house Michelin starred chef, Ricardo Costsa, is always on-hand to educate guests about food pairing. Even The Yeatman’s vinotherapy spa will be difficult for Dads to resist, as it offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Bath or body scrub. Prices from €150 per night.
Failing that why not a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005, available from £13.79 at most retail outlets nationwide. Here is a link to information on the website
Or he might have loads of the stuff in the cupboard but may not have some luscious glasses to savour it – we would choose the beautiful Riedel Port Glasses available at John Lewis and Amazon.
How about a short holiday break for someone mad on fishing? Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although a couple of tickets might go down a treat! – how about Fly fishing in the Maldives All hard-working fathers deserve peace and quiet once in a while, and you would be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and tranquil outdoor pursuit than fly-fishing. On a secluded private island in North Maldives, Island Hideaway resort boasts deepwater channels and expansive shallow flats, ideal for whiling away the hours until that longed-for catch comes along. Prices from £1350 per week during low season, and £2300 during high season. OK, so that might be a bit over the top! How about The Ultimate Guide Book to Fishing? This Google page might give ideas.
Right, nothing so far appeals? What about a luxury wet shave? Harking back to simpler times when every man had a trusty barber to see to his beard and whiskers, in London the Spa at Dolphin Square offers chaps the rare chance to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Moroccan wet shaves. Choose from the age-old Savon Noir shave, which cleanses by combining crushed olives, olive oil and Eucalyptus (£35), or go all out with a Moroccan Cleansing Ritual, incorporating a Hammam and Shea Butter Massage, followed by the relaxing shave (£104). This would appeal to many men I know so it could be a winner!
On a more basic level though why not a gift voucher from B&Q? Lots of us like browsing in DIY stores, especially new and improved gadgets!
Or why not some Ogilvy’s honey – their Balkan Linden Honey is rather special. Gathered from colonies in the Danube region of Serbia. This honey was one of four varieties of Ogilvy’s Honey to win gold stars in the 2011 Great Taste Awards organised by The Guild of Fine Food. It is rather special – you can find more information on the Ogilvy’s website.
If you live in or near London then of course you could take him for a meal – Ping Pong in Soho is excellent, The Sanderson in Berners St has a wonderful dining area as has the Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park Corner. What about some tickets to a game at The Arsenal? A visit to the House of Commons to see Parliament in action and a meal in one of the boats on the river. Or a boat trip on the Thames? Of course you could just go for a walk in Hyde Park and have something to eat in one of the many cafes in the park.
Or how about an App for his iPhone or iPad – he doesn’t have one? There’s two more ideas!
Hope you might find one of these inspiring! Good luck – you have just three days left!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Visiting gardens is a most interesting and a very popular pasttime. Wimpole Hall was the latest we visited end of May, 2012 where it was interesting to see the advanced growth of their onions, whereas ours were mere blips on the landscape by comparison! We also noted the wild bee houses liberally sited throughout the gardens. A variegated horseradish was much admired by visitors and irises were in full bloom despite the lack of rain for the last week or so. Based in Hertfordshire we tend to spread out north and east, so for us a visit to the Langford village gardens in Oxfordshire on Sunday 17 June between 2 and 6 pm is not really on our agenda. However the gardens sound magnificent and if you are anywhere near do consider a visit.
There are 26 gardens to wander round, both large and small including one created by Hardy Amies, famous for dressing the Queen for more than 55 years. The Grange and Ansells Farm gardens are open for the first time and Lower Farm House, a garden at the medieval end of the village has been completely remodelled.
Garden visiting wouldn’t be the same without tea and homemade cakes and there will be two locations to choose from.
£4.50 per person on entry and children go free!
More information on website
Val Reynolds, Editor
Whatever time or financial limits parents may have at half term, a special trip is always a lasting memory especially when you are very young. Can you remember the first time you visited a zoo, or a circus. I must have been all of six years old when we visited Whipsnade Zoo and still have the memory of the taste of my first ice cream! It was a Walls ice cream wafer sandwich that dripped all down my front and the memory includes the smell of the elephant house and the screaming of some monkeys in their big outdoor cage. In Balance reader Karen, with her husband, six year old Ben and four year old Aeryn visited Warwick Castle last half term and had what was clearly a memorable visit and would love to go again.
I have visited Warwick Castle several times – around the age of 8, 15, mid 20s and now in my mid 30s with my husband and two young children and I can happily say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every visit and can foresee more visits in future, it is that good.
We decided to base our day around the verbal and visual displays that were well described on the website.
So we started off at the ‘Raising of the Portcullis’. It was great to see the portcullis being lifted and to imagine that you are walking into the past.
