Monday, 30 March 2015

Leicester Folk: Ahmed Kage

I've been writing about Leicester happenings for a long time now, and running the Leicester Happy Hour Directory for 7 months. I decided it was time to take things further, and find out who are the people behind the city. I started off popping down to The Parcel Yard for a chat with local events promoter, all round nice guy and habitual Mangal patron, Ahmed Kage.

Hi Ahmed! What do you do then?
I run events brands across the Midlands, mostly to do with food and drink and I also run food and beverege consultancy. This is for new bars and restaurants that need direction or training and existing businesses looking to turn themselves around by increasing sales and get more customers.

Why do you do that?
I like people to be happy. The reason why I went into events was the customer satisfaction - when you've got a lot of people who are enjoying themselves and having a good time, then coming back and telling you "we can't wait for the next event", I get satisfaction from that. That's why I'm here today.

How have you got here?
I started off in the music business. I was a DJ, producer and I used to produce my own tracks and stuff that got released. I then moved into IT where I worked my way up for quite a number of years until I fell into IT security consultancy, keeping hackers out of systems and so forth. I did pretty well within my niche sector on that until I got to the point where I was no longer enjoying it and so I got the hell out! Then I fell into what was a hobby at the time, which was food and drink. I took it up full time.

And what has been your greatest success so far?
Winning the best event in Birmingham, 2014/15 for the UK Burger Battle, which we won on a public vote and after only two events as well! So I was really chuffed with that, I'm really proud of it.

What about Leicester - why do you want to put events on here?
I was born in Leicester. I've lived all round the place as well - when I was doing the IT consultancy I was living out of a suitcase in a number of cities but now I am back living in Leicester, even though I run events in a number of cities. It's the home town. It is building up here, but I find it a hard town to break in to, just because of the way the demographics are and the way Leicester is physically and logistically set up. But it is getting better.

We had a blindingly good food and drink scene but then, quite a few years ago, it fell down - a lot of the independents closed and the chains moved out. At that time a lot of people were struggling, and no-one was seeing Leicester as the go-to town for going out to bars and restaurants. But slowly, especially over the last two or three years, it's gradually starting to build up again. I think we're seeing a resurgence. people are starting to take notice. Certainly, with Richard III bringing more people in to the town we have the chance to showcase that there are good events going on here.

I've done two Rib Nights here and I'm going to bring the UK Burger Battle here too. These are brands that are doing well in Birmingham and other cities already. There's no reason why Leicester shouldn't be enjoying them as well, the clientele are here and we've got the know-how.

Let's get topical. I have to ask, what are your thoughts on the reinterment of King Richard III?
For highlighting Leicester it's been brilliant, we couldn't have asked for anything more. The procession on the Sunday, the way it was handled was perfect. I think everyone that was involved in that needs to be told it was a job well done. In so far as what it's brought to this town, it's nothing but positive.

What's coming up?
We have the Big Daddies Diner - an American diner pop up which is coming here to the Parcel Yard. We are also bringing a Cocktail Xchange event. This gives cocktail tastings specifically based around one spirit or brand. It runs monthly in Birmingham at the moment and we'll be launching one in Leicester in June which will be running to coincide with World Gin Day. We'll be bringing you Gin in June with events running simultaneously in Leicester, Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Brighton, Edinburgh and Toronto so far... You'll find out more about gin, how it's made, and then there will be tasting of cocktails both classic and modern and that will follow on to a great party, with live band and DJs. The Drinks Bus will also be out and about around the Midlands, rebranded as the Gin Bus.

I'll also be launching a house music club night very soon with one of the brands, called Global Dance Session, which I'm involved in. And there are a few other things which I can't talk about right now, coming up in Leicester towards the end of the year.

Yeah, something to do with the silver screen. But I can't tell you yet.
(I couldn't wangle any more out of him than this sadly. Watch this space for more news as I get it.)

You're a Leicester lad, you're in to food and drink. 
What's your top foodie recommendation for the city?
I'd say Crafty burgers, at St Martin's Coffee is really good. They're about to come back permanently now - Chris and the crew make really good burgers, a lot better than the chains we have here in Leicester, not mentioning no names!

I would also say that we have a plethora of really good mangals, Turkish barbeque places. Istanbul on Narborough Road, Saray Mangal up the road in Highfields and also not forgetting Fes Mangal on Uppingham Road. They all do really good, fresh Turkish barbeque food - they would be my picks.

You have to try the Adma Shawarma on Bowling Green Street. It's just one guy, with a set amount of food and when he runs out, that's it. Don't go after 7pm because there'll be nothing left! It's a Lebanese place and it's really good value. I'd recommend the shish taouk (a grilled chicken breast shish kebab served with garlic sauce and all the trimmings, and a steal at £3.50), the hummus and the lamb shish.

On the drinks side of things it's got to be Manhattan 34 for cocktails and any of the Steamin' Billy pubs with regards to beers and real ales.

And what about Leicester when you're not eating out?
I don't think I do anything else! Ummm... oh yes! My pick would be the Curve theatre, for the shows going on there - especially just recently the Adrian Mole show which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Big Daddies Diner comes to Leicester

American food fans take note!

Something very special is coming to Leicester.

I have waxed lyrical about the joys of deeply unhealthy food that we enjoyed in the good ole US of A.  We have tried to find something to replace it and found burgers that pretty much hit the spot. Now is the time that we get to try some stonking hot dogs.

Big Daddy's Diner are a Midlands-based street food trader, who won third place in the Midlands Street Food Awards in 2014. Just the other day I was bemoaning the lack of decent street food in Leicester on Twitter, so I guess that's me put in my place! Because now Big Daddy's Diner are coming to the Parcel Yard, by Leicester railway station.

For one night only, on Saturday 25th April, a special pop-up dining experience will offer you a purpose built four course menu which includes a main course of two of owner Jeff Wilson's signature gourmet dogs and a special Oreo cheesecake for dessert. Musical entertainment will also be laid on, so it's promising to be a true feast for the senses.

Tickets are on sale for £19.95, but if you're quick you can follow this link to get a special early bird price of £16.95.

