Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sussex Gastro Pubs Series: The Lion & Lobster Has an Upstairs (Who Knew?)

Things are always changing in Brighton & Hove - it's one of those towns where cafes come and go and pubs change hands in the blink of an eye. It can be disconcerting to discover that somewhere you've known and loved has changed beyond recognition, but then again, sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised.

Last night I went on a nostalgic walkabout with Jo around some of my old haunts in Hove borders - the Cooper's Cask (which hasn't changed a bit) and the Lion Lobster (which has). Back when we were living in Bedford Place, the Lion & Lobster was our local and has remained a favourite watering hole whenever we're in those parts.

It's been over a year since I last popped in for a scoop and I was surprised to discover some substantial developments had occurred in that time. Having already been extended to include a row of cosy booths off the back room, the pub has now doubled in size with an upstairs bar and restaurant and even an upstairs beer garden. The sectioned off cosy restaurant - with its higgledy-piggledy pictures and homely lamps - has the atmosphere of a private members' club, and though we were too late to sample the standard cuisine, we did indulge in a pizza from the late night menu (available til 2am Fridays & Saturdays) so that we could sit in the swanky bit. I'm looking forward to going back for a proper meal in due course - but do let me know what it's like if you have eaten there yourself.

Photo of the Lion & Lobster by Koschi on Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Rainy/Sunny Weekend in South Devon

Having tried living in Sussex (Brighton, then Beeding) for a short while last year, my dear friend Harriet decided she needed to be somewhere more rural and departed for the rugged and windswept South Devon coast. She bagged a job at the Field Studies Centre in Slapton, and now resides on site, just a stone's throw from Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve (it's the biggest lake on the South coast, you know) and the nearby sparse shingle beach and rocky shore.

Now I love the countryside, but I could never possibly live somewhere so remote (unless of course I had a little pied-à-terre in Town as well). I've always loved Sussex for its pleasing balance between the bucolic and the urban and have grown to take for granted having certain amenities on tap. Knowing this about me, Harriet has always been at pains to stress the abundance of activities on offer in her new adopted home territory in an attempt to coax me away from my cosy townie existence for a visit.

Last weekend I finally succummed and went to see what all the fuss was about. I've been to Devon many times before - on childhood holidays and camping with Ant in the early days before we could afford jaunts to California and the like - but never to this particular area. As we were driving down the A303 on Friday night in the howling wind and rain, we began to wish we'd arranged something sooner and come in the summer months like any sane person would.

Opening the curtains to reveal a stunning panoramic sea view from our cosy B&B the next morning, we watched a lone dog walker struggling against the elements and resigned ourselves to a weekend of indoor activities. The first thing Harriet did when we arrived in Slapton was to take us down to the beach. In the rain. And the wind. Oh and did I mention the rain? Luckily I had my wellies and waterproof with me, but this didn't stop me from getting wet knees when the waves crashed up more energetically than anticipated. After a "walk" that basically involved us staggering about getting soaked for five minutes, we decide to cut our losses and head for civilisation.

The nearest 'happening' place to Slapton is Totnes, which is a lot like Lewes, only slightly less haughty. Inland, the weather was less severe and a few patches of blue sky had even started appearing. I was right at home amongst the endless hippy shops and lush organic delis, but my ultimate shopping nirvana materialised when I followed a glimpse of sequins spied through a dark doorway into a vintage clothing and costumery cavern the like of which I have only ever dreamed of before. I could easily have spent several hours and many hundreds of pounds indulging my fancy dress habit, but there was a carpe to diem and lunch to be had.

You can't go to Devon without having at least one cream tea and so when we found ourselves in Dartmouth later that day, we made it a priority to find one. We also took the opportunity to stock up on local cider and ale, some of which we drank by the pretty riverside right there and then, as day sloped into evening. Back in Slapton, Harry's boyfriend Ben cooked us up a hearty pie, made with hand-gathered chestnuts. When the booze supply started thinning out we walked around the corner to the pub for a scoop or two before closing and found ourselves surrounded by a bizarre mix of rowdy university students and chatty locals.

Thankfully I was not at all hungover the next day, because Harriet had optimistically booked us onto a guided geology walk at 10am. I haven't been on an organised walk since the days of Girl Guides night hikes but clearly they are popular in those parts, because we weren't the only group assembling in the car park in Prawle. Our enthusiastic steward was flagging down anyone in hiking boots, asking them "are you here for the AONB walk?" to which one grumpy lady disdainfully replied "no, I hike alone". She didn't know what she was missing, because not only was it a stunning tour of a truly dramatic bit of coastline, but I actually learned a lot about rocks along the way.

It had been a packed weekend of activities as promised, and I was sad to have to go home again so soon. I'm looking forward to going back in the spring when I'm assured there will be even more natural delights to see, perhaps even a seal or two. If you are passing down that way any time soon, I can highly recommend Frogwell B&B in Strete, who were friendly and accommodating and entirely free from chintz. And if you happen to be sinking a pint at the Tower pub in Slapton, say hello to Harry from me - because she's bound to be in there.