We went straight on to the ‘Attack & Defence Tour’. The lady made a point of getting the children to the front used some children to demonstrate the width of the wall – which helped put it in perspective for them. As they don’t fire the ballista maybe they could consider having some mini ones set up somewhere so that children, or indeed adults, can have a go to get an understanding and respect for the weapons.
We then walked around to ‘The Mighty Trebuchet’ which was easily seen and heard as the trebuchet is across the river and the commentator had a set place to stand. He was also miked up to several speakers that were spread out over a wide viewing area. It takes quite a while for the trebuchet to be prepared and fired but there is detailed description and historical explanations during each stage. Facts like using blind people to be the ‘walkers’ as the motion sickness generated from viewing the slates could cause people to fall and break their necks. Tip bits such as using the trebuchet to send dead animals or beheaded messengers over the walls to spread disease and fight a psychological battle are gruesome enough, images that strangely cause fascination with the use of such devices during sieges ie it’s so much more than just something which throws balls of fire. Which, to be fair, on its own is an amazing sight and the way our six year old’s eyes lit up when it happened was testament enough that it’s well worth the wait. I thought it was great that over 18s could volunteer to be part of the team that prepped the trebuchet. Hands on history is always the best in my opinion.
The ‘Flight of the Eagles’ was held in the main arena so benefitted from speakers and four wooden posts which the man lead each bird to in turn so we easily got a good view of each bird. Our six year old particularly enjoyed watching the vulture as he was “walking funny”. The use of questions and answer time to one side after the show was particularly thoughtful as it meant that our shy child was able to ask a question that he wouldn’t have done in front of the whole audience. It also meant that we got a good close up picture of one of the birds.
The ‘Warwick Warriors’ probably held our children’s attention the best as there were three main people involved and there was plenty of appropriate and amusing banter between them. There were lots of visual demonstrations alongside interesting explanations. The idea of destroying Hollywood film myths really did challenge the average concept of what it would have been like to be a knight. They also included some great references for the children such as comparing how Scooby Doo quickly hides in a suit of armour and yet real knights would have needed someone to dress them. The actual demonstration of this amplified the point. Once more humour was used to maintain attention, for example, the fully armoured knight demonstrated that he could run, jump and even do star jumps.
Lots of facts were given throughout all these demonstrations and at the time we were not sure just how much our children were taking in but a dinner time conversation a couple of days later reassured us that our visit to the castle was not only a fun day out for our family but also very educational even for a four year old. Both our children couldn’t say enough about what they had seen and heard when asked to tell their uncle and nan where they had been. “Did you know that they learnt how to use a sword when they were six and a bow and arrow when they were eight” Benjamin, aged six.
With all of these displays the people leading them were all of an impressive standard. They all kept the audience’s attention well and had a good mixture of information and humour. The information was also pitched well starting from small and factual for children to recall, to enough detail for proper historians without boring the more average visitor. There was also a good mix of visual, audio and kinaesthetic techniques used to involve the audience without overly applying the audience participation which can put some people off. The use of characters for most of these displays was very well balanced between ‘in role’ and ‘not taking themselves too seriously … often explaining why out of role’. We loved the delivery, as I’m sure you can tell.
After all these displays we stopped off for a toilet break (of a good standard and easily found) then visited ‘The Mound’, ‘Dream of Battle’, ‘The Tower and Ramparts’, ‘The Kingmaker’ and then ‘The Chapel, Great Hall & State Rooms’ (although the rooms were disappointing – not much information and not really geared up for young visitors). The Mound and The Ramparts were great for the children to get excited pretending that they were defending the castle. The Kingmaker was well set out with plenty of mannequins and brief bits of information (both verbal and written) so that it was easy enough for the children to imagine what life might have been like but without being too scary (although our four year old was a little wary especially in the slightly darker areas).
We ended our visit with the Peacock Gardens, Conservatory (although not much to see in there) and the Rose gardens (which were being renovated and obviously the roses were not out yet but we still appreciated the layout). Finally, we took photos of our children ‘stuck in the stocks’.
I did weigh up the possibility of taking my father on our next visit. He is disabled and would need the use of wheelchair to experience a day long visit. I do think there would be enough to justify a visit for him. Although I could not find information regarding the price of ticket for a disabled visitor – I hope it is heavily discounted as probably only a third of the whole attraction (if that) is accessible from information gleaned and accessibility assessed on our visit.
We heard later of a spine-chilling new addition to the programme: Witches of Warwick which promises to thrill visitors from March this year – are you up for the challenge?
Karen Fletcher, contributing author
DID YOU KNOW? Just an hour and fifteen minutes by train from London, Warwick Castle is rated by Tripadvisor as one of the most talked about attractions in Europe and is the most visited stately home in the UK. It has a variety of attractions to appeal to families, retirees and mid-30 something culture vultures alike.
