Sunday 29 May 2011

Baby Gorilla at Twycross Zoo, plus Art Gallery opens.

Welcome Okanda!

Fancy that!  Fancy Pans has been back to Twycross and the main purpose of our visit was to see Okanda, a new-born male western lowland gorilla (an endangered species).  However, seeing him was difficult as Mum, Ozala is very protective of her precious little boy.  Dad, Oumbie also watches over his son and heir, so it isn’t easy to get a photograph.  This picture is one of Twycross’s own and you can read more about Okanda on their website.  

The new arrival, named after the Lope-Okanda Wildlife Reserve in Gabon (a Gorilla conservation area), was actually born about a month ago, but no-one could get close enough to find out if the new baby was a boy or a girl until mid May.  Mum, Ozala was also born at Twycross in 1994 (yes, that makes her just seventeen).  Dad, Oumbie, isn’t a local, he was born at Howletts Zoo in Kent (he’s a southerner).  

Don't forget to treat yourself to lunch or tea in the fabulous Hymalaya restaurant, with snow leopards prowling just outside.  What more could you want? (Well, a sunny day would be good).  (See previous blog 'Chef's Day Off' for more about the Hinalaya).

Twycross is open 364 days of the year and latest information is on their website.  Well worth a visit.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

A Devonshire Tale, with cream tea and scones by Paul Hollywood

Bonjour mes amis.

Today at Fancy Pans Café there is a Devonshire theme and the most iconic Devonshire treat is the cream tea.  Master Baker Paul Hollywood will show you in four minutes how to make perfect, and utterly delicious scones.  You will, of course need some clotted cream and strawberry jam (or any jam really, whatever is your favourite) to complete the ultimate indulgence.  

The question is:  Jam first or cream first?  Unlike the picture above, I am a jam first scone-eater, which are you?

The Devonshire theme continues with a short piece of fiction that I wrote earlier this year.  I visited the Devonshire Cemetery on The Somme and ‘adopted’ a soldier called Marshal Williams where I placed a cross on his grave.  The  short story is a piece of creative-non-fiction.  By that I mean that the historical facts are true, as are the names, but the story is fictional. (Although I would love to  chat with him in the tranquillity of the cemetery, if he ever decides to meet me there.)  Please follow the links to see more about The Devonshires.

So, having made your delicious scones, put your feet up with a cream tea, and enjoy the story:

