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Posts from the ‘LIFESTYLE’ Category


O Brave New World!

top pictureThere’s no doubt about it. The world is changing rapidly in hugely momentous ways. But there are also interesting if less significant changes that catch me by surprise when I happen to chance upon them.

Such was the case recently when I was invited to a launch event by Silent Pool Gin – and I found I was in for two surprises.

The first surprise: I’m not a gin drinker but nevertheless I’m able to name a few brands like Beefeater, Gordons and what I thought to be a very modern one, Bombay Sapphire in its distinctive blue bottle. Being vaguely aware of a gin revival I turned to Google and was astounded to find that the UK produces more than 500 brands and that there are more than 6,000 brands produced worldwide.

The second surprise: I was very intrigued by the venue Silent Pool had chosen to hold its event – a modern-day barbershop in London’s Soho.

IMG_20180116_193713Another quick Google told me that Murdock came about with the rise of the hipster movement in London’s East End. A quote from their website explains:

The first of Murdock’s traditional barbers opened in 2006 in the vibrant bohemian village of Shoreditch. Frustrated with the bland high street barbers and unisex salons on offer, we wanted to create a memorable grooming experience that is inspired by British tradition, whilst being perfectly suited to the modern man.’

When I arrived at the event, the link between the gin and the barber’s shop gradually became apparent: gin, traditionally flavoured with the juniper berry, is now infused with a huge variety of ‘botanicals’ thus creating a myriad of tastes for the traditional gin and tonic. Silent Pool were promoting their Black Tea Infusion product, for which the starting point was Murdock’s Black Tea fragrance for the modern man.

I spoke to Stu Bale, whose job title is Head of Innovation at Silent Pool and the creator of the aromas featured in their ‘intricately realized’ gin. He obviously loves his work and clearly has a nose and palate for it. As his elaborate tasting notes for the Murdock Cocktail tell us:


Stu – in the grey woolly hat)

I started with the base notes which for me were obviously black tea, nutmeg and pepper. I tried various different kinds of pepper but the one that stood out the most ended up being a Tasmanian pepper which gave a great warmth without overpowering spiciness. I used the Rare Tea black tea for as far as I’m concerned it’s the best in the world. Then along with the nutmeg……..working up to the mid-notes I added in tiny amounts of sandalwood and cedarwood to add that woody, mysterious oriental vibe. Finally for the top citrus notes I used neroli and petitgrain which are both different expressions of the orange tree but still in a warm way’.

I asked Stu where he had trained to gain such expertise in the smells and tastes business – his answer was that it came naturally, as it clearly does, adding that he had originally trained as a dentist but soon decided it wasn’t the correct career path for him.

So there I had it. An explanation of why a launch of a gin product was taking place in a barber’s shop! We were of course invited to sample the Murdock Cocktail, though we were informed that it was not so much a cocktail, more an interesting version of a gin and tonic. To make your own, take 50ml of Silent Pool Gin Black Tea Infusion and 100ml of tonic water (the recommended one is 1724, a whole article could be written about the current explosion of superior tonic waters on the market). Add ice to a rocks glass, pour in the gin, add the tonic water and a twist of orange to garnish. Cheers!

image007   IMG_20180116_193910

Silent Pool Gin can be found at Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Amazon and Magestic Wines


Jeannette Nelson, food criticjeannette-adjusted31


Luisa Spagnoli launches in the UK

luisa-s-1Not being very au fait with haute couture, I have to confess the first time I heard of the Italian top end brand Luisa Spagnoli was when I was invited to attend the official opening of their first UK store in London’s fashionable Piccadilly, yards from Fortnum and Mason and the Ritz.  I could have named Versace, Gucci, even Fendi (because a cousin of mine is obsessed with the brand and has paid an eye-watering sum for one of their handbags!)  but I found myself learning something new.

