Saturday, October 30, 2010

Barbara Evans The House of Cards

Barbara Evans as 'Mashanka' in 'The House of Cards'

Yesterday I learned of the death of one of my idols Babara Evans, leading lady par excellence. She was superb, the complete musical comedy leading lady, magnificent ballet dancer, competent singer with an unusual voice, lovely actress and absolutely stunning to look at.

For some reason she never became a household name probably because she was never given a part that really suited her. Performing artists are forever searching for that vehicle that provides the opportunity for the 'performance for posterity'. It may only happen once but it has to happen. For me it was 'Flora' in Britten's TV Production of 'The Turn of the Screw'. I was so lucky. I was a very minor player but the production was so extrordinary and filmed that my 'moment' has become part of Televison and Opera history.

Barbara Evans is not so lucky. She never got the part that "did it" for her.

I first encountered Barbara when I landed my first West End Musical. the ill fated 'House of Cards' produced by the Players Theatre. I think for me this was one of the happiest productions of my life. It was such fun! It had the ingredients of everything being in a London Musical should have expect box office success and I still believe in future it could still have an after life as it is now socially relevant.

But this is a portrait of Barbra Evans and she was its leading lady. She had everything that was required to take London by storm and indeed she did but she was all wrong for the part of an innocent, young sixteen year old virginal, beautiful Russian Countess who was forced to marry a phlanderer.

Barbara was 29 stunningly beautiful, sophisticated, married, a woman of the world. Barbara radiated confidence and class, like Ave Gardener and there was no way that this woman would even would put up with the situation that 'Mashenka', for that was the pretty little countesses name, found herself in. It did not ring true and the audience sensed this immediately.

Barbara's performance was so confidently stunning and assured that the audience failed to empathize with her. It was not that the audience did not like her, no one in their right mind could not like her, it was just that they failed to connect with her. Without this vital audience connection the whole plot failed.

To say I was not captivated by Barbara Evans would be an understatement. I was just 18, very young quite experienced but not used to actually being in a West End Musical. I was just a singer in the chorus alongside Ruth Madoc of 'Hi Di Hi'. Being in a Players production was an honour as they only employed the cream of the crop but I was unaware of this at the time. This musical was my dream come true. I had arrived in the West End. Believe me this is not easy to do.

Barbara Evans was in the 'Fonteyn' mould. Barbara dressed beautifully , not a hair out of place ever. She arrived each day in another stunning coordinated outfit. Her ballet rehearsal costume was dramatic and I copied it the moment I could. It was a white grecian minutely pleated tunic over black tights. It had the 'wow factor and could she dance.

Barbara was a magnificent ballet dancer and her first entrance was a very difficult pas de deux en pointe choreographed by Terry Gilbert followed by quite a difficult song. I used to stand in the wings and marvel at her professionalism and wish I was as talented as her.

She never put a foot wrong. In the last moments the philanderer is exposed as a fraud and Barbara who had by this time fallen in love with him was forced to part. It was terribly sad and we all had our handkerchiefs out at the first time she did this at rehearsal. Real tears! We were so impressed and every night from then on she turned on real tears. What a performance!

Then one night I was standing in the wings watching and I could not believe my eyes. Standing upstage with her back to the audince Barbara took out of her bra a bottle of smelling salts, took a deep breath and her eyes filled with tears! So that was how she did it. When I tried it at home I nearly killed myself!

The House of Cards lasted six weeks at the Phoenix Theare Charing Cross Road. It had mixed reviews and it was before its time. It was about captilaism on the rampage which was not known in 1963.

Barbara Evans landed the prestigious job as resident singer on 'That was The Week That Was" taking over from Millicent Martin but again she never really came over. She appeared 'cold'. Then she was envolved in a car crash and her career came to a sudden end. She deserved better.

I never achieved the manner of a star off stage that Barbara did. Barbara never talked to me or noticed me. I was a chorus girl of no importance but I used to watch her from the wings and when my chance came I tried to be as confident as she was.