The menu is absolutely mouthwatering. Check the ticket link to read it in full. This sounds like it will be a wonderful night. I love the Parcel Yard, it's a great setting for something a bit different and a lot fun. More of this please Leicester, more of this.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Richard III: The Reinterment Round-up

It's all over.

King Richard III is back in the ground in his new home at Leicester Cathedral.

It's been a great week to be in Leicester, I think we've all been blown away by the response to the reinterment events and activities across the city. Here's a little round up of some of the bits I popped along to.
Cathedral selfie - look at the TV camera rig!
Living relatives of a medieval king
Saturday 21st March
We started off with a special alumni event at the University of Leicester. Richard Buckley and Turi King did their usual excellent job of explaining the discovery and the identification of the remains in

what was to be just the first of many lectures about the excavation that I heard this week! After they had finished the living relatives of Richard III, Michael and Jeff Ibsen and Wendy Duldig were in conversation with Turi talking about their experience of discovering their family tree, the impact of the King Richard effect on their lives and Michael talked in detail about being commissioned to design and make the King's coffin. Fascinating stuff.

The promised drinks and canapes reception afterwards turned out to be a brew and a biscuit, but you can't have everything can you?

Coffee anyone?
Sunday 22nd March
Leicester came out in its droves to wave the King off as he went on tour for the day up to Bosworth and then back to the City, being formally handed over to the Cathedral's care by Richard Buckley. This was covered live on Channel 4 and garnered international media coverage the next day.

Businesses all round the city felt the benefit of the 35,000 or so people who turned out to line the processional route. Over in the Cultural Quarter, Manhattan 34 told me that although they have not general noticed much difference in customer levels this week, the procession passing by saw them tripling their trade. Looks like everyone fancied a posh cocktail to toast the King!

Tuesday 24th March
This evening I had my formal invitation to attend a private viewing of the King in repose in the Cathedral. Due to the huge public interest in attending the Cathedral, with some queuing for 4 hours, the doors remained open to the public during our visit, but we were welcomed by the City Mayor and the Dean and given some information about the significance of the King's coffin placement within the church, for example lying by the font to symbolise his baptism and faith. Then we filed past the coffin. It was quite a moving moment for me, imagining the individual that lay within the pall covered coffin. In April it will be 5 years since I started working on this project and I don't think I ever imagined that this would be where we would end up!

Following the visit to the Cathedral we were invited back to look at the Richard II Visitor Centre to hear a lecture on the discovery (yes, again) from the ever radiant Mathew Morris. I feel like I'm becoming something of a connoisseur of the jokes that the ULAS team pop in to their presentations, and I think that Richard Buckley's one about the skeleton missing its feet having nothing to do with him "being de-feeted at Bosworth" if probably my favourite.

Mathew Morris of ULAS

This time I am pleased to report the promised drinks reception did involve wine and canapes, so I had a little snifter and then headed home to bed - it was already feeling like a very long week!

Wednesday 25th March
The Wednesday saw me taking a little jaunt down to London to do a little job for the Science Museum. They have installed a temporary display about the identification of King Richard, examining the science behind the discovery and have loaned a 3D printout of the skeleton from the University of Leicester. One of only three in existence, the skeleton was created by Loughborough University based on CT scan data taken at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

It was a little bit overwhelming fitting the skeleton while the museum was open! As you can imagine, it's always super busy and so I appeared to draw quite a crowd. I tried to keep my head down and concentrate but inevitably got drawn into Richard III based discussions with members of the public. The display looked good in the end, although I am excited for the day when I have a big enough case to lay out a human skeleton. Once again the tibia and fibula had to sit parallel to the femur, but I don't think it's spoiled anyone's enjoyment!

Science Museum selfie
Thursday 26th March
Then, on a damp and dismal morning the time had come for the Service of Reinterment. I had to meet the representative from Lambeth Palace who was bringing Richard's book of hours and so went to watch it on the big screen at Jubilee Square. The main dignitaries filed round the Guildhall and up to the Cathedral and then the service began. It was quite an incredible affair, with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding over elements. It was delivered with the dignity and honour that has been so much talked about over the last few years and I think that the city, with all the organisations that have worked together so hard, has done itself proud, while the world's gaze was upon us.

Big chin Jubilee Square selfie
Well, of course not everyone seemed able to act with the decorum that the occasion deserved, it was absolutely incredible to hear the collective boo that arose from the hundreds gathered in the square when EyeRollGate went off. Still, the less said about that the better, eh? Should have just took a selfie like the rest of us. Although that probably would have gone down just as badly on Twitter.

After the Service, the book of hours used in the service was installed in New Walk Museum and will be available to visit for free for the next three months. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be able to condition check the book. I will never stop getting excited by wonderful, ancient treasures like this. Such a fantastic link with history.

Friday 27th March
And so the week due to a close. The tourists began to leave, once they'd popped down to the Cathedral to see the tomb unveiled after the morning's service of course. But Leicester had one final trick up its sleeve - Leicester Glows, put on by The Big Difference Company. I had the start of a conference to attend but I still managed to stop by, and I was absolutely in love with the 8000 flames that were lit all around the Cathedral to commemorate the events of the week.

Photo courtesy of Ian Stringer
I had tipped this in my Richard III events guide and am pleased to say I got it spot on. The pyrotechnic display was super fun but overall, I just adored the atmosphere - so many people out together having fun, families and friends enjoying an evening out together, pubs and restaurants bustling and busy. It was a breathtaking display and a real celebratory end to the week.

As the owner of The Cookie told me "the atmosphere in the city was awesome, it felt like a real tourist destination." Hopefully Leicester is a 'real' tourist destination now. I'm sure we'll be feeling the ripples of Richard for some time to come. Move over Nottingham's Robin Hood, Leicester's got itself a medieval personage. And ours is non-fictional.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Best baked potato ever

I happened to stop by the Green Oasis Cafe on London Road, Leicester today to grab some lunch while on a conference. I hadn't really noticed it before. There used to be a really cute cafe there 10 years ago that I used to visit while I was at the uni, and when it shut down I just kinda forgot about it.