Luisa Spagnoli founded the company in 1928 in the beautiful Italian town of Perrugia and her great niece is still currently very involved with it.  Until recently stores were only located in Italy, but now they’re branching out, having opened in Palo Alto on the west coast of the States and now in Central London.

luisa-s-3So lured by the prospect of champagne (which turned out to be Prosecco, of course) and canapés, and a beautiful gift, I mingled with aficionados of fashion and fashion bloggers and gazed with some envy on the merchandise.  Everything on display really was rather lovely and beautifully arranged, colour-wise rather than by garment type, and many items were simple and ‘ordinary’ enough to be classed as ‘everyday’ wear.  The quality was superb and the designs simple but imaginative enough to be just that little bit different.  With the exception of shoes, Luisa Spagnoli offers clothes, bags, (I’ll have to tell my cousin!) and jewellery for a chic coordinated look with considerable flair.  I asked myself which market it was aiming at, and wondered whether it might attract more the visitor to London than the resident.

luisa-s-2Prices certainly were high (certainly higher than anything I would contemplate spending) but not beyond the limits of well-remunerated younger professionals.  Despite gloomy economic forecasts both here and around much of the world, there s
till seems a market for high-end fashion, and as such, Luisa Spagnoli certainly deserves to do well in their new location.
And the beautiful gift I was promised?  It turned out to be a lovely silk scarf, rather old-school but feeling very luxurious.  I’ve worn it a couple of times already – it does add a ‘je ne sais quoi’ to jeans!


Jeannette Nelson, our versatile critic, willing to attend all kinds of events to provide varied interesting features for In Balance Magazine


All at Sea? The Migrant Painting

I recently was invited to an intriguing exhibition in London’s trendy Shoreditch area, renowned the world over for its wonderful street art over the last two decades or so. Although much remains, to the delight of tourists and others, it’s currently in the grip of gentrification that is affecting so much of the capital and rents have rocketed so that impoverished street artists can no longer afford to live there. One of the few remaining is Stik, so named because of his simple yet evocative stick figures, and he’s just produced a large new work high on a wall near Old Street station. He has paid his landlord rent in canvasses for many years (probably a shrewd investment on the landlord’s part), but who knows how much longer this may last.

Anyway, I made my way past the trendy bars, cafes and restaurants to the Jealous East Gallery where an ethical online money transfer company, Azimo, were exhibiting a specially commissioned work of art alongside four large black and white photos. The title of the exhibition and the main painting: “Can a work of art define the word ‘migrant’” set about tackling the centuries-old problem – that of the negativity surrounding migration, whether it be for political, economic or other reasons. In a different corner of the arts world, Richard Bean’s 2009 controversial immigrant satire at the National Theatre tackled the same issue, which doubtless will surface again and again.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-18-21-41The remarkable painting by Eleanor Barreau is an imagined interpretation of seven famous migrants in a wooden boat surrounded by iceberg tips. The boat itself evokes the current daily tragedies of Africans fleeing their continent and attempting to start a new life in Europe. The migrants are an interesting choice, particularly as it’s questionable whether they should be associated with the word. I ask myself is this because they are all, in their way, famous, or even celebrities? They are Lionel Messi, the footballer who left Argentina as a 14-year-old to join FC Barcelona; Marie Sklodowska, who emigrated from Poland to Paris when she was 24, then married Pierre Curie and discovered polonium and radium; Mo Farah, a devout Muslim who came to London aged 8 as a refugee and who has become a sporting hero; Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for 21 years where he was a lawyer and civil rights activist; global superstar Rihanna, who moved to the USA from Barbados to further her career; Angela Merkel, born in East Germany under the communist regime and who then found herself a citizen in the united Germany; and finally Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, not a migrant himself, but like so many US citizens the son of migrants, in his case, Syrians.

The young people present at the exhibition, including the founders of Azimo who set up the company because they were appalled at the way traditional money transfer companies were charging such high fees to cash-poor people sending money back to their families, and the artist herself, were passionate about their cause. They were further inflamed by the current spate of racist attacks on migrants living in Britain following the Brexit vote, and were really committed to finding a way to make a difference. Perhaps one small painting won’t change attitudes or the world, but I had to applaud them for their commitment to what seems at times a problem with no solution in sight. And perhaps we should live in hope that from this, and other, little acorns, mighty oaks will grow.

