Wednesday, 20 July 2011

How to make a cup of tea

There's nothing like a nice cup of tea - Well, when it's made properly that is!

Recently, I have been astounded by the number of people who can't do something as simple as making a cup of tea. I regularly turn down a cup of tea at work when certain people offer to make me one. There would be no point in them bothering as I just couldn't drink it. I really don't know how they manage to brew up such a vile tasting beverage.

There's nothing to it really. First of all you need to make sure you have some good quality teabags. I prefer Ringtons, although Yorkshire Tea will do if I run out and need to get some from a shop. Then, put one teabag in a cup or mug of your choice. Boil a kettle of water - and this is the crucial part - pour the water onto the teabag while it is still boiling. If it is even so much as a few seconds off the boil it will not brew the tea properly. Leave it to brew for atleast five minutes. When other people make me a cup of tea, I often have a fresh cup on my desk within a couple of minutes of my empty cup being taken away to be replenished. A good cup of tea takes time. It can't be rushed. Then, after the tea has brewed for atleast five minutes, remove the teabag and add milk and sugar to your requirements. Never put milk in the cup first as this prevents the tea brewing properly as it cools the water. If making a round of drinks, never stir a non-sugar cup of tea with a spoon which has just stirred sugar into another cup. This also renders the tea undrinkable as even the tiniest remnant of sugar can be tasted. Likewise, if you are making a mixed round of tea and coffee, never stir tea with the same spoon as you have just stirred coffee.

For those of you who aren't stereotypical British or Irish tea connoisseurs, you may not understand how important a skill making a cup of tea is. A cup of tea is a much looked forward to event and it has to "hit the spot". This can cause problems when travelling abroad. Many a time, my husband and I have tried to explain how we would like our tea to be made. An otherwise perfect hotel near Maranello, Italy, spoilt itself by it's lack of tea-making abilities. My husband explained that he would like them to put the teabags in the pot and then pour on the water while it was boiling before bringing the teapot to him with the teabags still in there, brewing. Could they manage this? No. They brought a teapot containing hot water and teabags separately.

My most recent international tea incident was at a McDonalds in France. We had gone to France for five days and in the last-minute rush to pack (as always!) we had somehow managed to forget a pack of Ringtons tea. My husband cannot survive without tea. I suggested that McDonalds would have tea and although they wouldn't make it properly because they never use boiling water, it would be better than no tea at all. Well, what a fiasco! I asked for "Thé". They gave me a fruit infusion. I said "Non, thé" and they then gave me a bottle of Lipton Ice. So I said "NON. THÉ NOIR!! CHAUD, S.V.P!" As you can tell, I was running out of patience! I was finally handed an English breakfast tea teabag. Result, I thought. But no. I took it to my husband who was waiting patiently with a, now, luke warm cup of water. He opened it but it had got damp and then dried out and was stuck to the inside of the packet. We gave up and left, going back to the hotel to brew up a teabag off the courtesy tray. And amazingly, we had actually been provided with a kettle in our hotel room - something which is usually lacking in foreign hotels. Hats off to the Best Western in Hardelot-Plage!

So, there we go. Just had to let off some tea making steam.

Footnote: I realise that some non-Brits can make tea properly and for those of you that can, I am in full admiration of you and you are a credit to your country! And maybe you could teach my colleagues something :-)


Friday, 15 July 2011

Summer Days Out

Lucinda and I love days out, especially in the summer. So here I have compiled a list and short description of some of our favourites.

Lotherton Hall
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

This is one of our most local attractions and one we frequent on a very regular basis.
Lotherton Hall is not quite a stately home but a very attractive property nonetheless. It stands in large grounds, consisting of gardens, a deer park, woodland, a bird garden, picnic area, adventure playground, cafe, gift shop, ice cream kiosk and a small childrens' funfair in the summer months.
It costs £3.60 per car for parking and the bird garden, adventure playground and all the grounds are included in the price. This makes for an excellent budget day out. Infact, if you don't arrive until mid-afternoon onwards you don't have to pay for parking, as I found out a couple of weeks ago.
Lucinda loves the bird garden. There are flamingoes, emus, exotic pheasants, Andean condors along with the more traditional ducks. There is plenty of seating and the walkways are flat and wide.
The adventure playground has a small toddler area as well as the larger climbing frame. The toddler area is excellent. It comprises of two bridges, a crawling tube, steps, rope ladder and a slide. There are also two baby swings.

Pugneys Country Park
Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England.

