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Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum


Herculaneum, Bay of Naples, Italy, 2012 Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

It’s a well known fact that these two Roman towns were buried under mountains of ash, lava and rubble from Versuvius, with the horrifying result of wiping out both populations, grim indeed.  However, the latest exhibition at The British Museum, though set in the context of the disaster, is focussed on people’s everyday lives and their possessions. The things people commissioned, talked about, bought, loved, were proud of, sometimes broke, sometimes threw away, nevertheless things owned by real people.  It’s a new take and a welcome one, as the unusual circumstances of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption leave a unique opportunity of glimpsing the civilisation that was the Roman Empire.  And although Herculaneum is often seen as the smaller sister of Pompeii, it’s given almost equal billing here.

The exhibition revolves around the home, its interior, its gardens, its kitchen and also the streets and shops.  The artefacts are clearly explained with Latin inscriptions helpfully translated.  One fresco that particularly strikes a modern chord is of drinkers gearing up for a brawl;  indeed, you felt yourself thinking on many occasions, that life hasn’t really changed that much since AD79!

The pyroclastic flow that hit Herculaneum was so much hotter than the ash and rocks. People were instantly knocked to the ground, their bones broken, their bodies burned to the bone. Items were crisped and carbonised, so amazingly we’re able for instance to see a loaf of bread from Herculaneum, and even the stamp of the baker on a loaf of bread.  His  name, Celer, means speedy. Speedy was obviously proud of his ability to turn out loaves of bread. The child’s wooden cradle that still rocks serves as a poignant example of everyday life.


Wall painting of the baker Terentius Neo and his wife. From the House of Terentius Neo, Pompeii. AD 50 to 79. Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

From the artefacts it’s clear that many slaves became freed men and women and integrated more fully into everyday life in both towns.  Also highlighted is the important role of women which throws into the air our ideas that they were generally considered to be second class citizens.  One of the most beautiful and telling exhibits is a beautiful fresco, showing a man, and his wife, standing side by side, he holding a scroll, she a wax tablet, on which she kept domestic and business accounts; so who was wearing the toga in that household?  Women may not have been able to vote or be elected to public life but they seem to have had equal say in everyday life.

You are encouraged to enter the lovely home and garden with its wonderful frescos of birds and flowers, to make yourselves at home and  view the wonderful items of Roman life  many of which have never been seen in public before.  And as you enter the final rooms of the exhibition, you can also see a few of the famous casts of bodies from Pompeii, a reminder of the tragedy that struck but still telling you that these are real people.


Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st Century AD, Roman, Pompeii. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Look out for the dormouse fattening up pot! The gold jewellery  is fascinating, you can buy a replica of a beautiful snake bracelet for £120 in the inevitable shop at the exit.

Jeannette Nelson Arts Critic   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.


Preparing to Move House

deposit letter IMG_0636 - Version 2Moving house is a traumatic event, or at least it has been for us, and we haven’t even moved yet!

First stage was to have the house assessed by a surveyor of our choice. He reassured us our concerns were nothing to worry about and gave us advice about what he thought we could do to make the most of the best features of the house. So all those little things we kept putting off like settlement cracks were dug out and filled, the chimney was repointed, the conservatory roof cleaned, plasterwork repaired, decorating throughout, carpet cleaning and, best of all … an oven clean! Yes, I recommend it to anyone who has let their oven become an overwhelming task. I only wish I had had it done earlier, the new house owner will benefit from it more than me.

So now we have an exceptionally clean, bright, and rather attractive house to sell. Ah, but what about clearing out all that stuff we have accumulated over the years – there are even boxes of stuff we brought with us that have never been opened since we moved in and there are some from previous houses! That’s where I found some 70’s clothes I couldn’t bring myself to throw away.

deposit letter IMG_2521We heard of an organisation called Freegle. We just announced on the website items we would like to give away, chose whoever we thought would benefit best from them. The items were collected and lo and behold our garage, loft and cupboards were cleared in just a few weeks. So all is now neat, clean and tidy … a bit of a job to keep it that way.