Go to the Warwick Castle website for further information and booking online
Photography Karen Fletcher & Warwick Castle
This product is a bit like turkish delight, full of promise and seemingly a godsend for parents with children when urgent reliable repairs to equipment, toys and ‘stuff’ are needed. Probably most useful during the summer months when kids are outdoors using playthings, now is a good time to stock up.
Tear-Aid is a transparent, water- and airtight patch which can instantly and permanently repair tears or holes in paddling pools, lilos, sun shades and even bicycle inner tubes. Between them they can fix tears in almost anything – from tents to beach toys to space hoppers! The patches are quick and easy to use – simply cut to size, peel and stick with no glue or mess. Each repair can last for years, saving you money on costly replacements and keeping the kids entertained all through the summer.
There are two types available – an all-purpose fabric patch and another designed specifically for vinyl products. Tear Aid patches are made from exceptionally tough, matt, abrasion resistant material that resists punctures and tearing. It is designed to provide a strength to a variety of surfaces such as canvas, leather, rubber, nylon, most plastics, paints, aluminium, stainless steel, fibreglass, polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl and vinyl coated.
Tear Aid type A (fabrics) and Tear Aid type B (vinyls) provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears as well as an excellent protective film solution.
An ideal stocking/tree present.
For more information or to buy, visit
call sales on 01889 270 663.
Katie Goodshaw, harassed parent and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine
A colourful and beautifully realised book that details different railway maps, past and present, from around the world. The scale of the reproductions limits the use of the book as a reference work – some of the maps can only be interpreted with high magnification – but its true worth lies in its artistic presentation of the varying styles adopted in mapping railway systems.
The accompanying text is clear and comfortingly non-specialist, and the book is enriched by the inclusion of advertising poster images commissioned by railway companies.
The book also tries to show in several cases how railway systems have shrunk – USA and the United Kingdom being familiar examples – and also how developing countries have grown their networks. The book uses these as examples only, for its aim is not to provide a comprehensive history of the railways of the world. What it does do, in its 138 pages, is to show how the functional railway could make striking use of art and design in proclaiming its identity and in marketing its services.
Author: Mark Ovenden Publisher: Particular Books ISBN: 978 1 84614 392 5
The work of Yohji Yamamoto, the influential and enigmatic fashion designer, was exhibited at the V&A earlier this year, here is a link. The exhibition made it possible to get up close to the exhibits, view from all anglers, examine at the detail, the variety of fabrics, the unusual pattern cutting and then compare other examples of work, a fascinating experience. We spent a happy couple of hours in the various galleries where the work located.
Then a fashion show in the Fashion in Motion series open to the public and free of charge, was put on by the Victoria and Albert Museum in July and we had the opportunity to see Yamamoto garments in motion, which is so much more interesting than static models.
Laura McClelland, our fashion editor, comments: The show revealed the typically edgy Yamamoto style – both the fashion and the models who were “ordinary” couples taken from the street but far from ordinary once having had a catwalk training session, perfectly complimenting the Yamamoto neo-goth/punk styling of his clothing.
I loved the idea of the couples who were so suited for it, whispering to each other as they came down the catwalk.
The womenswear pieces shown were a selection of beautifully de-constructed fabrics and shapes that have a fluid movement once in motion. Although Yamamoto is well known for his androgynous look I felt many of the pieces were very feminine with their effortless, subtle tailoring.
The men’s pieces were a selection of over-sized tailored styles with some intricate embroidery detailing.
The latest Fashion in Motion show was on 18 November that showed the work of London-based label, Peter Jensen.
We will let you know when the next show is to be held. The tickets are in great demand so you need to be quick to get one. If you don’t manage to get a ticket the show will be broadcast live on the day. Again we will let you know the link in due course.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
New guides to London are proliferating! Last July I reviewed the London Sketchbook for this magazine, a personal and somewhat quirky look at the capital that took certain areas and walked you through them.
Now, like the proverbial buses (you wait half an hour then two turn up at once!) I have in front of me London’s Hidden Secrets by Graeme Chesters, with the sub-title A Guide to the City’s Quirky and Unusual Sights. Strangely enough, I wouldn’t particularly have chosen the word ‘quirky’ to describe this one, though certainly ‘unusual’. This is a beautifully produced and methodical guide that takes you from the heart of London to the outer suburbs and describes in precise and concise terms points of interest that are certainly not on the tip of every tourist’s tongue.