So I had a very pleasant surprise today. It is family run and the service isn't necessarily the speediest but I was given the finest baked potato known to man . Mediterranean chicken, grilled with a ton of cheese and a lovely crispy jacket. And it was HUGE!

For just  £2.00 it had the best food to money ratio I've seen for many a year. Do yourself a favour and pop in. Its not all fine dining here you know  -sometimes you just need some proper home cooked food.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Have yourself a very un-lazy breakfast

Those friendly folk at Roberts Bakery have been at it again, sending me some lovely treats and reminding me to take a bit more time for a good breakfast. I am, admittedly, quite rubbish at breakfast usually - a quick bit of toast or nothing at all. Not that there's anything wrong with toast, as I may have mentioned before. It makes splendid pictures. However, it can be made in a trice, consumed without thought and just as readily forgotten. We need to take more time for our breakfast, more consideration for ourselves and the start to the day.

Food isn't just fuel, it's life, fun, culture and nurture. Make yourself a breakfast you love, or if you just have time for something simple then think about it a bit more. I'll start.

I made my simple toast a bit more interesting by placing it on my shiny new toast rack. It was exciting, it made it feel like I was having breakfast in a hotel, even though I made it. And while I was eating it, I got to thinking, what are toast racks for? I don't have any real idea. All I can guess is that it must be purely aesthetic. They keep your bits of toast separate and so it cools down quicker. This is not a positive thing to do to toast.

I was actually vaguely aware of this, and you may be able to tell from the picture that I buttered my toast first so the toast was still hot enough to melt it. But it still went cold. So, my question is very real.

What are toast racks for?

After my philosophical breakfast, I decided to put my Robert's goodies to good use and make one of my favourite breakfasts ever. Dippy eggs. In my nice new egg cup. Sadly by that point I had run out of Roberts bread and had to use another, not as soft and fluffy bread. But you can't have everything.

Egg and soldiers.

Mmmm.... Now I've mentioned them, you want them don't you?

Look upon their majesty!
And I bet you're thinking "I haven't had boiled eggs for aaaages". Well you're a bad person. Have them for breakfast tomorrow. I made myself do it, and it really doesn't take very long. If you can't boil an egg, just remember you have to put them in cold water, bring it to the boil and then boil for 3 minutes. Don't just boil for 3 minutes. They won't be cooked. So it maybe takes 6 minutes in total. You can make a brew and feed the cats while the water comes to the boil. You might even be able to get your lunch packed up for the day or do a spot of washing up. Then you can get your toast on while the three minutes counts down.

It's lush. I didn't leave for work any later, but I did leave a lot happier. These aren't lazy breakfasts, but they are better breakfasts. And if you remember eating it, (whether you're ruminating why you put the toast in that rack and therefore are now eating cold toast, or if you're going 'mmm, a bite of dippy egg' followed by 'mmm, a bite of dippy egg') then you feel less hungry. Fact.*

* It might be a fact. I did just make it up, but that doesn't mean it's not true.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Take a #sodaselfie with Bossa Cafe Bar

There is a UK exclusive going on in Leicester. Soda Folk, Colorado's own small batch soft drink craft brewers have teamed up with our very own Bossa Cafe Bar. Grab yourself a Cream Soda, Black Cherry or (The Boy's obsessive love) a Root Beer. Made with all natural ingredients and sweetened with cane sugar, these are the true taste of the western states. Delicious!

Up until 30th April 2015 you have the opportunity to bag yourself 6 bottles in a super simple social media competition. Just head down to Bossa, buy yourself a Soda Folk and take a #sodaselfie. Spend a moment tweeting it with the hashtag. Then you can relax and enjoy your beverege in one of Leicester's friendliest, cosiest little bars. You win, and then you might win more!

May the quirkiest selfie win!

Unlikely to be a winning #sodaselfie

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Alternative Top 10: Anti-Richard III in Leicester

I got a comedy coffee today. Winner.
Well, you all seemed to love my Top 10 of Richard III events in Leicester this week. Thanks for checking it out. However, I know you actually didn't all love it and I am acutely aware that there are a lot of perfectly reasonable people out there who have no interest in the bones of a long dead king and actually would like to stay away from tourists, crowds, white roses and any spurious (and annoyingly misinformed) references to Shakespeare plays between now and the 29th March.

Well help is at hand! I am here for you! Although I am choosing to immerse myself in the Richard III commemoration, I am also stacking up a list of alternative events for when I want a moment away from the medieval extravaganza. If nothing else, I would love to add people watching as a perfectly legitimate Leicester pastime this week, as there are already a lot of extra people milling around and they are fun to watch when they get lost.*

But I digress. Leicester, as we all know, is a lot more than Richard III and there is a lot more happening here beyond the commemorations. Behold - the alternative top ten. What to do in Leicester this week if you don't care about anything before Dior's Vertical Line was in fashion.**

Since writing the list I have also realised that it is an excellent guide for those looking for something to do after Richard III stuff has finished for the day. Sorry about that. I can't help multi tasking.

10. A Slice of Saturday night

The Little Theatre
16 Mar - 21 Mar 2015, 7.30pm 
£14 (£12.50 concessions)

“A pleasurable, lightly satirical revel in sixties manners and music… with bite, kick and hanky panky”—The Guardian

A musical spoof on the Saturday night rituals of teenagers. Being a teenager. Being a teenager, with a 60s soundtrack. Bob Dylan, The Beatles and other people who weren't so good, like Cliff Richard and the Shadows. It'll get your nostalgic juices flowing, even if like me, you don't remember the 60s. I've come to believe if you remember the 60s, you weren't there. Got to be worth checking out.

9. The launch of Mooch and the Secret Salon

Mooch and The Secret Salon, 69 Queens Road
Friday 28th March, 5.00pm-8.00pm

Queens Road, for those of you sneaking a peek from outside of Leicester, is essentially our out of town 'hip' street. If you like independent shops, tapas, a literally fantastic bookshop and so forth, then Queens Road is for you. It isn't that far. The people are nice there too - just like everywhere in this crazy town.

