The musical ‘An American in Paris’ comes to the West End

I was fortunate enough to go to a preview of the musical ‘An American in Paris’, based on the American film of the same name which has now officially opened at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road.

The music, dancing both classical and modern, and sets are all visually inspiring and its no wonder that the evening finished with a standing ovation.

The theme is a romantic one with three guys falling in love with the same girl in post World War Two Britain. The film starred Leslie Caron as Lise Bouvier and Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan features many of George and Ira Gershwin’s most iconic songs, and has been used again in this production. These include I Got Rhythm, It‘s Wonderful, I’ll Build a Stairway To Paradise and They Can’t Take That Away from Me.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI pursuing his dream to become a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love. Intertwined with the story is rich art collector Milo who wishes to add Jerry to her collection!

The cast is headed by award-winning Broadway stars Robert Fairchild (as Jerry Mulligan) and Leanne Cope (as Lise Dassin).

Monday to Saturday 7:30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinees 2:00pm until September 30, 2017
Dominion Theatre,
268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7AQ
Box Office: 0845 2007982

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Food Trends

The Bread Explosion

Gone are the days when you could only buy white sliced bread or maybe a pale brown loaf if you were lucky. Today there are lots of choices, and with so many varieties experimenting with di erent recipes can be a lot of fun.
Organic bread has also become increasingly popular over recent years. Aside from the fact that organic bread just tastes great its increase in popularity can also be attributed to the fact that many of us prefer not to eat pre-packed loaves containing arti cial additives, some of which may also have been sprayed with chemicals to slow down mould. Even factory-made bread promoted as ‘healthy’ may not be, so if this is important to you it is always worth checking that it does not contain improvers or arti cial additives and is made with organic grain.
Essential ingredients for making bread are our, water and salt. Use naturally occurring airborne yeasts, fresh baker’s yeast or dried yeast. There are two types of the latter, dried active and instant. The latter is easier as you literally just add it to the our while the former has to be activated with water and sugar.
To make the bread more interesting, vary the type of our that you use and add ingredients such as nuts, seeds and raisins. Dough needs a lot of muscle, kneading can be fun if you want an outlet for your aggressions but it can also be messy! If you have a good electric mixer the results can be as good as doing it by hand. Some people prefer to use a bread machine that does the kneading and proving (resting) for you but this calls for instant or fast acting yeast and the bread is unlikely to taste as delicious.
Practise makes perfect and this particularly relates to making bread. Start with an easy recipe:
• 1kg strong bread our (organic if preferred)
• 30g fresh yeast or 20g instant yeast
• 30g salt
• 650 ml. tepid water (make sure it is not too hot as the dough won’t rise)
Put the salt in your mixing bowl rst then add the our with the yeast on top. Pour on the water and start mixing or kneading immediately. The trick here is to make sure the salt doesn’t touch the yeast before you start mixing as the dough won’t rise if you do. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 -15 minutes.
Leave the dough to rise in a draught-free place until it doubles in size. Then de ate it by punching it down with your knuckles to let out the air and create an even texture.
Shape the dough either putting it in a tin or on a greased baking tray. You could shape it into what looks like a French baguette. It should then be left for an hour or so to ‘prove’ (rise).
To give it a golden look, glaze with a beaten egg that has had a pinch of salt added. Put in a hot oven, 200C for 20 – 25 minutes. You know the bread is ready if it sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
Nothing can beat the aroma and taste of freshly baked bread. Enjoy!

The Magazine Connection is a group of four high quality magazines delivered to 23500 homes on the North Hampshire/Surrey borders. Designed to help local businesses promote their products/services to residents the magazines (the first of which was published in 2005) have a truly local feel, with local photos on the covers and lots of Community Content. They also include interesting articles among which is a new regular column “Food Trends” written by Natasha Blair.

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Little Venice Dog-friendly Cafe in Garden Centre

Clifton Nurseries

Dog-friendly Quince Tree Café at Clifton Nurseries

The Quince Tree Café, hidden away in an otherwise residential area bordering on Little Venice, is where you are likely to find many of the locals. Walk down a passage way where on either side are huge plants, and you are in Clifton Nurseries, one of Central London’s leading places to buy flowers. Rows upon row of flowering plants are on display just waiting to be bought. On the left in what looks like a large greenhouse/conservatory are a huge selection of houseplants. Here curled up on the counter you are also likely to find the resident cat!