Jeannette NelsonArts critic with special interest in theatre


Slug and Snail invasion – a solution

So, ‘they’ say our gardens are in for a slug invasion following a wet summer and warm winter. Help! What can be done? I have suffered from slug damage for years. My seedlings especially taking a hit.

delphinium seedling surrounded by pellets

A delphinium seedling surrounded by protective pellets

I have tried everything I heard of including crushed egg shells and barriers of pine needles, salt, coffee grounds, nothing worked. Beer traps certainly did but I found it most upsetting to have to deal with the corpses. Copper tape attached to pots worked, so did the environmentally friendly slug pellets made of ferric phosphate.
Recently I have been using a Grazers’ product targeting slugs and snails – a formula which is basically a harmless calcium mix. Non toxic but off-putting to birds, rabbits and crucially, slugs. I have used it in my cold frames on my overwintering plants and recently for hardening off seedlings. The cold frames have always been a harbour for slugs which in the growing season needed removal every day. A bit of a chore.
However, since I have used the Grazers Slug and Snails product … I hesitate to rely on the fact that I haven’t found one slug since I started using it … but I now respray regularly, once a week on average, not on very wet days.
Here is the Grazers website giving loads of information
That’s my solution. Do you have one?

Val Reynolds, editor


Growing food successfully at home

Anyone who grows some of their own food will know that success is a moveable feast!

Two years ago my attempt at growing tomatoes outdoors was a failure. The garden is very windy and the ground just didn’t get warm enough for the plants to develop, so in 2015 tomatoes were indoors, link to the feature.

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

However growing indoors allows access to juicy morsels to unwanted creatures without the usual predators to control them. Always wanting to use natural deterrents I keep a pyrethrum based spray handy.  However disaster struck when I inadvertently used the wrong spray.


I had nurtured this pelargonium over the winter, now on its way to the great composter in the sky

What happened? I noticed a couple of little flies in the conservatory, the kind that lay eggs in the soil and the grubs eat the roots and the plants die. So I rushed around looking for the pyrethrum can, found it and sprayed assiduously all the plants and seedlings. To my absolute horror I realised I had used a weedkiller spray instead. I rushed around again, found the water spray and desperately watered.

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

To no avail, within 24 hours little brown spots had appeared on some of the leaves and over the next week everything was on the way out. There was nothing for it but to start again.

Broccoli and globe artichokes

Broccoli and globe artichokes, all doomed

I contacted Delfland Nurseries who raise organic vegetable plugs and they sent me basil, chilli, sweet peppers and squash replacements. I resowed tagetes, nigella and limnanthes to serve as companion plants. If you are keen to find out about using plants as decoys to insects like black fly and attract pollinators like bumblebees and overfills, have a look the guide provided on the Thompson & Morgan website, from which you will see basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes, as are chives and mint.

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat!

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat, essential for contemplation!

We grow a lot of companion plants every year and will do the same this year –  nasturtiums, a great space filler and colourful companion plants germinate without any help from us from last year’s seed!

Half the plugs Delfland grow are organic own vegetable plugs and each month you can choose a ‘selection pack’ of brassicas, salads, glasshouse or herbs and more. Here’s a link to the ordering options.

For those of you who find the planning of seed sowing and remembering to keep to the schedule a hassle, will find these plugs so useful when you have run out of space for early sowings or when you don’t want a whole packetful of plants from seed raising.

Delfland now have bedding and other plants for sale as well as ready-made hanging baskets and pots planted in various colour schemes – now that appeals to us!

This has to be one of the best websites we have found for gardeners who enjoy growing their own vegetables. Delfland provide really good quality plants and great service. Do have a look!

Val Reynolds, Editor


David Bowie, That boy from Brixton

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.20.22Our guest contributor, Anne Tilby Jones  visited The V&A exhibition, David Bowie Is, in 2013, which showed the fantastic imagination and creations of David Bowie spanning five decades. We thought you might like to read her feature.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.39

Such a legacy he left behind, a real ‘one off’ personality. Just love him!

