Sunday, 12 January 2020

Catching up!

So, there we were interviewing a member of Followers of Rupert about that loveable character Rupert Bear celebrating his 100th birthday this year, when Ann got a slightly woolly feeling settle over her and a sudden impulse to go and play in the woods. 

Luckily, she was back in time for tea and in time to write up her article on Rupert for Collector’s Gazette magazine. It will be out in the March 2020 edition, in good time for Rupert’s special birthday party in Warwick over the August Bank Holiday period.

Ann and Rob – who stays safely behind the camera… Did I say safely? Well actually, Rob is the one usually getting into precarious spots to get the shots he wants. But on this occasion, he was perfectly safe in Rupert’s Nutwood garden.

He also stayed safe when we had another encounter with a large walking ‘talking’ creature not so long ago. This was a nine-foot-tall Wookee of Star Wars fame. Chewbacca was meeting fans at the MCM Comic Con event which we like to go along to twice a year.  The hairy giant took a break from a photo shoot to be interviewed.

His rather mournful grunts, groans and growls all seemed to look the same in Ann’s shorthand notes, but reading between the lines, he said he was enjoying the show but looking forward to getting home, putting his (big) feet up and having a mug of hot chocolate.

While we’ve been a bit remiss about blogging recently, that’s just because we’ve been up to our eyes in writing for different publications. Amongst the activities, we’ve been meeting people who build and race remote control boats, plus we’ve attended toy fairs and model railway events, all for Collector’s Gazette magazine. 

We’ve been talking to amazing miniaturists who make all kinds of highly detailed doll’s house miniatures that have to be seen to be believed. Those articles are for Dolls House & Miniature Scene magazine and Miniatura. If you don’t know about Miniatura – check it out. Their Spring Show takes place in March at the Birmingham NEC – don’t miss it!

We’ve also been writing about Hounds for Heroes and the Cinnamon Trust for The People’s Friend’s magazine. And lots of other events for our weekly slot in on-line magazine, B-C-ing-U. We’ve also been doing some restaurant reviews – I know, a dirty job but someone has to do it! Plus, some motoring events and the amazing Tanks, Trucks & Firepower Show, which is always so exciting!

So, as we get into 2020, we’ve already been out and about, writing, taking photos, doing interviews, as well as being on BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire's Brody Bunch Show a number of times. And we’ve been busy writing books – but more on that next time.

Happy reading and writing everyone!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Fun and Games at Comic Con

A mini stormtrooper meets some of the UK Garrison army.

There was lots going on at the MCM Comic Con back for its Winter event at the Birmingham NEC, and despite the NEC raising car parking charges again from £12 - £16, there were crowds flocking to the halls, in all their Cosplay finery.

Glamour at Comic Con.

 Costumes ranged from the weird to the wonderful, from glamour to horror. We bumped into Ninja Turtles, Storm Troopers, superheroes of all descriptions, monsters and aliens, characters from video games and comic books, steampunk people in fantastic outfits, we even bumped into Father Christmas and Cinderella’s two ugly sisters.

We shall go to the Ball.

 With Christmas looming, lots of people were taking advantage of the huge range of unique items on sale that would make really unusual gifts – the sort of things you aren’t going to see in the High Street or supermarkets. A fascinating display that visitors were enjoying was the work of Terry English, one of the world’s leading armourers. For the last 50 years he has made created armour for film, TV and the entertainments industry as well as producing work for private collectors and museums throughout the world. Amongst the many films he has worked on are: Excalibur, Aliens and Jabberwocky to name but a few.

Expect the unusual at Comic Con.

Fantastic to see the massive range of trade stalls, that were showcasing hand-crafted items. There was everything from whacky wax candles, glittering footwear, quirky T-shirts, steampunk clothing and accessories, masquerade masks, Cosplay swords and accessories, soft toys and so much more. 

Ninja Turtles on guard.

One of the many interesting stalls was Wandcraft, founded by Bob Turner of Staffordshire in February 2017. His entire stand was made to look like an apothecary from Harry Potter, selling magic wands and staffs, ancient bottles of potions and all kinds of wizardry.  I asked Bob how he puts the magic into his magic wands, and discovered the secret ingredient was Unicorn scales!

You could even buy a magic wand on Wandcraft's stall.

It was also pleasing to see plenty of trade stalls catering for the hobbyist and collector. There was lots of toy stalls – a whole section for the popular Manga toys, books, comics and so on, plus the more conventional toy stalls with action figures, TV and film, sci-fi, DC and Marvel comics, signed photos of famous people, DVDs, videos and Blu-Ray items to browse, and other interesting stalls selling badges and patches, belts and buckles, sporting memorabilia, original art and sculpture and lots more.

Authentic uniforms for the 95th Rifle Regiment re-enactors.