And I've found a little gem for you all.  There is a new face on The Road, and it comes in the form of fabulous interior design and a new hair salon. Mooch provide an eclectic mix of old and new - fabrics, furnishings, accessories. And if you can't be arsed to do it yourself, then you can take advantage of their interior design consultation service, for both private and retail clients. The Secret Salon is a hairdressers who offer hair services, Evo hair products and extensions. Of course, I am currently in love with Danique Hairdressers right now because they done make my hair so purdy, so they're going to have to work hard to tempt me away, but I'm sure they are lovely, lovely people.

Anyway, I can't wait to see what Mooch and the Secret Salon are like, so why not pop down with me for a drink and some nibbles and see what the score is? Anywhere that sells fabric I can't get anywhere else is at the top of my 'to visit' list right now - especially with 10% off on the night.

8. CLUB MILK Presents: 
Menace Beach + Autobahn + Black Honey

The Cookie, High Street
Saturday 21st March, 8.30pm
£8.00 advance

The Cookie have been putting on fabulous comedy (winners of Best Small Venue yet again at this year's Dave's Comedy Festival) and gigs for a number of years now. Oh, and their breakfast menu is awesome. You should go.

You should definitely go to see Menace Beach. They were described by the Guardian as a 'fuzzily enthusiastic alt-rock pastiche' which is basically enough for me to want to go see them, whether or not the Guardian considered that a compliment is another matter. Great music at a venue where you can currently see one of my artworks festooning the entranceway.

7. Beats and Treats

James' Cafe Bistro
Saturday 28th March, 5.00pm-11.00pm

The sort of thing Leicester is great for (The Black Horse on Braunstone Gate does something similar I think on a Thursday, which is wicked fun), but based in one of our lesser known restaurants, go down for a bit of a jam with their two pianos, guitar and a glockenspiel! Following that they spin some tunes on the decks. My guess is that this is more Fish than house. This is a great place to grab something to eat too and the event runs every Saturday.

7. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Curve Theatre
Saturday 7th March - Saturday 4th April
Tickets from £15.00

Based on the hilarious and compelling novel by Leicester's own Sue Townsend, this show has opened to absolute rave reviews. I know when a show finishes every night because my Twitter feed goes mad with people saying how excellent it is. They laugh, they cry, they stand up and clap at the end because the performers are so wonderful. You're truly missing a trick if you neglect to see this homegrown show.

Donna Disco
6. Donna Disco

Upstairs at the Western
Saturday 28th March, 7.30pm

Not sure about my choice of Adrian Mole, the musical? Perhaps you'd rather hear the trials and tribulations of a fourteen year old girl who is "bland, bespectacled and, if she’d ever heard of The Beautiful South, she’d adore them." But really, Upstairs at the Western is another one of those non-Richard III reasons why Leicester is super awesome. Theatre, poetry, music, all served up in the first floor of a pub operated by a local brewery. And there are always, always pub dogs to stroke. GO and experience it for yourself.

5. Cafe Scientifique

Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Laidback discussions for everyone, in a non-academic environment. Sounds awesome and I feel bad I have never attended one of these previously.

4. Slice Mondays and the Pub Quiz 

Rutland and Derby, Millstone Lane
Every Monday evening, check for times
This event ranks so highly because my friends and I went to this particular quiz for about 9 months and we used to win! We won chocolate and free drinks and all kinds of groovy things. Maybe you can win too. It is a good quiz though too, to be fair.

Plus, now they also do buy one, get one free on their handmade pizzas, which was certainly not the case when we used to go, otherwise we would have eaten pizza every Monday, like legends.

3. One Man Breaking Bad

Wednesday 25th March, 7.30pm

Sixty Episodes. One Show.  Yo!
I'll be honest. I haven't watched Breaking Bad, but I have heard so many of you banging on about it endlessly that I think you'll like this. I really do. I imagine it'd be over my head. But the sheer mass peer pressure forces me to put this so high up.
2. The New Incunable Print Shop

Friday 16th January - Tuesday 31st March
This is a great little exhibition that I would encourage you to check out. As a participatory exhibition this naturally has to rank very highly in this particular top 10, but I will let them tell the story in their own words:
"We’re displaying a collection of 3D print blocks and prints in our cafĂ© bar 
– all created by the public at our New Incunable Print Shop exhibition 
during its successful run at Lightbox Studios, LCB Depot in November 
– to give you a real flavour of the exhibition and the brilliantly original artworks produced.

This participatory exhibition, run in partnership with artist collective Juneau Projects
invited people to make print blocks, 
and use them to design their own artworks and posters to order."

1.  The Burlesque Society “Girls on Film” Special

Friday 27th March, 8:00pm-11:00pm
£5.00 on the door

See some of your favourite films enacted by The Vixens - including The Lion King and 50 Shades of Grey. Never let it be said that Leicester's repertoire was limited. There's even a prize for the best dressed on the night, so get yourself burlesqued up and have some fun!

 If you're interested, Firebug have a huge number of other events happening this week too, including a quiz, a metal and rock night and an Indie-Pop all-dayer (which is tomorrow - on Saturday 21st March) - pretty much something for everyone.

* You can help them if you like. I for one have given (the correct) directions to five separate groups of people today whilst walking between High Street and Town Hall Square.
** Please pick which time the vertical line was in fashion that is relevant to you and delete the rest as appropriate.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Park Life Nature Mosaic unveiled at Abbey Park, Leicester!

I went to a fab event today, at Leicester's beautiful Abbey Park. They've had a sensory garden there for a little while now, but now a partnership of local organisations has generated a new artwork that has brought a whole new element of beauty to the garden.

The Sensory Garden
It was a pretty fresh day today, so as the crowd of well-wishers gathered for the unveiling there was much stomping of feet and rubbing of hands to keep warm! The sensory garden was living up to its name - there was a gentle noise of water trickling on the fountain and the occasional deep bell-like sound of a large windchime hung in a nearby tree. It was very peaceful and hard to remember that we were only a few metres away from the busy main road!