On the far right, half hidden by plants is another glassed airy conservatory. This is the Quince Tree Café. Open throughout the day, the menu is small but there are always a few extra dishes of the day. They claim to only buy British meat, support local suppliers, and use responsibly sourced ingredients. Even more important for me, a bonus is that Poppy, my Coton du Tulear is welcome and even supplied with her own bowl of water.

My free-range scrambled eggs(£6)were served on sourdough toast as was my friend’s smashed avocado with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes (£7). A full English will set you back £11. Freshly pressed juices range from £3.95 for orange to £4.75 for strawberry, orange and pear.

Open Mon – Sat: 9am – 5.30pm
Sun: 10am – 4.00pm Breakfast is served until 12pm and 12.30pm on Sunday.

Address: 5A Clifton Villas, London W9 2PH.
Phone: 020 7432 1867

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Revolution: Russian Art at the Royal Academy

Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, Bolshevik, 1920

Oil on canvas, 101 x 140.5 cm

State Tretyakov Gallery

Photo (c) State Tretyakov Gallery

Running until April 17, 2017 an interesting and extensive exhibition at the Royal Academy Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932 focuses on the period of Russian history which ended Tsarist rule. A time when both Lenin and Stalin were in power.

The exhibition features Avant-Garde artists including Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich. The artistic landscape of post-Revolutionary Russia and the emergence of photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain are on display alongside paintings. The arts thrived until the end of 1932 when Stalin’s brutal suppression drew the curtain on creative freedom. Socialist Realism defined Communist art as the only style acceptable by the regime.

With over 200 works, the exhibition includes loans from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow as well as some from the most significant international private collections. Many of the works have never been seen in the UK before.

I was fortunate enough to visit on a day when one of the 45-minute incredibly informative introductory tours was being held. Worth trying to visit either on a Wednesday at 2.30pm or Friday at 7pm to 31 March when these free tours take place.

Open until 10pm Friday also includes late night weekends
Related events include an art history and theory course on 25/26 March 10am – 5pm
Admission £18.00 Children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

Marc Chagall, Promenade, 1917-18

Oil on canvas, 175.2 x 168.4 cm

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Photo (c) 2016, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

(c) DACS 2016

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
Piccadilly, London W1J OBD.
T. 020 7300 8090

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Stylish 3* Hotel in Champagne

Le Marius Hotel

img_2153I enjoy hotels that have character and the stylish family run hotel Le Marius at Ricey Bas in the Champagne region fits the bill. On the Burgundy border, in a small village the 16th century Le Marius is made up of four houses from the region. All the eleven bedrooms are different in size, and stylishly decorated. Mine had a large bed and timber rafters with a mezzanine floor with a further two twin beds. The en-suite bathroom was modern. They also have one bedroom available for people bringing dogs with a supplement of €15.

In its stone cellars, formally used to store wine, there is an atmospheric restaurant where dogs are welcomed to accompany their owners for a meal.

The vineyards surrounding the village have three appellations Champagne, Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois. Champagne producers are everywhere. In this village alone there were 65!

Le Marius
2 Place de l’eglise, 10340 Ricey Bas, France
T. 00 33 (0) 325293165

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Hockney at Tate Britain


Mr and Mrs Clark (Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark) and Percy 1970/1

A major exhibition of two hundred and thirteen works spanning nearly 60 years of David Hockney opens at the Tate Britain on Thursday, February 9. This is a unique opportunity to see early classic paintings alongside more current work in a variety of media. Paintings, drawings and photography include a collage of images taken on his i-pad and i-phone transporting the viewer through different seasons. Throughout his life Hockney has frequently changed his style and ways of working, embracing new technologies. Except for the first room, most of the works are in chronological order, tracing his development from his time as a student through his iconic works of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the present day.

The accompanying audio which Hockney contributes to, is very comprehensive and worth listening to, to maximize on understanding and enjoying his compositions.


Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

A selection of related events are taking place during the exhibition including Festival No. 6 on the evening of Friday, March 3 where there will be live music, poetry, comedy and pop-up theatre performers.

9 February – 29 May, 2017               Open daily 10.00 – 18.00

Tate Britain, Milbank, London SW1P 4RG.

Tel. 020 7887 8888

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Flemish Artist James Ensor at Royal Academy


For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see the work of Flemish artist James Ensor’s , particularly known for his bizarre masks, his exhibition is on at the Royal Academy until 29 January, 2017.