Barbara did come to see me once when I was in 'The Desert Song' where I had the privildege of bringing the house down every night with the 'IT' number. Unlike Barbara I did have the facility of making the audience 'like me' and it was really thanks to her that I did. When she arrived in my dressing room I really did not know what to say I was so astonished that my idol had come to visit me. She did not recoginse me as' Madam Vaslilav' from  'House of Cards and was surprised when I knew her. I had to remind her that I was in the chorus.

Nothing is left of 'House of Cards" so I have drawn Barbara's first costume. It was so beautiful, a froth of white lace and powder blue. It was a pity it was never filmed. I am told it still remains one of Sir Andrew LLoyd Weber's favorite musicals and it certainly is mine.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Warner Brothers versus New Zealand

God Defend New Zealand because it looks as if nobody else will!

In the fight for the 'Hobbit' it seems that Warner Brothers won hook, line and sinker.

John Key, our Nationalist Prime Minister, was no match for the Warner Bros. executives. It must have been like stealing pennies from a blind man.

I have not been following the story. I gave up on this line of politics a long time ago. I was involved with Actor's Equity in UK. Theatrical employers are so difficult to negotiate with as I found out on repeated occasions. They always did the artists and they always won.

Big or small made no difference. The big ones were the worst. My negotiations over playing 'Flora' in Brittens 'Turn of the Screw' for Aldeburgh were classic.

First The Royal Opera House never told me I had got the job and it was only when I saw my name on the handbill I thought I better find out. I had to deal with John Tooley, now Sir John Tooley, knighthoods seem to come easily after years of ripping off artists. I was sixteen.

No apology was forthcoming for not being told and I was offered £12 for four weeks work, one week in London and three in Aldeburgh. I was given my train fare, 3rd class, but no living allowance. This salary even in those days was terrible.

Even at sixteen I knew I could not do the job on this money and I protested only to be told that Covent Garden had forty little girls lined up for this role so I could take it or leave it. I said with great presence of mind I'd 'think about it!' The man I was dealing with was old enough to know better but he couldn't resist ripping me off.

For once my father decided not to come to the party. He flatly refused to sub me. So I had to ring up Stephen Reiss, the manager at Aldeburgh and tell him I was not able to do the job. Stephen nearly exploded as rehearsals were only about two weeks away. He said he would see what he could do.

Three hours later John Tooley, I refuse to call him 'Sir' even to this day, rang with a better offer of £33. Still not nearly enough but if I was careful I could live. Fifty years later on reading a biography of Britten I found that he had auditioned forty 'Floras and never found one. If I had only known that at the time. Covent Garden were stuck!

The next was Bernard Delfont of 'Stop the World'. There were six 18 year old girls in the chorus and we were touring for weeks. After Liverpool we were given 3/6 for our train fare to the next town and told to meet up again in a week's time in Morecombe which was about 30 miles away.

When as Equity deputy I protested I was told that in the contract the management could have a week out without paying us. The orchestra all got paid and their fares to and from London. I was simply told that I should learn to read my contract. The six of us were stranded with no money. The tiny salary we got just about saw us through a week.

My parents paid for everyone's fare to London. The show filled a 3,500 seater theatre every night for six performances. There were 12 in the cast plus orchestra. Bernard Delfont must have made a fortune that week and he couldn't pay his artists.

BBC extra days never paid up. If you complained you were put on a black list.

Tom Arnold/ Bernard Delfont Nottingham Panto Christmas Eve grid fell down because the show was too heavy. Nobody was killed but the whole cast told 'Act of God' show cancelled and we could all go home. We had had to rehearse for ten days without pay and would lose three months work.

To my surprise Equity did nothing but sort of agreed with the management. I recall timidly putting my hand up and saying that I did not think overloading the grid so that it collapsed was 'An Act of God' rather an 'Act of stupidity'. The silence that followed was deafening. We were told to come back in three hours while they sorted this out.