A great turnout!
We were there to celebrate the unveiling of the Park Life Nature Mosaic which was made by the learners at Continuing Studies at Leicester College and artists Paul Reilly and Fiona Meagher of the Clay Foundation. The mural was made in partnership between Leicester College, Leicester City Council and the Friends of Abbey Park and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Verity Hancock, Principal of Leicester College
The event started with speeches from Verity Hancock, the Principal of Leicester College, and Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester's City Mayor. They both praised the hard work put in by the learners and the artists, the great achievement of the collaboration between so many local organisations and of course, the quality of the artwork. It was with baited breath that we all waited for the ribbon to be cut and the mosaic to be presented to us!

Sir Peter Soulsby cutting the ribbon
As the curtains fell away, you could hear the exclamations from the guests about the beauty of the piece and there were smiles on the faces of all of the learners that had contributed to the work. It truly is a great accomplishment - a delicate series of ceramic tiles, inspired by the varied wildlife and plantlife found in Abbey Park, which have been carefully designed, made and coloured and glazed by the learners and then arranged in a flowing design around the Sensory Garden's raised bed. The connecting tiles feature the lyrics to Louis Armstrong's 'What a wonderful world' - a very poignant reminder to the natural wonders that lay around us. The song was also the choice of the learners.

The mosaic, the long tiles feature the lyrics of 'What a wonderful world'
I particularly liked the large white and yellow flowers, which were made up of a vast array of tiny individual tiles, each one featuring a plant, flower or animal motif. I talked to a number of guests and we all agreed that you just had to touch the smooth, glazed surface - so as part of a sensory garden the mosaic certainly does the right job! The delicate detail is beautiful and the work leads the eye along the wall and encourages you to look again at the lovely planting in the raised bed. Once Spring really takes hold, this will be a really wonderful little oasis.

After the formalities were over we had a chance to enjoy the artwork while the artists and the learners were interviewed by the roving reporter from BBC Radio Leicester. We all then took a leisurely stroll to the education centre where there was a display of photographs from the sessions where the piece was created and also a short film about the process of making the tiles and the installation of the piece which was not only interesting but also a little emotional - nobody can listen to Louis Armstrong without getting a little tug on their heartstrings!

The final surprise was the reception from more groups of Continuing Studies students, who had prepared a little light refreshment for us! There was tea and coffee aplenty to warm our hands and the most astonishing array of cakes, biscuits and scones, all baked by the learners. One of the students took the time to talk me through the delicious selection of baked goods they had created for us, even the jam had been made by Continuing Studies learners! Their Saffron Acres Strawberry Jam is so good that it was on sale at 70 Central England Co-operative stores last summer. I settled for a cupcake with a delicate buttercream icing and rice paper flower decoration that reminded me of the artwork. I can wholeheartedly say it was the best cupcake I have had in a long while - moist, rich, and a lovely buttery texture. Delicious!

What a spread!
So I hope everyone who reads this takes the time to pop along and see the artwork for themselves. It is of course free to visit Abbey Park and the Garden of Senses will help your day-to-day stresses melt away. A lovely place for reflection, now made even more beautiful by the students' contribution.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Top 10 Richard III events in Leicester: the locals guide

What kind of Leicester blogger would I be if I didn't write about the forthcoming excitement in our fair city? After many years of preparation, (High Court) trials, tribulations and endless debate, the mortal remains of King Richard III have been encoffined* and the whole city is gearing up for a week long extravaganza. It's a strange one really, there is a real sense of celebration and excitement in the air, but this is tempered with a solemnity and feeling of occasion as befits the treatment of the remains of such a key figure in English history.

The Guildhall's RIII temporary exhibition
 Having played my own (very) small part in the story and blogged about the discovery, the identification and the hoo-ha** surrounding the reburial, it feels strange that we are finally arriving at the reburial. This has been a process which has taken place over many years, before even the excavation in the summer of 2012. I was honoured to have a close encounter with the King's remains, a memory which will stay with me forever. And rather than feeling like an end, it strikes me that March 2015 will mark a new chapter.

The press conference announcing the identification
And so, for all you Leicester folks who are feeling bewildered by the absolutely massive programme of events taking place, and you tourist types who may be making your first visit to Lesta to be part of this unique occasion, here a local perspective on the top 10 goings-on which will be going on in the coming days and weeks. But book soon - places are filling up fast!

10. Concert for a King - Music from the Time of Richard III
A free event on Tuesday 24th March at 8.30pm hosted by Holy Cross Priory Church. The Ricardian Music Guild will be presenting a programme of music from the time of Richard III. One of the most delightful things on the roster for the reinterment week and a real way to get a flavour of England in the late fifteenth century. Tickets are first come, first served, so get booking on Eventbrite!

9. Ceremonial 'tapping the barrel' ceremony   

On Monday 23rd March The Globe pub will be hosting a ceremonial ‘tapping the barrel’ event. A cask of ale will be tapped and served with medieval fare - a decidedly hearty way to toast the King's repose if you ask me. The Globe is in the heart of the city centre, spitting distance away from Leicester Cathedral (but please don't spit in public).

8. Victimised or Victorious?: 
Launde Abbey, War and the Reformation

The most expensive of my picks, but totally worth it if you haven't visited Launde Abbey before. This talk will investigate Launde and the religious houses of Leicestershire in the hands of the monarchy and the population of Plantagenet and Tudor England. The cost is £30.00 for the talk and a three course dinner, and having visited there previously I can assure you that their food is a great standard! Not 100% Richard III themed, but certainly a unique experience and an interesting subject to boot. From 6.30pm on Wednesday 25th March. Contact Launde Abbey for more information.

7. The Royal Image
One that might be overlooked by the masses... A talk at the Bishop Street Methodist Church by local historians Richard Gill and Miriam Stevenson. Taking place at 6.15pm on Tuesday 24th March, so perfect to drop in to before the Concert for a King at Holy Cross Priory Church. Both thoroughly entertaining and hugely knowledgeable speakers, this examination of how kings were portrayed in late medieval England and contextualising of the surviving portraiture of Richard III is bound to be fascinating. The talk is free and no booking is required but the church will be taking a collection after the talk for donations towards the restoration of the Church pipe organ, so please give generously!