On artist Richard Williams’ stall were a wonderful range of prints from his original portraits of countless famous people. Richard explained that he works in London creating animated story boards, so is well used to art work. He studied art and computer engineering, and as he says: “Practiced my heart out for 10 years then got a break, and now I do what makes me happy!”

London artist Richard Williams.

For Nintendo fans – and there were lots and lots, they had their own arena for Splatoon 2 UK Championship 2018 Grand Final. It was an exciting celebration of all things Inkopolis which included a special appearance by Splatoon 2 Producer, Hirashi Nogami, Splatoon 2 Cosplay and fan-art competitions and the Grand Final of the Splatoon 2 UK Championship, which followed months of fierce competition.

Crowds enjoying the Nintendo finale.

  There were live theatre events where stars of TV, film and video chatted about their work and their lives and took questions from the visitors. Amongst them, Jason O’Mara from Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Batman; David Morrissey from The Walking Dead and Dr Who; Mary McDonnell from Major Crimes and Battlestar Gallactica, Chris Barrie from Red Dwarf and many others.

Jason O'Mara chatting to fans.

Organisers of Comic Con saw around 35,000 people through the doors at the last show, and gauged that it was about the same this year. Next year’s event takes place on 23rd-24th March 2019. Details:

Enjoy a few more photos taken by Rob Tysall on the day...

Amazing IT costume.

The Joker.

Startling make up.

Pyramid Head and IT.
Steampunk Starwars.

Superheroes ready for action.

Popular pair at the show.
Steampunk Cosplayers.
An imposing force.

Get in touch if you want copies in a larger format. 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Pure entertainment with the Wyrd Sisters at The Bear Pit, Stratford-upon-Avon

I love going to the theatre, and last night was my first visit to the Bear Pit Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What a charming, friendly ‘little theatre’ that was created 10 years ago to support the local arts groups. I felt there was a lovely community feel amongst the crew of pulling together, and for me, this creates the right ambiance for an evening of pure entertainment.

Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters is staged by The Phoenix Players, an amateur theatre group that has been running in Stratford since 1945. The story was adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs and directed by Phoenix Players’ Nick Johnson – and what a fantastic job he did in his debut as director – as well as playing one of the guards.
The Wyrd Sisters are three witches: Granny Weatherwax played by Margot McCleary who is the rather severe chief witch in this little coven; then there’s the very likeable, pipe-smoking, pink Dr Marten boot-wearing Nanny Ogg alias Karen McDonald; and the sweet and innocent novice witch, Magrat Garlick played by Freya Boardman. Together, they plan for the exiled Prince to return to his rightful place as head of the land, and to bring the wicked Duke Leonal Felmet (Adam Clarke) and the even wickeder Lady Felmet (Katie Cherry) to justice for murdering the king.

It’s funny, it’s witty, the characters play their parts with total commitment, each one bringing their own unique touch to their role, making the whole thing a real pleasure to watch. With 23 scene changes, it’s a snappily paced story, certainly no chance to get bored, and hats off to the boys and girls backstage plus lighting and sound, who kept the whole thing moving along so smoothly. A great production, a lot of fun for the audience – and I think for the cast too.

 Wyrd Sisters. Bear Pit Theatre, Rother Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. September 26-29. Running time 2 hours.

The performance starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12 (£10 conc.)
For tickets, call 01789 403416 or go to:

Friday, 24 August 2018

Dining out at the Four Alls

Newly refurbished Four Alls

Getting the opportunity of writing a restaurant review is one of the perks of the job! And we were very pleased to be invited to go along to the Four Alls at Welford on Avon recently. The restaurant has recently had £1.9 million refurbishment, which also brought new career opportunities into the area.

Plenty of outdoor seating
The Four Alls is an Oakman Inn, their 22nd throughout the UK and their 2nd in Warwickshire; the other one being The Globe in Warwick. The refurbishment has provided an elegant extension with giant glazed, bi-fold doors facing the river creating a new light-filled restaurant for up to 80 guests. This features Oakman Inns’ hallmark theatre-style open kitchen where guests can watch the chefs  cooking over the Josper charcoal grill or the wood-fired pizza oven. The front of the kitchen is clad with patina zinc fish-scale tiles.

Oakman Inns' hallmark theatre-style open kitchen.

The adjacent restored barn, dating back to 1869, provides additional seating and a separate room for private events by sliding the large replica boathouse doors on rollers. The original bar area now has an inglenook fireplace with a reclaimed hearth to recreate the cosy feel of a traditional pub.

Friendly staff
 While outside there’s lots of additional seating and an opportunity for some al fresco dining in the landscaped garden and patio area overlooking the River Avon. There’s also a ‘horsebox bar’ and lots of additional car parking space in the extended car park.