Despite spending his professional life in the Belgium seaside town of Ostend, James Ensor exerted considerable influence on the development of Expressionism. According to the curator and artist Luc Tuymans, Ensor was a scenographer, depicting a strange world that was neither tangible nor imaginary, populated by inscrutable beings. When Ensor was asked “What do you paint”? His reply was “Nothing”.

Ensor’s childhood was spent among the treasures of his family’s curiosity shop which gives a clue as to how the seeds of his wild imagination were sown. Ensor enrolled at the Academie Royals des Beaux-Art de Belgique in Brussels and through the people he met he entered a circle of progressive, free-thinking liberals who influenced his evolution as an artist. Born of an English father and Flemish mother, in 1929 he received the title of Baron from King Albert 1.

Tickets £11.50 (£10 without a donation.) Under 16s go free.
Open Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm  Friday to 10pm
Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1J OBD.
T. 020 7300 8090

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Major Modernist Photography from Elton John’s Collection opens at Tate Modern


Glass Tears 1932 Man Ray

The Radical Eye: Modernist photography from Sir Elton John collection opens at the Tate Modern on November 10.

Sir Elton John owns one of the largest collections of modernist photographs in the world with over 8,000 prints from the early twentieth century to the present. The exhibition showcases 190 of them in the frames in which they are displayed at his home.

The Radical Eye has a duel meaning being not just the eye of the artist, but also the idea of the camera lens being a different way of seeing the world. The majority of photographs are black and white.

Artists in the modernist period exploded what the camera could do that the human eye alone couldn’t. This re-evaluation coincided with a period of upheaval from the 1920 to ‘50s. The exhibition charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself.

For the first time, rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself. This stretched from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

Sir Elton John speaks about his collection in the audio that accompanies the exhibition. There is also a video taken in his home where he talks about how he discovered photography, his commitment to it, and the pleasure he derives from it.


Black Boys Helen Levitt c1940

The exhibition runs until 7 May, 2017.

Open from 10.00 -18.00 and until 22.00 Friday and Saturday. T. 020 7887 8888

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Cruising on the Douro in Porto


Major cities tend to be based near rivers and Porto in Northern Portugal has the River Douro. I was on a trip there with several colleagues and one way of seeing a city is from the river. We chartered a cruiser from FeelDouro, a Yacht Charter and Cruising company based at Douro Marina. The company specialises in private cruises on the Douro River which flows the 210 km to the Atlantic Ocean. The company also has a second base in Pinhão. Ideal for boat tours to the heart of the Douro Valley Wine Region where the grapes for port are grown.

Set itineraries can be two or three hours as well as a full day. An option is to have dinner on-board or organize a tailor-made trip for anything up to seven days. Their fleet can take 12 with a catamaran that accommodates up to 16. The cruiser I went on was quite small with one double cabin and a small kitchen. Their boats are skippered although if someone is qualified they are able to charter one of the yachts.

Although quite compact, our cruiser was very comfortable with areas where we could relax both inside and out. Seeing buildings from the river gave me a different perspective of the city, and with a glass of the local Muscat and homemade cake served on board, a fun way to see the city.

Read the full story about my trip on the website at



Port cellar on the banks of the Douro



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Dog-friendly Pub the Owl in Lovely Setting


Discovered a lovely pet friendly pub in Loughton. The Owl looks out on a paddock with horses. There are table and chairs outside and an area with swings and an assortment of things for children to play on.

Inside there is an open fire and best of all, when I asked for the menu I was also asked if Poppy, my dog, would like to see one too. Poppy declined as she had already had breakfast but could have gone for a small bowl of Dr John Silver, apparently a complete food with crunchy bite size pieces basted with chicken juices £2.00.

From the Owl menu, I chose their chicken curry described as spicy, although actually quite mild Sri Lankan curry served with rice, poppadums, and mango chutney £11.95.



As well as their main menu they also have a selection of home-made pizzas with a different menu on Sundays which includes a selection of roasts. On Sundays, there is also a doggy roast, a mixture of meats, vegetables, potato and gravy.

A big plus is the friendly staff, and somewhere I would certainly visit again. A car is needed to get there and there is no problem finding somewhere to park.



The Owl Pub, Lippitts Hill, High Beech, Essex 1G10 4AL.T.  0208 502 0663 

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