6. To the Point 
In the time I have worked on events and exhibitions around Richard III, the element of the discovery that seems to interest the most people is the pathology of the King's battle wounds. Join Professor Sarah Hainsworth from the University of Leicester at 7pm on Wednesday 25th March at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. She will be presenting a talk and Q&A session on the evidence of the battle wounds inflicted on the King and discussed the weapons that caused these fatal injuries. This event is free, but you need to book - call 0116 225 4900.

0116 225 490
0116 225 490
5. Richard III Open Day
The University of Leicester is hosting an absolutely epic programme of activities for families and adults alike. Trust me, there is a LOT going on during this day. It's free to attend, but some events have limited capacity so make sure you sign up when you get there. Hands-on activities are running from 10am to 4pm and Expert Talks run from 10am to 5pm. Hear the story straight from the horses mouth.

4. The Service of Reinterment
I know, this is the main event, but if like me you don't have a ticket then this isn't the top of my list for you. However, that's not to say that Thursday 26th March won't be a momentous day. Go and watch the service live on screens outside the Cathedral. I am sure the atmosphere will be amazing.

3. Medieval Galleries at Leicester Guildhall
I know, you think I'm biased. I am. But you should still pop on by the Guildhall and see the new medieval galleries during Reinterment Week. Admission to this new permanent exhibition is free and you can walk the streets and experience the sights and smells of medieval Leicester. There are also finds on show from the 2012 Greyfriars excavation, including the infamous 'arrowhead' - a residual Roman nail that through pure chance found its way next to the mortal remains of a King. You can check out the teaser trailer for the new galleries here. It's family friendly and has plenty to interest adults as well. Don't miss a chance to visit the hall that was standing in the time of King Richard III. The galleries open on Friday 20th March, but make sure you check before you visit during reinterment week as the Guildhall does have occasional closures to the public due to special events.

2. Leicester Glows: Fire Garden and Cathedral Illuminations
This is actually my personal pick of the programme. Big Difference Company, Fireworxx and Bright Spark present an amazing visual spectacle to end the week. This free event will run on Friday 27 March between 6pm - 10pm in Jubilee Square, Cathedral Gardens and the King Richard III Visitor Centre. Over 8,000 flames will be lit along with with a trail of fire sculptures lighting the sky to mark the reinterment of King Richard III. The Cathedral will also be illuminated and there will be a pyrotechnic display. Do I know what it's going to be like? Not really, but it sounds cool. I'll be there!

1. The Cortege Procession

Sunday 22nd March - This is the absolute must-see for me if you want to really feel a part of Richard III's reburial. 

The route is long and there is lots happening along the way. Look at the procession route, pick your spot, plan your day. 

Remember Leicester's traffic is likely to be at a standstill (get real time updates here on the day) and plan accordingly. 

But if you want to see the spectacle and be actually in the presence of the mortal remains of a historic King of England, this is the event that you cannot afford to miss.

* Encoffined is a real word. I looked it up to check, but more importantly I heard ace archaeologist extraordinaire Dr Richard Buckley saying it on BBC Radio Leicester this morning. The process of enclosing in a coffin can be described as an encoffinment. Excellent stuff.
** Hoo-ha may not be a real word, or at least not spelled correctly.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

This week in the Cultural Quarter, Leicester

The development of Leicester's Cultural Quarter began way back in 1999, but now with a vibrant mix of venues, bars and restaurants and creative businesses moving in to the area it is really starting to hit its stride. The Leicester Cultural Quarter Association have now launched a social media campaign aimed at getting everyone involved in discovering what this part of the city has to offer.

I've had a lot of fun in the Cultural Quarter during my time in Leicester - I watched the hilarious, sheep based musical Dolly at Curve back in 2010, said assorted "Ooos" and "Ahhs" at the digital firework display during Light the Night in 2013, and was astonished by Shauna Richardson's giant crochet lions in Orton Square in 2012.
cultural quarter, leicester, social media

Now you can share snaps of what you get up to in the Cultural Quarter and find out what cool stuff is going on there using the hashtag #ThisWeekInTheCQ. It's not the shortest hashtag admittedly, but it does exactly what it says on the tin! You can tweet and instagram using the hashtag, telling people what's happening and sharing photos of interesting days in the CQ as they happen.

For venues in the Cultural Quarter, a bespoke Pinterest board will be created to showcase the photos people have shared and for those of us who just want to go to interesting events (or just have a coffee) there is the opportunity for your photo to be selected for use on regularly refreshed posters for the campaign.
LCB Depot, Leicester, architecture
I tweeted this LCB Depot photo to #ThisWeekInTheCQ!
I do really like this sort of use of social media, so I hope people jump on board and use it. Mainly because then I find it easier to find out what's going on and I don't miss fun events that I would have enjoyed. I also like the confidence in the cultural and creative scene in Leicester. The CQ has the real potential to be a hugely vibrant and exciting area of the city and I would love for that to happen off the back of this campaign!

So what have you been up to #ThisWeekInTheCQ? I was sad not to be able to get along to the Open Two Queens gallery yesterday, but I have been to the Drinks Bus Launch at LCB Depot, for cocktails at Manhatten 34 and this afternoon I'm hoping to stop by the free live drawing to live music event at the Exchange Bar.

Leave me a comment below and let me know what fun stuff I can head over to next!

All the cheesy scones

I'm so obsessed with savoury bakes at the moment. They're great because they take literally minutes to throw together and you can just use up whatever's in the cupboard. I was going to put chorizo in these, but in the end didn't purely because it would have doubled the prep time chopping a bit to throw in. Such a lazy day yesterday.

As usual, quantities are estimated as I just threw these together...