Anne Tilby:  Film, TV and theatre production designer, 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

Val Reynolds, Editor


Reducing Air Pollution in your Home

IMG_2935So you like air fresheners, room fresheners, smells of all kinds from perfumes to deodorants, linen sprays, the list goes on and on.
How many contain limonene? Have  look at those you use, you may be surprised. This chemical, used to replicate citrus scent, is in the news – see
IMG_2938Worried? The answer could be to get a copy of  Dr B C Wolverton’s book How to Grow Fresh Air: Grow and nurture 50 houseplants to ensure you have clean, non-polluted air in your home and office.
Written as a result of research designed to create a breathable environment for a NASA lunar habitat, space stations, Bill Wolverton discovered houseplants are the best filters of common pollutants, such as ammonia, formaldehyde and benzene, chemicals released by furniture, carpets, building materials and photocopies and then trapped by closed ventilation leading to respiratory and allergic problems, now referred to as Sick Building Sydrome.
His book shows you how to grow 50 plants as accessible and trouble free as the tulip and Boston fern. Each plant is rated for its effectiveness in removing various pollutants. Of the houseplants that fall into the category of eco friendly according to Wolverton a rubber plant is the most likely to be successful. Bred for toughness, it will survive in less light than most plants its size. It has a high resistance to insect infestation and is easy to grow and, very important, is especially effective at removing formaldehyde most often found in furnishings that take years to cease emitting fumes.
This is my absolute favourite indoor plant book and one I would never be without.
Easy to understand, well illustrated and it makes sense!
Here’s a link to Dr Wolverton’s website. Of course How to Grow Fresh Air is available from Amazon or any reputable bookstore
Some research has shown a link to dementia and man made chemicals. So all in all, air fresheners and the like are out. Pity, we really liked them.
We subscribe to Freegle, a website that facilitates giving away and requesting items which leads to reducing the amount put into the waste fill sites. Guess who’s going to ask for rubber tree plants! They grow pretty big and people often want to give them away. We have a lovely conservatory that would provide a good home for anything large … and rubber tree plants would be most welcome.
IMG_2937This peace lily was a Freegle plant. It loves the bathroom but it will probably migrate to the sitting room with its new carpet.

Just so you know we are not affiliated to Amazon, or anyone for that matter. We believe in free speech and the free exchange of positive,  personal experience.

Would you like a feature to appear here? We have roughly 750+ hits a week, from all over the world. We are advertisement free so please don’t embarrass us by our having to refuse kind offers.

Yours in health
Val Reynolds

Grow Your Own Climbing Strawberries, Indoors or Out

Climbing Strawberry Mount Everest © Thompson & Morgan

Climbing strawberries with a fruiting period from June to September, now there’s a thing!

In 2008 we wrote an article about the Thompson & Morgan strawberry Mount Everest. It grew well for us and our readers. We had six plants to grow and hoped for great things, especially to make jam.

This year we will be trying Strawberry Skyline with climbing stems and dangling fruit from every runner! The perfect option for anyone short on space, the climbing habit also brings other added benefits – you can get to the fruit before the slugs do, there’s no need for straw to keep the ripening fruits off the soil, and no back-breaking bending to pick your crop. Plant in the soil under trellis or pea netting, or grow on the patio with the T&M Towerpot® climber system for easy access to the fruits. We will be using the Towerpot this year in the conservatory and in the greenhouse as a comparison.

Skyline T&M climbing strawberry

Skyline T&M climbing strawberry

Our 2014 strawberry growing was not a huge success. Here in Cumbria we have a shorter growing season than further south. So in 2015 we decided to grow our strawberries in the glazed entry hall to offset the lower temperatures outside.

T&M Flamenco everbearing strawberry

For Flamenco another T&M everbearing strawberry, we used strawberry bags. They grew well, had a wonderful harvest which the mice and slugs relished so they were moved into a glazed link between the stables and the coach house*. They did well there.

We tried Eternal Love a variety from Lubera that went on and on fruiting right up to the first frosts. We have kept a dozen runners to grow on, the fruit tasted really good. This year we are trying another Lubera variety, Fraisibelle. All kinds of soils and conditions seem to suit it from light to heavy soil, partial shade to full sun.

As always we travel optimistically and have visions of rows of strawberry jam in the larder! We managed some what we called freezer jam. Much simpler than conventional jam making, although it produces a soft rather than a very firm set. There are easy instructions on the Certo recipes webpage. The ‘jam’ is so tasty and delicious on ice cream, cereal, and in cakes. We always make sure there is always some Certo in the cupboard year round. So this year it’ll be delicious freezer strawberry jam again and maybe even ice cream made from unsprayed homegrown fruit!