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Unfortunately my camera was stolen just after we got back, complete with all the film I'd shot over the weekend. So the above photo of Slapton Ley comes courtesy of me'n thedogs' on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Best of Breakfast in Bed

I was reading the latest post on Simon Hickson's excellent blog, Mummified Fox, when the idea struck me (or rather, I shamelessly stole it) to do a roundup of my favourite posts from the last four years of my own blog. I set up Breakfast in Bed around this time of year in 2005 and finally got round to publishing my first post in January 2006. It makes me slightly sad to think of all those stories languishing in the archive, so I have compiled a list of what I consider to be the best ones in the hope that they will be read and enjoyed once again. So without further ado, here they are:

March 2006 - I Love Taj. A hymn to my favourite Brighton food shop.

May 2006 - Neil Innes at Komedia. One of the first ever Breakfast in Bed gig reviews, this write-up was also published (in a slightly edited version) in the Independent.

May 2007 - Djinn of the Tin. A bizarre and very Brighton episode in which I acted the part of genie to a random stranger via SMS.

August 2007 - Thoughts Like Bubbles. How I went from melancholy to philosophical to down right jolly all in one day through the power of people watching.

January 2008 - An Obsession Explored. A classic fancy dress adventure with me as Karen Carpenter and a look back at how the whole costume fetish began.

February 2008 - Life Through a Lens. My journey from film to digital photography.

July 2008 - A Cup of Tea and a Cake. Some of my favourite places in the world to go for a freshly baked bun and a brew.

November 2008 - A Smile Restored. The end of a fairly miserable and physically painful chapter of my life.

May 2009 - San Francisco, You Stole My Heart. Bit of an epic this one - all about our wonderful holiday in California.

August 2009 - Bring Back Trevor & Simon. A gleeful "welcome back" to my ultimate comedy heroes, whose genius podcasts have been tickling me rotten these last few months.

September 2009 - A Sparkly, Spangly Place. The best music festival of 2009 was undoubtedly End of the Road. Good food, great company, outstanding music and sparkly woodland groves made for a brilliant finale to the summer.

So that's it - some of the highlights from an eventful few years as brought to you by Breakfast in Bed. Thanks for reading and do stay tuned for further adventures coming very soon.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Family Holiday in Brittany

When you are five, life is a confusing mix of alluring fantasy and half-learned reality. Little wonder then that until witnessing proof to the contrary, my little nephew was convinced that sharks did not exist - a fact about which he corrected me repeatedly whenever the subject was raised. Presumably he perceived them as a mythological creature in the realms of dragons and unicorns - the likes of which he is now emphatically grown up enough to refute.

It was the most charming experience to observe my nephew's little face as we entered the shark tank at Saint-Malo Grand Aquarium during a recent holiday in Brittany. "Wow" he exclaimed - much as one might upon encountering a real live pixie during a walk in the woods - "sharks really do exist". The magic of the moment was magnified by its resemblance to a certain scene in The Box of Delights in which the hero Kay Harker (played in the classic 80s BBC version by my nephew's father, my brother Devin) cries "A phoenix! I've really seen a phoenix!"

This was one brilliant moment in a holiday full of memorable firsts: for us, the first time taking Isaac away, for him the first time properly abroad (Guernsey family trip notwithstanding), plenty of new foods sampled and the beginnings of new language skills introduced. It was a completely different kind of holiday for Ant and me, who usually spend our days thinking about where to eat in the evening and our evenings eating and drinking too much. Because there was no chance of a lie in and I was struggling with a grotty cold for the first few days, we tended to be tucked up in our four poster with a good book before 10 o'clock.

The medieval cottage we rented in Dinan - much like the town itself - was like something out of a fairy tale. A huge stone fireplace, crooked beams and a rugged spiral staircase all made for a wonderful atmosphere that infused our days and nights. Isaac was in awe of his huge attic playroom and looked tiny curled up in the corner in his bed at night. Apart from the odd drunken student staggering loudly back towards the Youth Hostel at night, it was serenely quiet - despite being in the heart of town. I relished the lack of television and internet connection which gave us the rare opportunity to actually read books and have lengthy conversations.

Besides the awesome aquarium adventure, we explored many of Brittany's other delights including Dinan's castle ramparts and picturesque riverside, the sprawling sandy beaches of Saint-Malo and Dinard and the rockier coast further West. Isaac seemed to grow in confidence as the days went on - swinging form the trees in a fantastic adventure park, clambering over rocks at the seaside, ordering his own pudding - 'une glace du chocolat' - in French at a restaurant and steering the little motor boat we hired to explore the river. There was so much inspiration in the way of castles and knights and boats and pirates and the like, that we barely heard mention of the dreaded Spiderman or Optimus Prime and instead fostered Isaac's growing interest in all things Asterix.

While we were entertaining their Son across the Channel, Isaac's mum and dad (my brother and his girlfriend) were enjoying their first holiday away alone since he came along - in the pictureqsue but apparently sodden Isle of Mull. So I like to think I can take at least part credit for the engagement that ensued as a result of this rare romantic break - about which you can read here. Congratulations to the future Mr & Mrs Stanfield - and thanks for the loan of your boy, he really was a treat.