Di picked up the small poppy-wreath from the passenger seat and stepped out into the fresh air.  She followed the path as it wound to the right, rising steadily behind the trees.  At the top of a set of steep steps, she stopped to read the inscription on a pale stone to the left, just before the gate:
The Devonshires Held this Trench, The Devonshires Hold it Still.”  A feeling of utter sadness swept through her and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  When she opened them her gaze fell on the cluster of small wooden crosses which had been placed in front of the stone.  She could smell smoke.  The aroma transported her back to when she was a young girl, recognising the same strong tobacco her Granddad had used.  She turned towards the gate and was surprised to see a young man standing there.  He threw his cigarette to the ground and smiled at her.
          “Good morning M’am,” he said in a soft, west-country accent.
“Oh, you startled me,” she replied. 
“Private Marshal Williams at your service,” he grinned.
“I was told that some cemeteries had guides, but I didn’t expect one here today,” she answered with a grin of her own.   “Diane Jeltes,” she offered her free hand, but he didn’t take it, he saluted her instead. 
“So, where first?” she asked.
“That’s up to you,” his smile was endearing, cheeky yet full of warmth.
“I promised my Aunt I would put this on my Great Uncle’s grave, Captain Duncan Martin.”  She raised her left hand which was holding the circle of poppies.  Marshal raised his eyebrows and nodded.  She walked towards the gate and made to open the brass door set in the stone gate-post behind which she knew was a plan of the cemetery.
“You won’t need that,” Marshal said, “I can tell you where everyone is.”
“And, can you tell me anything about them?  You see, I never knew my Great Uncle,” then she felt stupid having made such a ridiculous faux-pas and tried to redeem herself by continuing: “well obviously I didn’t as he died in the War.”
“Of course, M’am,” he replied and opened the iron gate into the secluded cemetery.  She followed him through the entrance and together they walked over to the memorial cross which was bathed in the morning sunshine. 
“Do you always dress like that?” she asked him.
“When I’m on duty.”
“I like to see a man in uniform,” she giggled as she looked down at the puttees, neat and smartly wound round his legs above his shiny boots.  He turned to her and, still smiling, said:
“Captain Martin was a wonderful man.”
“In what way?”
“He was kind, courageous and a true gentleman.”
Di looked along the two rows of white headstones on her left.  “How many soldiers are buried here?”
“A hundred and sixty-three.”
“And you know all their names?”
“Yes, well all but ten.”
“Haven’t you learnt their names yet?” she teased.
“They have no names, Ma’m.”
“I don’t understand.”
“They couldn’t be identified, but they do have a resting place.”
“Oh, sorry.  Please tell me more about Great Uncle Duncan.”
“He was brave and compassionate.  He tried to save his men from certain death.”
“He had discovered the whereabouts of a German machine gun, over there,” he pointed straight ahead towards Mametz village.  “The Devonshires were supposed to attack the German front-line towards Fricourt,” he pointed to their left.  “Captain Martin had made a clay model of this area and worked out that if that gun wasn’t put out of action first, then Fritz would fire directly into his men.  He took it to show the higher-ups and they told him the gun would be taken out with early shell-fire. ”
“And was it?”
“They lied.”
“Oh my God!  What happened?” Di was starting to shake a little.
“On the morning of the first of July Captain Martin led his men over the top.  He made good ground and had almost reached the German front-line when, just as he had forecast, the machine-gunners opened fire.  His Batman, Private 19186, was hit and the Captain tried to drag him to safety.  Sadly he didn’t make it and he, and most of the front-line Devons, were mown down.” 
“How awful.” Di brushed a tear from her cheek.  “So, is this where they fell?”
“No, it was over the road.” He again pointed above the beech hedge towards Mametz.  “The British front-line trench, where we are now, had been badly damaged by shell fire.  So, the attack had to start from the assembly trench, just up the hill.  Later that day the Devon survivors went into no-man’s land and recovered the bodies of their friends.  Then they brought them back here to this section of their front-line trench and buried them.”
“And Great Uncle Duncan was among them?”
“Yes Ma’m, he’s just down there.”  Marshal pointed to a small group of headstones at the far end.  “There was a service a few days later and they put up a wooden cross and wrote on it those words that you read earlier.  That has long since gone which is why a memorial stone was put up with the same words.” 
“Then I shall be proud to place these on his grave.” Di looked down at the poppies then raised her gaze until her eyes met Marshal’s beautiful, twinkly-blue ones.  Her heart fluttered and she could feel her colour rising.   He winked mischievously.
“I won’t be long,” she told him, “but I would like to do this alone, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all M’am,” he said and saluted.

She turned and walked towards the front row of headstones at the far end of the cemetery.
   “He’s a charmer that one,” she whispered to herself, “he’ll break a few hearts.”   She looked along the white stones and noticed that the emblem on all of them was the same as Marshal had on his cap badge.  Ten were nameless saying simply: “A soldier of the Great War – known to God” .  At last she came to the headstone which was inscribed: Captain D L Martin, 9th Bn Devonshire Regiment, died 1st July 1916, aged 30.  She bent down and stared at the words and shook her head.  After a few moments she brushed aside a plant which was growing at the base of the headstone so that she could place the wreath.  Then she felt her heart lurch and she gasped when she read yet another inscription under that of Captain Martin:  19186 Private M Williams, 9th Bn Devonshire Regiment, died 1st July 1916, aged 22.
She looked up and surveyed the cemetery then rose to her feet and craned her neck. She was alone.  Not another living soul was there in the Devonshire Cemetery, but on the cool morning breeze she could smell the aroma of a freshly lit Woodbine and mused:

The Devonshires Held this Trench, The Devonshires Hold it Still.”

Copyright:  Karen Ette

Somme Historical Centre        Searching for a relative?

Saturday 14 May 2011

Pals on The Somme. Poems with great Lancashire/Yorkshire Fayre.

Bonjour mes amis.  
The doors of the Fancy Pans Café are flung open offering a fabulous menu from - - - Lancashire and Yorkshire!   Yes, the cuisine of France tempts discerning diners into every Cafe, Bistro and Restaurant, but given our location, today’s dishes have a northern charm.   I hope you will also enjoy the poetry .

We are in a place called Sheffield Park; a tranquil and somewhat overwhelming corner of Somme countryside.  It’s quite a walk from the main Serre Road.  You can also get here by car if it isn’t too wet – you won’t want to get stuck in the Somme mud on rainy days though. The lane which takes you there is a dirt track across fields of crops.  You will see a British Cemetery (Serre Road No 3) and just behind it is Sheffield Park.  The path is lengthy and you never know, you might find some shrapnel, a bullet, a shell or other long buried relics of The Somme battlefields.   (Best not to touch the shells though, they may be live).