Cheese and Nut Scones
scones, baking, cheese, savoury

  • 225g flour
  • dash of baking powder
  • 55g butter
  • About 60g cheese (whatever you've got but stilton is ace)
  • 1 egg
  • Handful of black pepper cashews
  • Milk to bind

  • Throw the flour, baking powder and butter into the food processor to make breadcrumbs. I also added some cayenne pepper, but whatever herbs or spices you like would be a welcome addition.
  • Crumble in the cheese and add the egg, pulse briefly to combine.
  • Throw in the cashews and then with the machine on dribble in a couple of tablespoons of milk until the dough starts to come together.
  • You could roll out and shape but I just did it by hand to save faff. You could also add a milk or egg wash for a more golden finish.
  • Bake for about 12-15 minutes until done.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Get onboard The Drinks Bus

We were invited to a very exciting event yesterday, the official launch of The Drinks Bus! The bus does exactly what it says on the tin, you can hire it for events, private parties, festivals - whatever you like really! We were treated to super VIP treatment to take the Bus for a test drive.
beer, bus, Leicester, King Richard III, RIII
Couldn't miss the opportunity to sample the local Dicky brew
The converted 1977 Bristol Bus houses a full bar which can be supplied fully stocked and staffed and is available for dry hire. It is big and shiny and red and has most excellent fairy lights on board. It is equipped with an epic sound system, but as we were in the yard of the LCB Depot we were only treated to a small sample of its awesome power! Probably for the best in such an enclosed space! It certainly was pretty rocking with DJ Dirty Secretz powering out the tunes from the decks, on the top deck! The bus can also be set up as a stage, with a live band up there. Very cool.
Danique, hairdressers, Leicester, fun
Also on the top deck, tables and seating were available, giving you a relaxed private venue with a bird's eye view of your surrounding. This would definitely be the ultimate luxury item if you had a private party in a festival VIP area. Here are the glamorous ladies from Danique Hairdressing and Viks, the manager of Leicester's own Lava Lounge enjoying the open air beverages. Sorry the photo is so blurry, it does no justice to their fabulous style! Must remember to clean my camera lens in future.

The launch night was supported by Pistonhead Lager and Maxxium UK, who specifically brought me an excellent Stolichnahya vodka and tonic. Attending this outdoor event, although we did get chilly towards the end has made me really excited that Spring is finally on its way. I am looking forward to a Stoli and tonic in some proper sunshine! We also had the added delight of a cake pop from Bitsy's Cupcakery which were genuinely delicious - a gooey, rich chocolate cake with a white shell and super cute love heart sticks.

Drinks, bus, Leicester, hire, party

And as if that wasn't enough, we were also delighted and amazed by the antics of master magician, Gavin Parsons. He was an excellent close-quarters magician who had me absolutely baffled by his cool card tricks. That was really fun as I haven't seen magic right in front of me like that since being subjected to the efforts of a classmate at school! Gavin was significantly better and literally made me clap my hands with glee.
mai tai, cocktail, drink

As the sky grew dark and the air turned chilly, we headed indoors to Manhattan 34 for the post-Bus party. We were given a delicious Mai Tai and treated to the musical stylings of David & Kristel, a fabulous vocal talent accompanied by mellow acoustic guitar. A perfect end to an evening full of smiles.

Many thanks to The Drinks Bus for inviting us along, an excellent time was had by all, although it was a little bit of a struggle to get out of bed bright and breezy at 6.30am this morning! Perhaps that last cocktail was the straw that broke the camel's back - that will remind me to drink responsibly.

fun, silly faces, Leicester
All the fun being had.
If you have a wedding or party coming up, do consider hiring The Drinks Bus. Not only is it a super unique talking point for your event, but they have many options available for hire - including a fee for hire of the bus with a stocked bar and staffing, which you could get fully refunded if the bar takes enough money, so it wouldn't cost you anything! Very cool.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Medieval galleries at Leicester Guildhall

Looking for something new (and free) to take the kids to over the Easter Holidays? Well, Leicester Guildhall is opening its new medieval galleries soon. There's a special quest for families, where they can choose a character, get dressed up and walk the streets of the medieval town in their shoes. There are also plenty of real historic objects and information for adults to get their teeth in to.

Hopefully their trailer will whet your appetite and you'll pop along from 20th March 2015 to see for yourself!

Warning: this trailer contains an animated horse doing a poo. True fact.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Mother's Day in Leicester

My MIL - definitely worth celebrating!
Are you looking for something super special to do on Mother's Day? Some of you may remember that I celebrated my mother-in-law by creating the biggest toast mosaic in the world in her honour. If that sounds like fractionally more faff than you can bear, here's my round up of top notch happenings for Leicester families of all ages. They are all happening on Sunday 15th March 2015.

Young Children

If you are a mum of children aged 0-6, why not take them to the Space Baby Disco at Embrace Arts. It costs £5 per child and accompanying adults go free. Do something a bit different, let it all hang out and make Mother's Day a great, fun and unforgettable experience!

Sport Mad

For the diehard Tigers mum, there will only be one option for Mothering Sunday this year, tickets to see the Leicester Tigers play the Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road! Kick off is at 1pm so you'll just have time to squeeze in a nice lunch before heading down. Tickets start at £18, here's hoping for a win to seal the deal!

Irish, or just like the craic?

Enjoy the Patrick's Day parade organised by the Emerald Centre, It starts at Holy Cross Church on New Walk and noon and will make its way to Jubilee Square. Local community groups will be led by an Irish pipe band. Super.

Looking for a unique gift?

Visit Newarke Houses Museum and be inspired by local artists' work in the 26th Leicester and East Midlands Open Art Exhibition. Admission is free, but if your mum falls in love with a work of art then you can buy it for her as an extra special and unique present.

Theatre Lovers

What could mark Mother's Day in Leicester more fittingly than taking her to see Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole at Curve? Admittedly, there are no performances on the Sunday, so you'll need to take mum along on the Saturday afternoon or evening instead, but with tickets starting at £20 I'm sure that this special treat will put a smile on her face that lasts all weekend.


