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Christmas Catalogue for Good Life Gifts

The Wiggly Team!

The Wiggly Team!

Wiggly Wigglers is a feel good story. Heather and Phillip Gorringe live and work at Lower Blakemere Farm in Herefordshire and while Phillip runs the farm Heather runs Wiggly Wigglers, the company that started off selling worms to compost food waste.  They do live the good life, with cattle, pigs and hens, and they grow their own fruit and veg.

We bought one of the first Wiggly Wigglers composters years ago when Heather was at one of the RHS shows. We have three Wiggly Wiggler composters now, all different styles and they all work well.

Oak sapling infused with truffle spores

Oak sapling infused with truffle spores

Our favourite Christmas catalogue is the Wiggly Wigglers Christmas catalogue. It’s full of stuff we really want! From truffle spores infused in sapling oak trees – harvest your truffles in 5-7 years’ time, to spore infused logs to harvest your own exotic mushrooms.

Then there is the apple peeler and corer – named on the recent Channel 4 programme Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets as one of the top gadgets of all time. We really must have one! Processing the apples is such a messy, sticky job, but this gadget promises to make it more fun next year. Click here to see it in action.

Apple corer and peeler

Apple corer and peeler

There’s loads of other stuff, bird food, bird feeders, shelters – the catalogue is available by post – phone 01981 500391. However if you are cutting it a bit fine go to their website where everything is available. Remember though that date for last orders is Wednesday 21 December.

Happy Christmas!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

See our experience of the latest composter we bought from Wiggly Wigglers.

Our Top Ten SIMPLY SUPER Christmas Gifts

In the space of a year we see a fair number of items we rather like. Here are our top ten we think would make fabulous, interesting and thoughtful gifts for Christmas 2011. They are of course equally appropriate at other times of the year.

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

1. Novelli Cooking Knives

These knives will last a lifetime, in fact they are designed to last for more than one generation. Beautifully balanced, made from the best of materials they are a joy to work with. We love using them. More …

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

2. A Footplate Holiday in Poland – The Steam Engine Enthusiast’s Dream More …

3. However this beautiful book  Great Railway Maps of the World may be a less generous gift than a trip to Poland but just as acceptable we’re sure. More …

4. Forever Rumpole

The loveable legal rough diamond Horace Rumpole who refers to his wife as She who must be obeyed, conjures up an appropriate bon mot whatever the occasion. Forever Rumpole is a fine choice for bedtime reading. More …

5. A History of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is bedtime reading for at least a year!  This is a great dip into book, with 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger. It would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history. Wonderful book. More …

6. Garden tools Investing in garden tools can be a hit and miss affair but here are three we have tried and liked for their utility. We loved the Fiskar trowel, patio broom and axes – our choice for 2012. More

Fiskar Trowel

Fiskar Trowel

7. Growing plants from seeds is one of our passions. We usually go for Thompson & Morgan seeds but sometimes when we can’t find what we are looking for, we look at the Sow Seeds website. A small independent seed business based in Cheshire offering the home gardener, allotment holder and commercial growers the finest quality seeds at great prices it is worthy of support. They provide Gift Vouchers and Seed Boxes, ideal gifts for beginner gardeners and old timers alike.

And for those you know who suffered in the drought this year we highly recommend having some Supa Drippas to hand just in case it happens again next year. More

8. Our kitchen waste is now being collected in the kitchen itself, saves us going down the garden in all weathers. This is achieved because we are now using a Bokashi composter – the micro organic process with no smell. Believe us when we say it is so good we keep telling everyone about it! And it is our favourite gift to our gardening friends. More

9. For every harassed Mum or Dad – the answer to  replacing damaged playthings! Saves a fortune – a lifeline especially to anyone not handy with broken stuff. A great stocking filler/tree gift. More

Getting ready to taste eight different wines to match with Festive food

10. Our final suggestion is a course at the Wine Academy in Queen Anne St, Marylebone, for anyone you know  interested in knowing much more about wine. We recently attended a wine and food matching course, absolutely excellent, led by Suzy Atkins, wine writer for The Times. We can’t rate this highly enough. Fantastic gift. We will be writing about our experience in the near future.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Forever Rumpole – a wonderful read

Forever Rumpole  contains what John Mortimer described as the best of the Rumpole stories.  Fourteen stories, the first published in 1978, the last in 2004 together with the text of the last, unfinished, story – Rumpole and the Brave New World.