Walking can have an effect on your appetite, so before we go on please enjoy our dishes of the day.  Appropriately, Lancashire Hot-Pot   

I hope you will like the poetry.

                         SHEFFIELD PARK

I approach Sheffield Park and see bricks,   
A Memorial,
To the brave Pals from Accrington
Red bricks.
Red Accrington bricks.
Travelled, as the men before them,
Here, to their final resting place.

I turn to the right,
There before me,
Honoured in stone.
Yorkshire lads,                                               
Remembered here. 

'Where larks sing        
and poppies grow,
they sleep in peace
for evermore'.

I walk down the gentle slope,
Scarred earth, now covered in verdant grass,
Pitted with deep craters,
Shell-holes where men lost their lives. 

At the foot,
Railway Hollow.
Quiet simplicity,
The most tranquil of places
I could ever imagine. 
The stillness wraps around me,
I close my eyes,
I hear the guns which boomed
Nearly a hundred years ago.

One of the many hundreds of casualties here on the morning of 1st July 1916 was the poet
 John William Streets. John's body was not found for almost a year.

In memory and honour of these brave Pals, I have written a poem, which I would like to share with you .


In this lonely place                                                      
    rows of white stone
        mark the spot                                                                      
                   where we once saw the dawn. 
In this lonely place
     a solitary oak 
         whispers its sadness

                   where we once carved our names.

In this lonely place
     a flower blooms
         bright as the sun

                   that once warmed our cold backs.

In this lonely place,
    a breeze ripples grass
        silent now

                  where once we sought sleep.

In this lonely place
    a bird bravely flies
        soaring above

                   where the Howitzers roared.

In this lonely place
      shell-holes remain
         empty craters

                  Armageddon we once faced.

In this lonely place
    a rabbit passes by
       on the same earth

                   that once oozed the smell of mortal fear.

In this lonely place
    a whistle blew
        over we went

             where shells scorched Picardie.

In this lonely place
    a battle raged
      pals joined in conflict

                    divided ranks, into hell we ran.  

In this lonely place
    a tear was shed
        destiny marked

                     with the vile taste of despair.

In this lonely place
    the sun went down
         mud took claim

              where a Bergmann gun[1]spat our names.
  We prayed
       We cried
              We lived
                     We died
                                    In this lonely place.


[1] Bergmann machine guns were not used on the Somme until 1918

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Fancy Cake from Dorset plus Monumental History on the Somme

Today’s tasty treat is Dorset Apple Tray Bake
by Lesley Waters – it is a simple-to-whip-up apple cake that can be cut into bars or squares for a tea time treat - or anytime for that matter: breakfast, elevenses, lunch, picnic - just  so yummy.  You'll love food by Lesley Waters - go on, you know you want to.

The reason I have chosen the Dorset Apple Tray Bake is because on Saturday, 7th May 2011 in Authuille on the Somme, a WW1 memorial was placed and dedicated; that of the Dorset Regiment. 

Until then there had been no Memorial for The Dorsets and The Dorset Memorial Project raised £23,000 and worked tirelessly to remedy this.   

The site chosen for the memorial is on the Somme battlefield where, during the summer and autumn of 1916, two of the three Dorset Regiment battalions fighting on the Western Front, (the third was only a few miles away), fought in epic and costly engagements during the Battle of the Somme.  350 died on that dreadful first day: 1st July 1916.

On one side of the column is the Dorset Regiment badge and on the reverse are the County arms of Dorset.  Around the base are carved the Dorset Regiment First World War battle honours that are shown on the Regimental Colour, and an appropriate quotation from Thomas Hardy:  "Victory crowns the just.".

The result is stunning. It commemorates the 4,500 men of The Dorsetshire Regiment who died in the Great World War.  

The Memorial is located in a particularly good spot on a site that will receive many visitors who pass on their way to Thiepval plus those visiting the Lonsdale Cemetery and Leipzig Salient. 

It was carved by sculptors Zoe Cull and Alex Evans at their workshop at Bockhampton, near Dorchester  and was dedicated in the village of Authuille on the Somme, on Saturday 7th May 2011 at 1100 hrs. 

Their Name Liveth for Evermore

For more about a Dorset Pilot, shot down by The Red Baron, please click here