Archive for July, 2012
When we moved into our house in Winchester, the previous owners had left us a hand-drawn map. It showed how to get to their favourite countryside spot: a “secret river”. One weekend, we put on our wellies and set off. The children were immensely excited, but my wife and I were a little apprehensive. Would we get lost? Would the distances be too far for the children to walk? Would the whole thing turn out to be a hoax?
It wasn’t the easiest of rambles, especially for the children. At several points, we almost turned back. But it was well worth the effort; in the middle of dense woods we found an idyllic, natural paddling area on the banks of a sparkling tributary of the River Itchen. We spent a blissful afternoon there, and have returned many times.
Tessa Wardley, author of The River Book – a compendium of advice for making the most of Britain’s rivers – loves this story.
“Those places are secret gems,” she says. “The best way to find them is to chat to people with local knowledge, like farmers and fishermen.”
In her book, Tessa catalogues the many delights that can be found along our river network, from waterfalls to “minibeasts”, fauna to wild foods. And now that the rains have abated, there could be no better time for exploring – so long as you’re careful. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Religious tensions are running high in Germany. Last month, a Cologne court provoked outrage by ruling that ritual circumcision constituted “a violation of physical integrity”, and was illegal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured Jews and Muslims that the practice would be allowed to continue “without punishment”, and a cross-party motion was hurriedly passed last week to protect religious circumcision.
The debate surrounding the practice is a heated one. Jews are less physically identifiable than many other racial minority groups; circumcision, for men at least, has for centuries been a fundamental marker of Jewish identity. There is also a health argument for circumcision, though the advantages are minimal in countries with modern sanitation and health care facilities. The Hebrew word for circumcision is brit, which means a “covenant” between man and God. For Jews, what a covenant with God really means is a covenant with one’s heritage, one’s past. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
There is nothing more British than a biscuit. Whether the summer heralds torrential rain or blazing sunshine, we have a biscuit to match. Grey and gloomy skies? Shortbread, gingerbread and squashed fly biscuits it is. Soaring temperatures and sun lotion? Bring out the lady’s kisses and ice-cream sandwiches (or “sliders”, as they are known in Scotland). Whatever the weather, a Brit without a biscuit is like a dodger without the jam.
These recipes, and a great many more, are presented with panache in the aptly named book Biscuit, by Miranda Gore Browne, who was a finalist from The Great British Bake Off in 2010. This is a comprehensive guide to the art of biscuitery, featuring everything from “biscuits for beginners” through to “celebration biscuits” and, rather wonderfully, “almost healthy biscuits”. The Sunday Telegraph joined Miranda in her kitchen in West Sussex to observe her in action.
“I thought we’d start off with good old jammy dodgers,” says Miranda, arranging ingredients on the table. “They’re colourful, cheery and fun, and they bring a smile to everyone’s face.” Perfect, that is, for cheering up the children hunched under a tree during a rainy country walk.
Watching Miranda at work means picking up little iced gems of practical wisdom. For example: softening butter. “If you use the microwave, the butter goes oily,” she says. “Then you get annoying little puddles when you bake it.” She fills a bowl with lukewarm water, which she refers to as a “baby bath” (she has a new baby called Henry) and floats the butter in it. “It softens naturally, evenly and quickly,” she explains. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
This edition of From Our Own Correspondent is entirely devoted to a special essay by Jake Wallis Simons on the private and gentlemen’s clubs of London. They are an elitist and very exclusive world, still places for the social elite to huddle together, where – over a fine malt whiskey – you might bend the ear of government.
Jake Wallis Simons recently visited several of the capital’s finest clubs, and learned a good deal about pleasure and privilege.
But is modern Britain really still as riddled with class distinction as its reputation and history might suggest? And what role are do clubs play in the endless ebb and flow of power and influence? Listen the the audio (8 mins 37 secs)
The England youth fly-fishing team is swinging into action. At the end of July they will compete in the biggest international tournament of the year, against teams from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They have come to the majestic Tal-y-Llyn lake, at the southern tip of Snowdonia, for an intensive training weekend; as this August is the 20th annual National Fishing Month, I have decided to join them.
Their manager, a burly man called Phil Longstaff, gathers the 10-strong under-18 team on the shore for a pep talk. As a layman, I find it completely incomprehensible. “You’ve all got the dibble sorted,” he says, “so try your sparklers, try your boobies. We’re not fishing stockies – these are wild fish. So let’s really focus today.”
The boys nod sagely. Clearly, they are in their element. The newest team member, 14-year-old Toff Crowther from Rutland, tells me that he is preoccupied with angling all the time, even when he’s at school. Last year, Scotland won the tournament, and prior to that England were victorious two years running; this year, they are determined to reclaim the crown. The competition is simple: whoever catches the most fish wins. It is not unknown for a single fisherman to catch more than 20 fish in an afternoon. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Tom Parker Bowles is in a philosophical mood. “People give up sex, they give up booze, but nobody can give up eating,” he muses, unpacking our hamper. “Food is the basis of civilisation. It contains the entire history of a country.” He pauses to unveil a tortilla. “Then again,” he adds, “perhaps I’m just greedy.”
We are sitting – rather uncomfortably – on a blanket in Hyde Park, almost within sight of Buckingham Palace. The sky is overcast and there are a few spots of British rain. Parker Bowles, 37, dressed in a dandyish velvet jacket, is dabbing his brow. “I’ve been rushing around trying to get hold of some eels,” he explains. “For the salad.”
This is not going to be your normal picnic. Cucumber sandwiches? Sausage rolls? Forget it. A picnic à la Parker Bowles involves cold tortilla, kipper pâté, fennel and orange salad, and a Californian Zinfandel rosé. Oh, and that smoked eel and bacon salad. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
After some time, the door opens. Maureen, a striking lady in her sixties with a platinum bob and bubbly Essex accent, ushers me into the sitting room, and offers me a cup of tea. Her husband, James, a big, affable man, gets up from a floral armchair and shakes me genially by the hand. Maureen regards me coolly.
Meet Mr and Mrs Harrison-Griffiths, a husband and wife team who run a detective agency, Aitch-Gee Investigations, from their spare bedroom.
James is a retired detective chief inspector, who once led a murder squad in north-east London. Maureen is her husband’s sidekick. In the spare room is a listening device disguised as a phone charger, and a pen that contains a camera. The anonymous-looking van outside turns out to be a surveillance vehicle, complete with a green jerry can in which to urinate. “Maureen thinks it’s disgusting,” says James, “but I like things the old fashioned way.”
The world of private detectives is a strange one. Thanks to Glenn Mulcaire, Steve Whittamore and a host of others connected to the News of the World hacking scandal, private eyes have never been lower in the public’s estimation. But they are not all hi-tech villains and grubby bin-raiders. As part of a Radio 4 documentary I recently met a few of the other estimated 10,000 investigators operating in Britain.
Admittedly, many people I approached refused to speak. One or two agreed in principle, then pulled out. But, eventually, I found several who were willing to go on the record and they proved to be an eclectic bunch. At one end of the spectrum was an art-crime detective who has travelled the globe recovering masterpieces worth millions. And, at the other end, there was Mr and Mrs Harrison-Griffiths.
“The first time I went out on a job, I almost wet myself,” says Maureen as we sip our tea. “We were chasing a cheating husband around the M25. Jim was driving at 100mph, and I was hanging out the window with a camcorder to get some evidence. I’ve never been so scared in my life.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website