Mortimer had a truly unique style of writing and great powers of description …

I didn’t sleep well that night. Whether it was the Majestic mattress, which appeared to be stuffed with firewood, or the sounds, as of a giant suffering from indigestion, which reverberated from the central heating, or mere anxiety about the case, I don’t know. At any rate Albert and I were down in the cells as soon as they opened.

Mortimer was an excellent raconteur with a fund of stories to tell. His after dinner speeches were legendary and Anne Mallalieu, who worked with him for many years, describes a dinner where he had an audience of over a thousand people in the palm of his hand, a gift given to a very few.

I had a wonderful time with Rumpole, going to and from the Bailey, Wormwood Scrubs, meeting his most valued clients the Timsons, going home to Hilda, She Who Must be Obeyed, at 25B Froxbury Mansions in Gloucester Road, having a drink in Pommeroy’s Wine Bar, and getting to meet his colleagues Miss Phillida Trant, Claude Erskine-Brown and Uncle Tom among many others.

This book is an excellent bedtime read, it will send you asleep in a good humour!

To find out much more about Rumpole here is an excellent website

Forever Rumpole is published by Penguin Viking  ISBN 978 0 670 91936-9

Reviewed by Philippa Green, contributing author


Handmade Bespoke Cakes with a Jamaican Flavour for any Occasion

For us hits all the right buttons, no hydrogenated fats, no artificial flavourings or colourings, handmade. All natural and Sonia McDonnell who makes these yummy items is taking orders for Christmas cakes now.

The ingredients just sound so enticing! Overproof Jamaican rum and brandy, homemade marzipan and icing. All made with natural ingredients, no animal or hydrogenated fats, artificial flavourings or colourings.

Most of the supermarkets have lots of goodies to choose from at this time of year. But there is always a question mark in our minds as to what they are made of.

However, we are definitely going for one of Sonia McDonnell’s Christmas cakes … at least we are sure of the ingredients. And the taste! So moreish and memorable! Do have a look at her website and if you are interested please mention you read about her in inBalance Magazine!


Val Reynolds Brown


PS Sonia is based near St Albans and delivers within a five mile radius.


SIMPLY SUPER Gifts: 2 A Steam Train Experience in Poland

Steam loco Tr5 65, Wolsztyn, Poland

Steam loco Tr5 65, Wolsztyn, Poland

Most unexpectedly in 2009 I went on a three day trip to see trains! Steam trains in particular. We started with some wonderful, typically Polish, meals in Poznan – authentic beetroot soup, wonderful gnocchi with crisped bacon pieces, onion and cream cheese, I can remember it even now, two years later!

I was on my way to Wolsztyn (pronounced Voltzteen), a  mecca for steam railway enthusiasts who flock to see the only regular steam hauled service in Europe, possibly the world. (The only other known regularly steam services are in China, mostly mining sites taking miners to mines with some routes up to 40 miles long!)

Steam trains between Wolsztyn and Poznan are scheduled twice a day, seven days a week, taking 4,000 passengers, including commuters, per day and about 2,000 tons of freight per week.

On the first weekend of May each year, train enthusiasts from across the world descend on Wolsztyn to watch the Steam Parade, with more than a dozen steam trains from Poland and Germany in operation around the depot in Wolsztyn, along with some rather special parades of steam locomotives. The spectacle of steam trains racing through the station is a highlight of the event. Apparently the event is so popular it is known for accommodation in the town to be booked a year ahead.

Loco Tr5 65

Loco Tr5 65

When we took the steam train 70 kilometre to Wolsztyn a huge locomotive had been commandeered into service to replace the usual engine which had been hired out for a private trip. News of the change in loco, the Tr5 65, had aroused a lot of interest and train enthusiasts with cameras were on many of the station platforms we passed through. In view of its age our loco’s maximum speed was only 60 km an hour.

As soon as we left Poznan station a flood of memories returned from my childhood – we used to go to the south coast for summer holidays … the smell of burning coal, the hissing steam, the sound of the hooter, the clouds of black smoke. The notices on the sash windows DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE WINDOWS reminded me of my mother vividly describing how I would lose my sight if a hot coal smut burned my eye … sufficiently alarming to prevent me from disobeying!