I did hold back some stuff I thought might sell on eBay. Being an eBay virgin it took me time to get into what seemed to be endless pages of How to Instructions.

I gradually eased my way in … by buying rather a lot of stuff! Oh well, I’ve now successfully sold a perfectly functioning camera, a kitchen shredder and some clothes. The clothes seem to go for peanuts, but the camera and shredder sold for decent amounts.

We’ll be writing more about eBay experiences in the near future.

In the meantime we’re off again to view more houses. Having had two refusals of our offers we are a bit sensitive to rejection, but ever travelling hopefully we will continue to offer what we think each house is worth to us.

Next step, sell our house.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Spring into the Garden! Are you ready?

corsican hellebore

corsican hellebore

It’s that time of year, when we have bright sunny days, and many gardeners get the urge to get out and do things in the garden. It often coincides with the time when the frogs start getting busy in the pond! Or you notice an early bee on a dandelion flower, or maybe a plant that has been growing steadily, like these hellebores when I noticed them today, 12 March.

So, where are your gloves, the trowel, the fork etc. Having laid your hands on them they may look rather worn out and need replacing.

Replacement gloves are needed in my case – I tend to wear mine out within a year. A couple of pairs are useful, I don’t always remember where I left them last! This year I’ve decided on another pair of Showa gloves, Floreo grip 370. They are great for wet or dry jobs, very flexible, the palms don’t tear or wear away, very comfortable – hands are free to move around rather than feeling they are in a strait jacket and machine washable at 40º. I’ve chosen a purple pair and XSmall, sizes go up to XLarge. Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 18.42.09

For heavier work I’ve chosen Flourish gardening gloves by Joseph Bentley. These have a suede palm with a breathable mesh back. The cuff is reinforced to protect wrists. Available in most garden centres and of course on the web.

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 18.48.31A fabulous transplanting trowel that really does the business even in stiff clay is our favourite 2013 tool. Made of stainless steel it has a scale on it to take away the guesswork of how deep to plant plugs and bulbs. The leather thong to hang it up is a welcome feature. Manufactured by Joseph Bentley this will last a lifetime and give confidence to the least confident gardener. £7.99 with free postage from Amazon is we think a good investment.

We notice Tesco are offering a whole range of items for gardeners at £1 each! Their garden scoop is ideal for dealing out compost from those plastic bags that always fold in on themselves just as that trowel full of compost reaches the top of the bag. At £1 we thought it a good idea to get two – the bright yellow one will surely mean I don’t lose sight of it easily.

Tesco Garden Scoop - £1

Tesco Garden Scoop – £1

Sow Seeds suggest growing salad leaves at this time year, satisfying the urge to grow and eat your own healthy food as soon as possible. They offer varieties that can be picked again and again. Mizuna, mibuna, rocket, lettuces, babyleaf spinach, babyleaf swiss chard, pak choi, microgreens. Have a look at their website, I’m always inspired to try some and it means we have fresh own grown greens year round.

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 19.10.16

It’s not easy to raise vegetable seeds to grow well early in the year. If you start them indoors you will have to keep turning them to face the light and even then they may go very leggy. What’s the answer. To be honest, best to buy plugs at a later date! But if you are like me and begrudge the cost of plugs, after all seeds cost a fraction of the price, seed raising is the most attractive option.

So yes, I start them off on the windowsill, and turn them every day. Later I have to pot them up which takes up more space. My solution is to just sow a few seeds from each packet. Sometimes seeds have remained viable for a year way beyond the plant by date and I have been able to get results. This is very satisfying. The one vegetable I sow in bulk is the leek. We never tire of eating them! They are spread throughout the garden, I don’t like to see rows of anything, it looks unnatural, and dotted around the garden they add interest to flower beds.