The layout is clear and consistent: Every sight has two pages devoted to it, the left displays photographs and an ‘at a glance’ box which gives you the all important information on location, cost and opening hours. (There is a ‘health warning’ right in the front of the book in a stand-out red box to check times as they may have changed – with continuing cut-backs some places are shortening visiting times). The right page is devoted to an informative and very readable written description of the sight with a charming one-line quote at the end from the author, summing it all up as he sees it.
So let me whet your appetite with a few examples, starting right at the heart of the city. Have you ever noticed the Twinings Teashop and Museum opposite the Royal Courts of Justice? Or in particular its 18th century doorway with its two Chinese figures and the company’s golden lion? The quote at the end of this one is ‘More tea, vicar?’, a lovely illustration of the liveliness of the author’s writing.
Moving outwards, would you like to see ‘Some of the best Italian art in London’? Then head for the Estorick Collection in Canonbury, which also often has interesting temporary exhibitions and is particularly regarded for its Futurist works, all housed in a lovely 19th century building. Interested in Art Deco architecture? Then, if you’re a north Londoner like me, grab your passport and head south of the river (though not very far) to Tooley Street by London Bridge station and look carefully at St Olaf House. I’ll confess that I must have been past here on numerous occasions and never noticed the intricacies of the building before, both the Tooley Street side and the Thames side. I’ll be looking out for it next time I’m in the area.
And finally, if all Neasden conjures up for you is the magazine Private Eye, take a Tube there and wonder at ‘Europe’s first traditional Hindu temple’ with its souvenir shop (of course!) and a restaurant serving Indian vegetarian food. Named, apparently, by Readers’ Digest as ‘one of the seventy wonders of the modern world’.
I thought I was well-versed in the standard and less-standard fare that London has to offer. Since I’ve had this lovely book in my possession I’m not so sure!
London’s Hidden Secrets is published by Survival Books priced at £10.95.
Jeannette Nelson A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
It’s always picnic time when the sun’s out, the river looks enticing and we’re in a hurry!
We grabbed a couple of packs of pate*, a french loaf, butter in a tub, some paper plates, a sharp knife**, something refreshing to drink, plastic cups and we were off.
Off to Cambridge for a break – why not? It’s the start of the term and yes there’ll be visitors galore, but it’s always possible to find a grassy spot on the river bank and have a great time with friends, gossiping, remembering times past, dreaming of good times to come. That’s the atmosphere we find whatever the weather.
It feels so good with the sun warming your bones on a cool autumn day, lounging on the grass, drinking in the view, admiring, or not, the prowess of the punters. We always feel better after a break away from the desk. Of course it doesn’t need to be Cambridge … Anywhere quiet and green with something to focus your attention on is good. Great for reducing blood pressure – frequent breaks from the pressures of publishing are a must for us.
We took some Castle MacLellan pates. Three of us had tried them previously. Here are our preferences, each marked out of ten, ten being the top mark.
Mushroom with garlic and thyme – 9 – memorable, would buy this regularly
Salmon with lemon juice and horseradish 9 – excellent, would definitely buy it if we saw it in the supermarket
Duck with bramley apple jelly 7 – good but not outstanding
Crab with lemon juice and Galloway mustard – 6 – good but not outstanding, perhaps more mustard would give it more of a bite
Chicken pate with Scottish heather honey – 5 – needed more of a bite to make it memorable, bacon perhaps, or garlic, personally we added some lemon juice when we had it on toast and in a sandwich.
Castle MacLelland products are available at Waitrose, Nisa, Coop/Somerfield, Spar, Booths and also in Sainsbury and Morrisons (crab only), Asda (Scotland stores only) as well as independent stores throughout the UK.
The Crab is on special offer in Sainsbury’s reduced from £1.25 to just £1 from 31 August to 20 September – four days left!
**Sharp knife is needed to open the seal on the pate packs.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
The major retrospective of Joan Miró the Surrealist at Tate Modern 2011 comes to an end on Sunday, 11 September.
Renowned as one of the greatest Surrealist painters, working in luxuriant colour, Miró worked in a rich variety of styles. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy more than 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints created across six decades of an extraordinary career.
Give yourself at least two hours to take in this exhibition, I went round twice, using the audio commentary. I came out rather over ‘Miróed’ but completely in awe of his range of artistic styles. Overall I looked at The Farm for the longest. It has such a story to tell, I could have looked at it for hours and even then found something new to see.
This really was intended as a must-see exhibition by Tate Modern and for once I agree. If you can squeeze in a visit this weekend I think you won’t regret it.
The last exhibition tour on Saturday is at 12.15 for just 15 visitors. This costs £5 plus of ticket £15.50, concessions £13.50. The exhibition closes on Sunday. You can Book online or call 020 7887 8888.