In two days over Christmas Delfont had the grid restored and we opened without a dress rehearsal on Boxing Day. They would have had to pay us all for three months if they had had to cancel. Needless to say I never got another job with Delfont or Tom Arnold.

In a West End musical the donkey got more than the leading lady, me and the chorus boys which sort of gives you an idea of one's social standing as an artist. Though to my surprise I was paid the same salary as the head of The English National Theatre whose name escapes me at the moment so I must have been fairly well paid at the time.

I won't even start to tell you my saga with the opera here in Auckland. That is for another day but NZ Equity rolled over to the management with the memorable line 'That NZ Equity had to work with these people'! I was sacked what for has yet to be discovered. Needless to say the chorus did not get paid although my production made the opera a small fortune. I am told the lady in charge of the opera  eventually landed up in prison but I do not know for certain. I still have her affidavit which makes interesting reading. I believe the penalty for perjury is seven years.

Will NZ rolling over to the Big Boys do any good? Hope so in the short term but I fear it won't. Warner Bros. and MGM are in dire financial straights according to the New York Times so maybe they do not want this production at this moment and that gave them the edge in negotiation. They were only too happy to cancel and blame NZ. We shall see. Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Last Station Sonja Tolstoy

This is one of the saddest real photos I have ever seen. I saw the moving picture of 1910 in black and white on my grandfather's television in about 1949 along with Belsen and George Bernard Shaw. TV was pretty basic in those days and one saw everything with little or no editing or placement. Few had TV sets.

This shows Countess Sonya Tolstoy peering in the window of the waiting room at Astapovo station where her husband Leo Tolstoy the novelist lay dying of pneumonia while in the process of running away from her. The film ordered by Monsieur Pathe  was the pre curser of the photographic preditors so common today and depicted vividly this poor woman who had given her life to Tolstoy and his 13 children, five of whom died, shut out from the final curtain.

The film showed her slowly walking along the long platform and eventually peering in the window on tip toe. I remember the commentator said she was denied admittance but it seems now that she did get just ten minutes with him. I wonder if she did or if it looks better for posterity. Anyway at the time I thought she didn't.

It took a long search. The film is not to be found on YouTube. I expect Tolstoy fans would find it disturbing as I did years ago but I did eventually find it on this web site The Thinking  Housewife along with a well written article which has saved me a lot of effort.

One comment on  the blog I think said it all ' 'Wife sacrifices a lot, husband takes her for granted and ultimately treats her like garbage.  Where’s the greatness in that?'

There is no doubt that Sonja Tolstoy's contribution was undervalued by society. She was made out to be the evil villainess where in fact she was a young innocent girl who was used.

I realized this at the age of eight. I have to thank the BBC for my entire education as I sure did not get it at school. Leo Tolstoy and 'War & Peace' were never mentioned and yet I had read it by the age of ten as it was in my grandfather's library. I read it knowing how the author had treated his wife. The BBC news item had mentioned how the countess had copied out the entire work eight times!

This picture made a lasting impression on me. It colored my life. At the time I had no idea of just how difficult being a woman in a man's world was and as I found out that women were not wanted on voyage and were to be seen and not heard I thought of Countess Tolstoy and her bravery in front of the world of showing how a woman could be so publicly humiliated and yet retain a certain dignity.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fallen idols Julie & Julia

Labour Weekend, public holiday in NZ and for me a time to catch up with the latest film scene on DVDs as I am unable to go to the cinema. I have a feast.

Julie & Julia, the tale of a thirty year old woman, Julie Powell, coming to terms with life by cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking' 545 dishes in one year and writing about it in a blog. Based on a true story the young Julie  idolizes her mentor. Julia Child becomes her icon and inspiration.