Anyway, now I have lots of little pots with plants growing enthusiastically but it’s still too early to put them outside to withstand the weather. The answer really is give them shelter, an unheated greenhouse, or in the garden under a cloche, or even just fleece has been successful. Or perhaps a cold frame.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 16.01.20I have ordered this cold frame made of plastic, UV resistant it won’t quickly go brittle, it’s easy to assembly – no tools required, rustproof and has double-sided ventilation, manufactured by Keter at £39.99 from Homebase. I used to have a cold frame made of aluminium and glass which was difficult to put together and supplied without safety glass. The Keter one gives far more protection from wind and rain. Here are the instructions to assemble it, see what you think

Secateurs – I have yet to find a really good pair. I am trying out some bypass secateurs, gold cut, by Joseph Bentley, with titanium coated blades. Why titanium? It gives a longer lasting blade life and resists wear and corrosion for longer it’s designed to prune and cut back all kinds of green wood. Like the anvil secateurs, designed for mature wood and dead wood, they come with a lifetime guarantee. Both types of secateurs can be used by right and left handed gardeners.

Bentleys also offer secateurs designed for the smaller hands of women with soft handles and coloured pink – again a plus feature, easier to see where you put them or dropped them in the garden.

Anything else? I’m looking for a pinafore to hold tools, string, labels etc as I work. Also a new wheelbarrow. The last one had an inflatable tyre. Excellent, but not easy to repair if it got a puncture and that happened three times. So I was quite pleased when the body split and couldn’t be repaired.

I’d dearly love a fruit cage and am looking into that too.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 15.59.09And, my real dream – a turntable composter. I have my eye on one made by Keter. In fact I have to admit I have one on order … Can’t wait to use it! I’m looking forward to turning the handle, having compost within 6-8 weeks and never having to turn the compost heap over ever again! If you are curious to know how it works go to

Finally a greenhouse is my ultimate dream. One that will stand up to hard and heavy weather. I might on the other hand I might go for a small poly tunnel – we’ll see!

Val Reynolds Editor


David Bowie, That boy from Brixton

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.20.22The new V&A exhibition, David Bowie Is, shows the fantastic imagination and creations of David Bowie spanning five decades.

Exciting, dark and theatrical it is bursting with material, providing an insight into Bowie’s mind through a multitude of collaborations with artists and designers. A spectacular and multi-sensory show bordering on immersive theatre, mirrored and faceted  projection,  sound installations, videos, preparative drawings, sketches, scribbles, lyrics, and models for his staging and costumes.

The sound-scape is rich and experiential, tuning into zones and exhibits, as we move around the exhibition, designed by the company 59 Productions (of the Olympic opening ceremony) and innovative sound technology from Sennheiser.

Bowie’s  clear vision and  hands-on approach, is apparent, influenced by a varied host of artists, culture and politics ranging from Marlene Dietrich, Kabuki Theatre, Lindsay Kemp (from whom he mastered the art of theatrical tension), Kubrick, Kraftwerk, Mao, Jung, German Expressionism and Berlin life.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.25At the beginning we read:

“All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings” signed David Bowie

Indeed – Bowie is a master in borrowing and deriving art-works from everywhere!

Bowie’s collaborators affirm he was a perfectionist, yet easy to work alongside, confident to entrust his team with creative freedom. His costume designers such as Burretti and Yamamoto were delighted to work on an androgynous model such as Bowie  with chiselled features and the ideal tall angular figure to carry avant gard silhouettes and flamboyant suits.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.39Kathryn Johnson – young assistant curator reveals she was most encouraged and relieved to discover Bowie had been supported by a range of talented individuals, support and teams rather than producing his projects alone and that his creations were not all the product of one mind. The range of characters Bowie creates, explores and plays out to entertain us is amazing.   Although the exhibition is densely packed with over 300 exhibits, Kathryn says it was hard to whittle down the content from so much available. Bowie supplied most of it, although he had no wish to be involved in the curating.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.23.51BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE !

Of the Bowie movement, many people say “It spoke to me “ –  he gave us the license to be ourselves, be individual, be liberated.  In the context of the 1960s and 70s he challenged gender convention and gave a voice to gay liberation (which had only been legalised 4 or 5 years prior to Bowie’s emergence onto the pop scene)

I believe Howard Burrell compared Bowie’s influence today, to that of Mozart or to Bach in their time – the bad boy popular appeal.

Bowie deliberately remains elusive and mysterious (very Dietrich) with an edginess and perhaps strategic recklessness derived from Iggy Pop.

The new album is already a best-seller –  Bowie at sixty-six in the Sinatra spot … and why not celebrate age?

The exhibition embraces every technology, projection, stills, sound, installation fabric, manuscripts and scraps – small booths and large staged exhibits against black space.

The exhibition is packed with an extensive amount of material, a sensory overload  – there is too much to decipher – but yet something for everyone, be you a fashion student, designer, musician, anthropologist, a fan, or a dreamer.

I defy you not be inspired.

“AND THERE HE IS MESSING WITH OUR MINDS AGAIN  …” but that is the job of the artist – to evoke otherworldly feelings*.

Curators: Victoria Broach and  Geoffrey Marsh

David Bowie Is – at the  Victoria and Albert Museum, London  23rd March – 11th August 2013

Anne Tilby:  Film, tv and theatre production designer and mixed media artist  Clients include Julian Clary, Ken Russell, Spitting Image and Father Ted, opera design for Covent Garden Royal Opera House, Chicago Lyric, Moscow, ENO, Madrid … Trash Factory bubbles alongside other activities and is symbiotic – a social enterprise for creative recycling in the community and schools. Trash Factory needs for other interested eco-centrics – so do contact us via

Photography provided by V&A Museum archive


Organic, tasty and colourful soups and sauces

Typical Italian pasta with delicious sauce

Typical Italian pasta with delicious sauce

I really like to add fresh ready made sauces to my cooking but making my own is sometimes difficult to make small enough quantities for a meal for two. As I look for as many organic ingredients for our meals as possible discovering some new additions to Tideford organic soups, sauces and a pudding were welcome finds especial for anyone wanting products that are gluten-free, low in salt, low fat, with mainly vegetarian & vegan products and no additives or preservatives.

Of this new summer range the Westcountry Cheddar Cheese Sauce went very well with ham steaks, and the Carbonara with Bacon and Nutmeg was excellent with chicken breasts, new potatoes and broccoli. Both sauces are made with organic, vegetarian Westcountry cheese.

Others to choose from include:

Jalapeno Salsa      Mediterranean Vegetable Sauce     Tomato & Basil Sauce

They all retail at £2.59 with the Ragu a la Bolognese £2.99 and Basil Pesto at £3.75.

Of the two new soups our favourite was the Pea & Mint Soup. There was some left over so next day we added a few frozen peas, grated cheese and more mint and hey, we had a light starter for lunch. The other soup, Minestroni with gluten-free Pasta went down well with the men, can’t imagine why! Must be the chilli! Tideford Organics Pea & Mint Soup

The tasty soup range includes

Farmhouse Chicken with Lemon & Thyme     Italian Tomato with Lentil & Red Pepper     Beetroot with Crème Fraiche & Dill     Spicy Butternut Squash with Sweet Potato     All retailing at £2.79.

We absolutely loved the new Chocolate Rice Pudding, suffice it to say we have  tracked it down and it seems to regularly appear on the shopping list!  It’s delish hot or cold. We love the Classic and Butterscotch Rice Puddings which are also gluten and wheat-free and oh so creamy.

All these super products can all be found at Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Abel & Cole, Wholefoods, Booths and independent retailers.

It’s possible to follow Tideford on Facebook Tideford Organics Ltd and Twitter @TidefordOrganic.

Have a look at their very informative website. You will get a good look at their products and an insight into their ethos.

Charlotte Singer Guest Cookery Journalist

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