The horsebox bar in the garden
Being situated right by the river, the reclaimed Avon riverbank has become a series of terraces to help with flood defences. Also, for flood defence, the entire ground floor is tiled; a bespoke crocodile flood defence system is in place which can be locked down to protect the kitchen and bar equipment and seal off the area.

L-R: Deputy Manager Damian Urbanik, Head Chef Luke Chetwynd,
Deputy Manager Alex Papapetros, Sous Chef Fahima Khimoan and
General Manager Claudia Reiter.
The new General manager of The Four Alls is Claudia Reiter who worked with Raymond Blanc for over 16 years. She, and her fiancĂ© Damian Urbanik, are delighted with how things are going. Claudia said: “Welford is a beautiful village and my fiancĂ© and I have been welcomed with open arms. I’ve already met and made so many new friends, and not just from Welford but also from Stratford and Alcester - we’re getting so many compliments that I have to keep pinching myself.”

Hand-crafted authentic Italian pizza
The food at the Four Alls is Mediterranean-inspired. Food and drink are served from 8am throughout the day and evening covering breakfast, lunch and brunch, starters, nibbles, sharers, pizzas, salads, pasta, burgers and sides, mains and Sunday roasts, desserts and a fantastic children’s menu.

What was particularly great to see, was their attention to allergies. Dishes on the menu and specials showed whether it was gluten free (GF), if there’s a gluten free alternative available on request (GFA), vegetarian (V) or vegan (VE). And there was lots of information on the menu as to the sourcing of ingredients.

Teamwork in the kitchen

General Manager Claudia added, “The chefs have a lot of creativity. Although we are part of a chain our chefs can create their own special dishes and that instils the true passion of a chef rather than following a recipe down to a T which has been dictated to you.”

The Origin of the name – The Four Alls
The curious name of the Four Alls goes way back in history. Traditionally a pub had a pictorial representation, and the inn sign named ‘Five Alls’ showed five representative figures. There are variations, but may include a monarch with the motto ‘I rule (for) all’ or ‘I govern all’; a minister saying ‘I pray for all’; a soldier saying ‘I fight for all’; a farmer saying ‘I pay for all’; and a lawyer saying ‘I plead for all’.

Four Alls stained-glass window
Ladies visiting the Four Alls at Welford will find a beautiful stained-glass window in the ladies toilets depicting these figures.

As for us – we ate for all.

We did our best to sample a range of starters, mains and desserts. Prices were very competitive and there was lots of choice. We began with Spiced Chicken Wings with Citrus Yoghurt Sauce.  Tastily presented making you just want to dive in, we found that the chicken was succulent, the spices nicely balanced and the citrus yoghurt worked very nicely.

Next came Saltimbocco Scotch Egg which was a soft-boiled free-range egg, sage, prosciutto, sausagemeat and hollandaise. This was very appetising to look at, and, according to photographer Rob, the best Scotch egg he’d ever tasted!

Burrata Involtini (GF) with Prosciutto, dressed rocket and peas. This is a semi-soft white Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. With the Burrata wrapped in the Proscuitto – an Italian dry-cured ham, it was beautifully presented and if you’re a fan of mozzarella then you will love this. And I have to say the peas were the best I’ve ever tasted – fresh, sweet and delicious!

Asparagus Tortelloni (V) with peas, chilli, lemon and parsley butter. My favourite starter! Perfectly made pasta, a light, lovely texture to the filling and quite a kick from the fresh chili – and those lovely fresh peas. And Rob’s favourite starter - Smoked Salmon and soft-boiled egg involtini. Served with capers and rocket salad, kale and pumpkin seed pesto. Light and delicious!

We then had Fahima’s Spiced Slow cooked Lamb Shank with Arabic tahini cous cous. This was a special mains dish created by sous chef Fahima Khimoun. It looked and smelled wonderful and we couldn’t wait to taste it. But first Fahima told us all about it.

Fahima and her spiced lamb dish
“I was inspired by my mum and family with this dish. Mum is Algerian and my dad is French. So, this has completely different Arabic spices, steamed couscous, the lamb is slow cooked for four and a half hours, it has prunes and dried apricots which gives it that sweetness.”  The lamb did indeed melt in the mouth, the sauce was wonderfully spices and worked perfectly with the couscous. A mouth-watering dish! 

The Four Alls do a fantastic range of authentic Italian pizzas, cooked in the wood fired oven. Build your own or trust these experienced chefs to prepare one of their special pizzas from the menu. They ranged in price from £6 to £12.50.  Their Josper Grilled steaks, lamb, chicken and seabass prices range from £16 to £27. Check their website and menus for all the details and prices.