I remembered the sepia photographs in wooden frames of the English country and seaside scenes above the seats and being bounced up and down by the seat’s strong springs. I remember too the slam of the doors, the brass handles and the leather sashes with holes you used to move the windows up and down, or was that recall of the Lavender Hill Mob or David Lean’s Brief Encounter? Whatever, I was swept back to the 1950’s!

A sad row of discarded locos

A sad row of discarded locos

The train reached Wolztyn on time and we stared at the rows of engines, not so much mothballed as just shunted into line like a row of dusty old elephants. Further on at the Wolsztyn depot, home to a large number of abandoned and withdrawn engines moved there from now closed steam locomotive depots all over Poland, it’s possible to examine these at close quarters – a trainspotters/enthusiast’s dream! I found it all rather sad, but for enthusiasts absolutely fascinating.

The Poles are very proud of the steam train facility and once a year Children’s Day on 1 June a five hour, 250 km trip to Kolobrezeg is organised to raise awareness, eight carriages take up to 500 children for a delightful experience.

We watched our locomotive refuelling and rewatering. A long, labour intensive process with the odd moment of unexpected drama. The hot cinders being raked out from beneath the firebox on to the ground below glowed red that generated huge clouds of steam when water was poured on to cool them. The smell, and sound were high pitch. The coal had to be replenished using an old creaky crane and the water tank refilled with an exciting (for the children and photographers!) moment when it overflowed all over the rear of the engine like a waterfall.

Overflowing water tank

Overflowing water tank

Then the engine was turned to face the other direction for the return trip. We had a ride on the turntable and walked round the worksheds with their inspection pits and rows of tools to perform all manner of different repairs and maintenance.

It’s possible to hire a steam engine with carriages of your choice for a personal trip. How about a wedding reception on a train moving through the countryside with the steam blowing and whistle sounding, what fun waving at people at stations especially for kids!

Book with Fundacja Era Parowozow

For more information about Wolsztyn Steam Trains go to and click on Wolsztyn in the place names list. That webpage also gives information on renting a holiday apartment, Polish translation, Polish Ancestry Research, Guided Tours of Poland.

For details of Footplating Holidays in Poland organised by a UK company see this link

I flew from Stansted to Poznan via Ryan Air.

The trip was organised by Polish National Tourist Office

Photography © Pintail Media

Web Links

All photographs © Pintail Media


Callous Broadcaster: Clarkson on BBC One Show

train wheelsWas I the only one disgusted by Jeremy Clarkson’s throwaway remarks on the One Show on Wednesday?

Clarkson said

Trains should not stop for people who have committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the rails. It won’t make them better.

on the One Show on  20 November.

There is more indignation about his saying strikers should be shot in front of their families which was clearly a jokey thing, albeit in very bad taste, but something that would never happen. Whereas people jumping in front of trains does happen with terrible consequences for bystanders, the train driver and the families involved.

I think Clarkson should be banned from broadcasting, he clearly isn’t in touch with normal sensitivities. And I don’t accept the argument that he doesn’t seriously mean what he says – it’s all for effect at other people’s expense.

Val Reynolds, Editor


SIMPLY SUPER Christmas Gifts: 1 An Heirloom

Novelli place settingOur selection of Christmas Gifts is from the many items we have tried throughout the year. Some are very expensive, others more modest and some affordable by most of us.


Knives for Cooking In November a group of us had a Christmas Lunch cooked by the chef named as the World’s Sexiest Chef” by The New York Times. Jean Christophe Novelli. We couldn’t vouch for that of course, but he is very good looking and his French accent added an extra, attractive flavour to the experience.

That apart, the meal was excellent, the turkey succulent, the gravy spot on, the vegs al dente without being chewy. The dessert, apple pie with wonderful vanilla ice cream, was superb. However, the object of the session was not to eat and drink ourselves silly, but to watch Jean in action with his recently launched Ziganof cooking knives.

Top of the range, these knives are for life, even to pass on to the next generation. With the core made from the best surgical steel and covered with 63 layers of Damascus steel, the hardest and sharpest knives have been created. See more detailed information on the Novelli website. You can see the striations in this photographStriations on cleaver

Jean showed us how using just the two knives it is not necessary to have any others. The paring knife is a multipurpose knife ideal for peeling all small vegetables and other intricate work such as deveining shrimp, removing seeds of small jalapeno peppers, skinning mushrooms and all the other delicate jobs in the kitchen.

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