Finally, of course you might just want to take mum out for a special dinner (or be taken out if you are a mum!). My top picks of special menus for the Sunday follow but don't forget to book in advance so you don't miss out on a table!
  • The White Horse in Birstall is offering a special menu for £20.50 per person, which includes 3 courses and coffee. The White Horse is a bit of a way out of town, but a great little pub with beautiful views over Watermead Park. The slow cooked lamb shank would definitely be my pick here.
  • One of my absolute favourite places to eat in the city is Le Bistrot Pierre. They are offering both special set and a la carte menus for your mummy. The set menu costs £18.95 for three courses and you can be sure you'll receive great service. The Fromage de Chevre starter would be my pick of the menu here.
  • Somewhere I haven't eaten at recently, but I am still hearing good things about is Colourworks. I thought them worth mentioning as they are perhaps not an obvious choice for Mother's Day. They will be putting on a special carvery menu at £17.95 for three courses. Let me know how you found it if you try this one out.

Happy Birthday Danique: Here come the Leicester girls!

Danique Hairdressing, on Highcross Street, Leicester turned 6 yesterday! They have been having a whale of a time celebrating their birthday. I've heard about giant Millie's cookies, Krispy Kreme's and all manner of other delights being consumed in honour of the occasion. It was great to be invited down to share in their merrymaking, although admittedly all the cake had been consumed when we arrived! However, I was told that they would definitely have offered me some and it is always the thought that counts...

And it couldn't have come at a better time. We're in the final stages of preparing to open a new set of medieval galleries at Leicester Guildhall, so things are busy, busy, busy right now. You can see from this photographic evidence that we are getting down to the serious business of installation with due gravitas and diligence. After all somebody has to make sure the costumes work.

After a long Friday, what better way to unwind then getting a bit of a reinvigoration to your tired work week hair than popping in to Danique Hairdressing for a lovely blow dry? I took along my friend Heather, who had shared my tough week, so we could put the stylists to the test with a shorter style as well as seeing what they could do with the great new cut that Sean gave me a couple of weeks ago, which I have sadly neglected this week.

I know, the shame! My before picture shows the true horror of my hair neglect.
After meeting the Danique Boys on Valentine's Day, now it was time for the girls to come to the fore and give us a spot of pampering. We decided to make an afternoon of it and popped along to Danique's lovely neighbours at the Cosy Club for a pre-salon drink. We were then welcomed by our super-friendly Creative Designers, Sarah and Hannah who took fabulous care of us throughout our visit. That is one of the things I really like about Danique - the attention to detail in every aspect of the customer service as well as the talents of the staff in actually giving you the style that you want.

Sarah giving the full consultation and receiving the answer in BSL apparently.
In particular I was impressed that Heather told me afterwards that normally she hates going to the hairdressers and finds it quite a stressful experience, worrying that she is going to come out with something she hates. None of that for her this time though!

After our consultations, we had our hair gently cleansed and that all important scalp massage. We could not help but feel relaxed, being in such a bubbly and friendly environment and being carefully tended to by expert hands.

I was treated to products from label.m's new thickening range, which I am really pleased with. The shampoo and conditioner smell great and leave your hair feeling light and fresh. When we got down to the styling, Hannah also used the Volume Foam massaged into my roots once the excess water had been blasted out with the blowdrier and then a dash of Thickening Cream right at the top, for extra super big hair. As someone with incredibly fine hair I was really impressed at the level of extra volume that these products provided. I challenged Hannah to see just how big she could make my hair and she did not disappoint!

Heather had a full restyle and will probably never forgive me for posting a picture of her online with wet hair, but if you are friends with a blogger that's the sort of shoddy treatment and public embarrasment that you have to come to expect, so I offer up little in the way of apology.

Sarah took a lot of the excess fullness from Heather's hair, giving it a much lighter, more natural style overall, but then went to town on a high impact asymmetric cut which really complemented Heather's fact and brought an astonishing new lift to her look. I was super impressed by the speed with which Sarah worked to do this dramatic reshape - Heather was finished well before my blowdry was! Just goes to show that short hair is the way if you want to save yourself a bit of time. Sarah used the label.m Protein Spray on Heather which gave an additional strength, protection from the heat of the hairdrier and healthy shine to her hair.
We were having a great time, given a nice glass of something bubbly and literally ending up giggling like schoolchildren at the banter in the salon. Every time I go into Danique I feel like I am amongst old friends, a real rarity these days. I think they probably feel like every customer is an old friend waiting to happen and treat everyone accordingly.

Tada! A very happy conservator
 And here is the finished result, you can see that Danique treat short hair as well as they dealt with my mop. The word 'fabulous' was being bandied around a lot and Heather was extra-impressed with her swooshy front, which she had never even thought of having before. She told me that she thought it was a brilliant haircut, that the staff were very friendly and that she was really happy, especially as she's normally so reticent about haircuts! Heather's cut with Sarah, the Creative Designer, would have come in at £46.00, which she would happily have paid (and more!) but thanks to Danique and their birthday celebration, she was even more made up that it was free! The delights of blogging.

My style was coming on a-pace in the meanwhile. Hannah used a large round brush when drying to give lift and shape. She turned the hair round the brush in sections, using heat to dry it then switching to a cool air flow to set the shape. Even just left straight the style looked fab, but of course I had to go for a bit more curl and volume because in for a penny, in for a pound!

I was also amazed by the swoosh factor. I think they are going to have to find a way to incorporate swoosh into their marketing strategy, because that is certainly a hairdressing technicality that I look for. So much body, so much delight!

The large irons quickly added a very soft, natural curl to my hair. The hair was left to fall as it choose over my side parting, giving flow. My hair was super soft and floaty light (but obviously not flyaway!). The label.m products really did the job of adding volume without being at all sticky or heavy so my hair felt like there was nothing on there at all. I'm still volumed to the max after sleeping on the style!

Hannah and me - isn't her hair beautiful?
My style would have come in at just £23, but you can get blow drying done from £8 to £33 depending on which stylist you want to book in with. I would wholeheartedly recommend this styling service if you've got a big night out planned, it's a great pampering experience and you can be sure you'll head out looking awesome and feel full of confidence.

Many thanks to Danique and Cici PR for inviting us along for such a lovely treat. I think I'm spoiled for hairdressers now and can't imagine going anywhere else! 

The short hair brigade - make sure you get looked after by Sarah if you want a hip short style!
The motley crew altogether! We are a bunch of posers aren't we?
Oh go on then, one last selfie...

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