Desserts! Everyone knows that the Italians are famous for their ice cream and their flavours include Madagascan Bourbon Vanilla, Black Treacle, Ginger Caramel, Roasted Strawberry, which are all GF and V, Chocolate and Orange Blossom (VE), Sicilian Lemon Sorbet (VE). These also accompany all the traditional puddings that we know and love: chocolate brownie (GF) (V), summer pudding(V), apple and berry crumble (V), banoffee sundae (GF) (V), passionfruit and lemon curd meringue mess (GF) (V) and more.
Garah masala cake and ginger ice cream
We felt it only right to try one or two of these, and another of Fahima’s specials. This was a Garam Masala Cake with citrus yoghurt frosting with ginger caramel ice cream. To be honest I was expecting this to be a but heavy but discovered the cake was delicious and very light. The frosting worked well and the ginger ice cream just wonderful.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Dining Out at the One Elm Pub, Stratford-upon-Avon

One of our favourite places to visit is Stratford Upon Avon. There’s such a relaxed, unhurried feel about the town, whether you’re visiting one of its many attractions, discovering more about William Shakespeare through his works and places associated with his life, or just exploring its shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

You can be quite spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out in Stratford, and we were recently invited to go along to The One Elm in Stratford to sample their cuisine, and what a fabulous dining experience it was.

Nick Hart and Ollie Coulson
The One Elm is the second pub in the Peach Pub’s stable. Situated on Guild Street, it has a small car park but don’t panic if you can’t squeeze in as there are larger public car parks close by. The pub proved to be a spacious, welcoming place where you instantly felt at home whether you’d stopped by for a drink or a three-course meal.

Although it’s part of a chain, the chefs are free to create a very wide and extensive menu. One thing that remains constant however, is that they use high quality fresh ingredients, free range chicken, eggs and pork, with products sourced locally wherever possible, and all freshly cooked.

Being just 14 miles from Evesham – famous for its asparagus, every spring The One Elm has something of an asparagus campaign, using this delicious, locally grown vegetable in their menu.
So, when ordering, photographer Rob chose for his starter, classic British asparagus, smoked salmon, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.

“It’s a classic dish and everything was as it should be,” said Rob. “The asparagus was as perfectly cooked as it could possibly be, there was a beautifully soft poached egg and a really good Hollandaise sauce. A wonderful starter.”

I chose breaded Brie and chilli jam which looked great and tasted delicious. I was worried in case the Brie would be too powerful, but I found it to have quite a delicate flavour. And that texture of the soft, warm, runny cheese inside the crunchy outer layer was delightful. Coupled with the sweet and tangy chilly jam it was divine!      

The One Elm has an excellent range of starters, mains and deserts, plus daily and seasonal specials. Prices for starters was around £5.50; main courses ranged from £9.75 - £14.50; or you could go for grills and sizzlers which ranged from £12.75 - £23.50. 

There was lots of choice if you just fancied a snack or a burger. There were meat, fish and veggie snacks at £3.75 each; soups and sarnies ranging from £5.50 - £9.50; burgers and chips – thick or thin, priced between £10.50 - £14.50. And all the puddings were £5. So, food to suit all pockets.

We found that the service was good, with friendly, helpful staff and everywhere was clean and comfortable. For our main course, Rob went for grilled salmon, sprouting broccoli, lemon and tarragon sauce and new potatoes. “The salmon just melts in your mouth and the sauce is perfect,” he commented.

I’d decided to go for something that I wouldn’t normally have, and chose slow and low beef dandy ribs, BBQ sauce, hash brown and slaw. Wow! I wasn’t quite sure where to start. It was definitely a meal to get stuck into – and finger licking good! In fact, Rob had to write some of my notes as my fingers were just too deliciously sticky to pick up my pen! The beef was so tender and the BBQ sauce rich and lovely. The diner on the next table had the same, and it was a thumbs up from both of us! So, thank you to our chef that afternoon, Chef de Partie, Dan Jeffs.

The One Elm serves a fabulous range of real ales, bottled beers and ciders, wines, spirits, cocktails and Champagne. If gin is your tipple, this is the place for you – a dozen gins to choose from – and it was the same for cocktails, lots of variety. To accompany my meal, I had a glass of Cotes du Rhone Rose, Les Cerisiers, Rhone, France. I found this light, pleasantly dry and not too sweet. Rob went for a pint of Longhorn IPA unfiltered which is brewer locally by the nearby Purity Brewery Co, based just a few miles down the road near Alcester.

“The ale was fantastic,” said Rob, who knows a bit about real ale! “It’s definitely one of the best IPA’s I’ve ever tasted.”

It seemed only fair to sample the puddings too. Rob went for chocolate brownie with Jude’s strawberry ice cream. The brownie was warm and very darkly chocolatey and went perfectly with the fruity ice cream. I had a rich, creamy raspberry ripple cheesecake which was divine!
Please can we go again!

Chef de Partie Dan Jeffs

The One Elm, 1 Guild Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon CV37 6QZ Telephone 01789 404919

Please get in touch if you would like a restaurant review by Ann and Rob at Words & Images UK.