Our estate here in Llanfoist just across the bridge from Abergavenny is called Mountain View. What I’ve done is take some photographs from the top floor of our home where we have skylights in the roof to show you. There are seven hills in fact surrounding the town, so let’s see how many we can see!
Now for two hills that Debbie and I have yet to climb, Bryn Arw two and a half miles North of Abergavenny and Skirrid Fach (or Little Skirrid) one mile to the east.
Now not surrounding Abergavenny, but seen in the distance from above Llanfoist on the Blorenge on a good day is the Brecon Beacons most popular climb…
Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s our third visit to the Abergavenny Food Festival and probably the best yet! Debbie Emma & I decided to walk into town across Llanfoist bridge and following the road up the hill to the right past the entrance to the temporary parking in Castle Meadows.
Eventually we passed the Tudor gate GP surgery and turned left into the square next to the King’s Arm’s where I noticed a chef outside shucking large oysters from the Menai Straits. I felt obliged to slurp three for £6 as my starter…
After passing “Get Together” we then popped into the Blue Cross to say howdy to James where I snapped up for £2 a River Cottage children’s cookbook ready for our future grandkids!
After Emma snapped James illegally (he said) with my borrowed SLR we headed towards the market square where Debbie saw the stall for our Christmas dinner and ordered our organic bird from Monmouthshire Turkey farm. Debbie always says this is the beginning of Christmas for her and I agree – another tradition cemented in our psyche.
We then decided to pop into the art shop which I thought was new to Abergavenny but apparently opened 17 years ago, to get Emma a putty rubber, some white shading pencils and spray on fixative for her charcoal drawing efforts.
Feeling thirsty we then headed into the festival proper showing our wristbands on the way in and I headed to a cider stall and tested the dry and medium varieties before ordering a pint of the strong dry for £3.50 which nearly knocked me out as it was quite strong!
Next we went to a Wasabi stall where I tasted for the first time the real thing which was quite wet and creamy compared to the dyed green horseradish you get normally with your supermarket sushi. Very nice but by now Emma was feeling peckish so a visit to a £5 a portion vegetarian stall quickly followed for a fried “thingy” made out of chickpeas, chilli, onion and other unidentifiable ingredients which I have to admit was very tasty.
After making our way through the market hall and back out into the high street we tasted a few morsels of brownie but decided to continue on to the Priory, where I hit the jackpot with my favourite soft shelled crab in tempura batter with mayo and sweet chilli sauce…
Making our way back into town we stopped off at two jewellery shops where Emma got a pair of Totoro earrings and at “Ethnic Elegance” in Monk Street some incense sticks to burn!
Carrying on up past the Angel Hotel we made our way to the Castle where an open fire cooking demonstration was in full swing using a lobster, monkfish tail and scallops with a small glass of complimentary lager dished out to refresh the parts that others couldn’t…
Alas I spied some crispy deep fried squid on offer at “The Audacious Squid” stall while Emma spied another close by with three people making vegetarian versions of crispy duck wrapped in seaweed in a kind of assembly line. Delicious both were I have to admit although I was pleased not to share my seafood to my everlasting shame!
Popping into see James again we decided to treat mam with a Cafe Nero fruit pot and decaf Americano, before walking slowly back home with just a brief diversion into Waitrose before it closed.
All in all probably the best festival we’ve had since our “escape” just over two years ago!
I’ve always been a huge fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ever since I saw the first series of Escape to River Cottage back in 1999. The idea of leaving the rat race behind always seemed like a wonderful dream to me and perhaps subconsciously led to the title of this blog!
Well yesterday evening marked the start of our third Abergavenny Food Festival since we “escaped” and we celebrated in style by watching him being interviewed on the subject of “A Life In Food” in front of a packed Borough Theatre.
Amazingly enough Debbie and I even managed to get front row seats in the middle directly in front of him and also got him to sign his new book “Much More Veg” afterwards!
The session included Hugh extolling the benefits of roasted Brussels sprouts, abhorring takeaway coffee cups and packaging that can’t be recycled, the benefits of having 4 children to aid with a runner bean glut, getting fired from River Cafe for being too messy, his first TV job (as producer) on the BBC QED show “Maggot Mogul” which followed the exploits of a maggot farmer supplying fisherfolk using discarded chicken byproducts of intensive farming.
It was really on the latter topic that Hugh got quite passionate about not eating chicken or pork raised under such regimes. Although he’s not vegetarian himself yet I suspect from listening to him that this is his sense of direction. His first “veggie” book “Veg Every day” is the number one best seller in the UK of that genre.
Eventually they opened up to audience questions so I asked him why he went from a very small beginning at the original River Cottage small holding to a 60 acre farm where he operates his cookery school at River Cottage HQ. He answered saying essentially that it was the ideal size to keep some animals, grow loads of vegetables and host up to 30 people a day enjoying the events they run there.
When he came to sign the book for us he thanked me for asking the question and was delighted when I asked about his first book “Cuisine Bon Marche” and asked if I had a copy to which I answered in the negative alas. As I’m writing this blog I’ve just ordered it second hand for £3.15 including P&P!
My impression of Hugh was that essentially what you see on TV is actually him in real life. He seemed to be wearing slip-on cowboy boots which I’d not seen since the 1970’s with crumpled trousers and t-shirt. All the while drinking a pint of beer both during the interview and after the show when signing the book.