IMG_9166 - Version 2 copy*Why not come and visit us? We have converted our 1700’s old stone built coach house into a self contained warm and cosy cottage for holiday lets, short and long, any time of year. Here is a link –  we grow many different companion plants and insect attractive flowers to maximise our fruit and veg in the kitchen garden. Do come! We love talking gardening!

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat!

Companion plants in the kitchen garden, note the seat!





Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Stitching in May

Cornelia Parker at work on Magna Carta (An Embroidery), Photograph by Joseph Turp

Cornelia Parker at work on Magna Carta (An Embroidery), Photograph by Joseph Turp

Stitching is a hot topic this month, with two exhibitions opening this month in London: Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker and Colin and Helen David: Not only when the moon shines: The Living Quarter.

Anne Tilby, one of our regular contributors to this magazine on a variety of subjects, has written a feature on her website, Big Frieze entitled Stitch in Time that looks at the detail of the exhibits and their topicality.

A mixed media designer and artist, Tilby is an experienced production set and costume designer for film, tv, theatre and opera has produced an impressive body of work during her career.

We love her work which always seems to have a startling, unexpected and wry flavour, witness her images of live models dressed in food, or her series of painted bottoms, or her image using fag ends, or perhaps her highly amusing images of Julian ClaryScreen Shot 2015-05-19 at 17.23.18, or her latest work Tortured Soles, an art rant about western foot-bindingScreen Shot 2015-05-19 at 17.20.40.

These images and more are on her website.





Val Reynolds, Editor

Photography © Big Frieze


A revolution in eating out

Typical Italian pasta with delicious sauceA lot of change has taken place recently in the restaurant sector in London and across the country too.

It used to be that  those venturing to the capital for an evening  in the theatre, cinema and concert hall would be somewhat restricted in the question of eating beforehand.  Several chains and independent restaurants would offer a pre or post – theatre menu (and indeed, many still do) but the options would be a two or three course meal, without or with a glass or more of wine.  The problem might  be eating a large meal either around 5 or 6pm,  or, less likely, one after 10pm.  The former may well be too early, the latter too late for the average person.

IMG_2503Now the buzzword is ‘streetfood’,  sometimes turning up in the guise of ‘small plates’.  They offer the opportunity to eat as little or as much as you like, small quantities at a time.  Washed down, of course, with as much alcohol as you feel appropriate.

IMG_6547Nothing really new here though.  The Spanish, for example, have had their tapas for centuries.  The origin of the term is interesting:  the word ‘tapa’ means ‘lid’ – in the distant (and not so distant) past, when flies would be buzzing around in the torrid heat of the Iberian peninsular,  the landlord of the inn would place a lid over the receptacle containing alcoholic drink, and, in true entrepreneurial spirit, would place a small tidbit – an olive or two, some nuts, some dried fish – on it.

IMG_20150409_184440These days in London, tapas are big business.  They are well represented in the small chain of La Tasca tapas bars, the latest of which has just opened in refurbished premises on Maiden Lane in London’s Covent Garden.  With astonishing candour, the people now in charge acknowledge that the previous incarnation of the tapas bar there fell short of perfection.  The claim now is that the food is fresh, not frozen, and the menu and wine-list far more inventive and interesting.  That certainly was the case when I was entertained at the re-opening night.  The food was delicious and the wine of good quality at non-outrageous prices.

London is awash with places where you can choose a varied and interesting combination of small dishes.  Wahaca, a Mexican chain, boasts particularly fresh ingredients.  If your taste is for Indian streetfood, the Masala Zone’s the one for you.  And even regular restaurants now offer so-called small plates.  While a traditional starter may be a bit on the minimal side (and restaurants may show a reluctance to supply less than a main course), a small plate or two may be just the ticket for a pit-stop at an hour or so before the customary supper hour.

And springing up all over the capital are markets offering freshly prepared streetfood using prime ingredients.  The West Yard at the previously rather tacky Camden Lock Market sports stall after stall of tempting goodies, all at reasonable prices.  In one of London’s newest hip area, the revitalised King’s Cross, you’ll find amazing stalls on Granary Square, the place to go for an al fresco lunch perhaps before boarding the Eurostar for le continent.  In fact, it’s hard to be in a place to be without having delicious delicacies on offer.  London’s foodies are indeed being well catered for these days!

jeannette-adjusted31  Jeannette Nelson Arts and theatre critic

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