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Posts from the ‘Great Gifts Anytime’ Category


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


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


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.

Read more »


Cooking with Chocolate – Gifts for any occasion

We love cooking with chocolate and here are just a few of our favourites to keep handy when friends drop by. Chocolate Truffles, Creamy Vanilla Fudge with Chocolate and Nuts, Chocolate and Cinnamon Swirl Meringues, the list goes on and on! So easy to make too! All in our absolutely favourite book: Gifts from the Kitchen, 100 irresistible homemade presents for every occasion by Annie Rigg, published by Kyle Cathie.

Here is one recipe we make once in a blue moon because it hardly ever is used for what it is intended for … spreading on toast, or as a layer in a sponge cake, or as a topping to cookies. It is so yum it generally gets eaten direct from the jar! Oh well, we have no resistance – do try it!

Chocolate and Hazel Spread  Read more »


London’s Hidden Secrets – the City’s Quirky and Unusual Sights

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.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

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.

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