He was older (naturally) and wiser I think about the eating of animals and answered one question from the audience by saying that he could give up fishing, but not cooking if he had to choose. I believe he is a genuine campaigner and frankly a thoroughly nice chap and we had a great time in his company!
Today started with such promise, the central courtyard area where the kiddies’ playground will be built was finally being cleared of all the rubbish, Debbie and I had taken Molly and Hamish for a reasonable walk before we headed into Cardiff East park and ride leaving around midday in good time for my 2.45pm audition for “The Chase”.
We dropped off the car and boarded a bus without too much delay and headed into the city centre, this really is a relaxing way to get into Cardiff and sure beats the railway from Abergavenny. Emma came with Debbie & I and they only charged £5 return for the 20 mins journey.
On arrival we made our way the short distance to Jurys Inn hotel and given that we were peckish and had loads of time spare we headed to the Harvester for a bite to eat before returning to the hotel around 2.15pm from where the ladies left me to do some shopping. I headed up to the first floor Raglan suite after enquiring with reception where the auditions were being held and on arrival was give a sticker with my name on and had my photo taken.
There were about 7 people in the room already most of who were the previous batch of interviewees awaiting the decisions on whether or not they’d got through. My “team” consisted of only five people comprised of the following rather interesting people, two of whom had been on TV before.
The first was a lady from Newport in her early 60’s who had been a professional singer and had appeared on “Stars In Your Eyes” as Dame Vera Lynn – alas she didn’t win! Personally I thought she looked more like a more svelte Barbara Windsor…
The second chap in his mid-30’s came from Penarth and ran with his wife a second hand clothes shop. He had a wide smile that reminded me of Tony Blair and had been on a daytime quiz show hosted by Nick Knowles called “Perfection”. I couldn’t recollect it at the time although Debbie thinks we did watch it together once but it was rather complicated. He too alas was not a winner either…
Apart from my self who I described to camera as “Peter, 57 years old, retired IT consultant from Abergavenny”, there was also a retired electronic engineering lecturer in his mid 60’s and a tall young man in his mid-30’s who was a care worker.
After the introductions were made we then went into a simulated cash builder round were ten questions were asked and apparently I came top, followed by the multiple choice question round where you had to put a card with A, B, C on your knee in response to what you thought was the correct answer. Again I did well and I foolishly though my audition was in the bag!
Sadly my comeuppance came when we all stood up in a line and had the quick-fire round of their questions and our answers as a team where the first answer was taken as the team response while we were marked individually as to right or wrong. This is where yours truly had a bit of a meltdown with largely deathly silence being my response to most of the questions or a feeble quiet answer long after another had correctly answered. The pinnacle of my achievement was to respond “pass” on two occasions when no-one gave a response.
Oh dear, after five minutes discussion the adjudicator panel came back and read out three names, not including mine or the care worker, which meant that for us The Chase was well and truly over. After receiving some commiserations and giving congratulations to the successful applicants the two of us trudged off back into the street where a quick call to my beloved wife and daughter ended in a Costa coffee house next door.
After a quick debrief we headed back to the bus stop and retraced our steps to the car park and the drive home. On reflection I did enjoy the process, it was great fun, it was a bit sad to be turned down but I’m really glad I applied. Only the £100k drop audition left for Debbie and I to go to should we be successful in our recent application… 🙂
I’ve loved his descriptions of planes, cranes, birds of all kinds and of course the weather and even the cricket! I shall miss him loads and I don’t mind admitting that more than one tear came as he handed over to the next commentator after 45 years…
As I write England have just won the Test Match and the series and so we can now look forward to the Ashes series in Australia, but not before Blowers walks round the outfield in his raspberry coloured trousers and lime green jacket to huge applause to end a fantastic broadcasting career.
Quite a busy day so far for yours truly, starting with shopping at Waitrose (for the dogs) and then Aldi for the humans…
Just as I was parking up at the latter a London based phone number popped up on my mobile and I answered it. Much to my surprise a rather posh young lady asked if that was Peter and would I mind answering some questions as part of my application of long ago to appear on the Chase!
She started by asking about my job title of Vice President at my last role before retirement and what it involved as well as my interests of walking and reading. After explaining that I ran a team of ex-CIO’s at an IT research firm and that I loved walking in the seven hills surrounding Abergavenny I then explained my reading matter at the moment was “Game of Thrones”.
She laughed and asked if it was the same as what appeared on TV and I answered in the positive. She then asked if I would answer about 10 general knowledge questions as part of the screening warning me that they would harder than I would encounter on the show and given how I answered I certainly hope so.
From memory these included the following:
What do the initial T in trade union TSSA stand for? I answered wrongly after a long pause “toolmaker”. [transport]
What colour is the drink grenadine? To which I answered green again wrongly! [red]
What colour is Homer Simpson’s shirt? I answered yellow… [white]
Which other elements like Xenon have an X in their name? I couldn’t answer! [oxygen]
There where others which I’ve forgotten, but I do remember half way begging for multiple choice questions instead which was politely refused, as was my request to know my final score.
After this I was surprised to hear that they wanted me to appear at a screening interview next Wednesday 13th September at a location TBA in Cardiff.
After selecting an afternoon slot at 2.45pm they rang off explaining a confirmation email would be sent, but not before confirming that Debbie would be welcome to accompany me to the interview waiting just outside. Further updates as they occur but even getting to this stage is quite exciting!