Another very local attraction to us.
Pugneys is a former quarry and open cast mine from which two lakes have been created. The main lake is used for boats, pedaloes, windsurfers, kayaks etc which can be hired along with any necessary equipment. There are also several clubs, based at the watersports centre, which meet regularly. The smaller lake is part of a nature reserve and there are a couple of bird hides, which Lucinda likes to take her little binoculars to!
The main lake is circled by a footpath, which is fully accessible to pushchairs and wheelchairs. The full walk is about a mile and a half long and takes a leisurely 40 minutes to complete. There are plenty of seats all the way around.
There is not so much a play area as a "tactile" area. There are some interesting contraptions with big plastic balls on to move along bars and there are some fences with holes in which ropes with a ball at each end pull through. Not the easiest things to describe! There is also a little bridge and a balance beam. Whatever they are, they have been designed with disabled people in mind and there are instructions on each piece of aparatus for ideas of ways to use them.
There is a cafe, ice cream van and picnic area. Although they did intend to start charging for parking a while ago, it is yet to materialise and there is a large black bin bag taped over the parking machine.

Tropical World
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England

Situated in Roundhay Park, Tropical World is an indoor attraction full of butterflies, ponds, waterfalls, birds, fish, terrapins, reptiles and meerkats. The meerkats have a recently renovated new home surrounded by large glass panels for easy viewing. It is also home to the largest collection of tropical plants outside of Kew Gardens.
It is not a particularly large place but it does have exterior gardens and an adjacent cafe and is on the edge of Roundhay Park - Also home to large expanses of lawns, woodlands, lakeside walks, restaurant, adventure playground, skate park, tennis courts and cricket ground.
Admission prices for Tropical World are £3.30 for adults, £2.20 for children aged 5-15 and under 5s are free. Free parking.

Sundown Adventure Land
Retford, Nottinghamshire, England

Sundown is a theme park especially for the under 10s. There are different themed areas, such as Nursery Rhyme Land where you can go in the Three Bears' cottage and the Monkey Mischief area where animated animals sing. There are two indoor soft play areas (one of which is possibly the biggest in the country) and several outdoor play areas, including one with a large sandpit. There are rides that the whole family can go on. There is a ride called Boozy Barrel which is a miniature "rapids" ride. There is a train and a tractor ride and also an all year round Santa ride. You can also follow the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, see Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall and see Cinderella and Prince Charming by the pumpkin carriage.
There are about three cafes and several picnic areas, along with grassy areas to put down a rug.
Sundown Adventure Land is a much looked forward to summer day out for us.
Admission prices are £10 each for anyone over the age of two or £7.50 each for disabled guests and their carers. £10 sounds a lot for a two or three year old but it is worth every penny. It is a fantastic day out for everyone. Free parking.

Park Hall Countryside Experience
Oswestry, Shropshire, England

We have visited Park Hall on a recent weekend at the in-laws, who live just over the border in Wales. I think it will become an annual summer day out when we are in the area as there is so much to do for all the family.
Lucinda would have been happy to spend all day in the soft-play area or on the pedal tractors or bouncy castles, but she also enjoyed the play houses with kitchens in, which were next to where we decided to have our picnic. There are lots of picnic tables and seating, both outside and under cover. There are a couple of rides - a ride in a trailer pulled by a tractor and a childrens' train, made out of barrels, which is also pulled by a tractor. There are a couple of outside play areas and Toylanders (childrens' Land Rovers) and a "Driving School" for older children (approx. 4yrs+).
There are lots of animals, including farm animals and also a small petting area with rabbits, guinea pigs and Shetland ponies. At certain times, a member of staff will supervise and put small animals on your lap for you to stroke. Lucinda loved stroking the rabbits and she also, later on, groomed a pony.
There is a Victorian School and a Welsh Guards museum and also a classic car collection.
Entrance prices are £6.95 for anyone over 2 years, or £6.45 for OAPs and disabled people.

Fota Wildlife Park
Cork, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland

This is the best wildlife park I have ever been to. Situated on Fota Island just outside Cork city and home to all sorts of animals including giraffes, monkeys and capybaras. Many animals are roaming free, including llamas and wallabies, and they are very friendly and enjoy being stroked.
There are several play areas and seating around the park. There are also plenty of sheltered areas in case you catch an Irish shower! There are two cafes, a large picnic area and a gift shop.
Also on Fota Island is Fota House and Gardens. All attractions are served by a mainline rail station.
Entrance prices for the wildlife park are €14 for adults and €9 for children aged 3-15. Under 3s are free. Parking is €3 per private car and proceeds go towards the upkeep of Fota House and Gardens.