At the end of the film the young Julie is told that that  her idol has indeed read her blog and far from being impressed grateful and encouraging, hated it! Not one good word to say for it! This must have been crushing  and proves once again that one should never, never meet one's idols in real life because the disappointment can be devastating.

To be fair Julia Child was 90 and died that year and we all are not at our best in the last year of life but it must have hurt.

I found out this horrible fact of life when I met my icon face to face. Margot Fonteyn  lived up to all expectations of a famous icon and delivered a crushing blow from which I have never recovered. She had the graciousness to apologize later but the damage was done.  Idol after idol has fallen off the pedestal of admiration in real life so much so that I now refuse to meet my idols even if the opportunity is offered.

Cary Grant was one I reused to meet. He lived in Bristol and always visited the Bristol Hippodrome when in his home town. Such a visit was planned when I was hoofing the boards there. I absented  myself from the occasion. As Cary Grant said of "Cary Grant" 'I'd love to meet Cary Grant in real life too'.

Celebrities are manufactured like plastic pegs. In real life they have very little in common with the public expectation.

So who would I run a mile from meeting these days? Well Richard Dawkins, my admiration for his courage to speak out against silliness knows no bounds is one and God the Father another and I don't think I should like to meet the real Jesus Christ either. All three might prove to be less than  my expectations might desire.

I think Heaven too might be a big disappointment  but that is a place I know that I shall never visit. 

Take my advise never meet your idols!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Laura Bush & the Taliban

One should never say 'never! I never thought I should  be  writing something in praise of  Laura Bush but I have to take my hat off to her and say how much I admire her courage to support the women of Afghanistan.

It must be hard for her to speak out in her position as a president's wife should be seen and not heard but she has and she is so right to do so. The plight of the women in Afghanistan is pitiful. They take the brunt of all the agro that  has been going on for decades.

Afghanistan is really a lost cause. Like Aldous Huxley in 'Brave New World' with the reservations, Afghanistan needs to be ring fenced off and allowed to get on with it. In fact I think it is the only answer with one proviso all the women are removed first. Let the men fight it out. In one generation the whole thing will be over.

Afghanistan may not have been perfect under the USSR but at least it was secular, peaceful and women were educated. In 1960 it was a pleasant place to visit and in fact I was invited by my college chum Liz Himsworth whose father  was British Ambassador  to Afghanistan at the time to spend the summer in the Kyber Pass. I remember I was so impressed that she sent letters to him via 'the diplomatic bag'. I couldnt raise the £92 fare. I wish I had now.

Thanks to the USA who assisted the Taliban the Russians left and the rest is the catastrophic history. It is ironic that the USA is now in the same position as the Russians and the Brits and has to get out.

I am sure every woman in Afghanistan would have preferred the Russians and now the USA to stay but 'good on yeh Laura' on this one I am right behind you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Singing for one's Supper

I never liked my voice! This may come as a surprise to my friends! I usually have quite a lot to say for myself but in truth for most of my life I have never liked my singing voice.

In fact I only sang by accident. At my convent school it was discovered that I had a voice by a Miss Carmen, good name for a singing teacher. She was a character but she decided I could sing and from then on to my horror I was given all the solo parts in her school operas. I just hated it. One was based on Mozart and one on King Midas where I had to play the God Pan and got unmercifully teased.

During one of my dreaded piano exams Grade 2 the examiner was very unimpressed with my piano playing, he was dead right there but told me I had a voice. He was right there too.

I acknowledged I could make reasonable noises but I just didn't like the sound I made or enjoy singing. I used to enjoy singing fun songs with my Auntie Jo who played the piano for me every afternoon when I was a toddler and who also taught me to dance but singing as a career never crossed my mind.

I want to be a ballet dancer ... still do. Life again I should dump everything else and concentrate on ballet but for this life it was not to be because at the age of 14 Benjamin Britten himself no less decided I could sing.

To my horror I was given a solo part in 'Noyes Fludde' first performance where I made something of a hit. Britten desparate for a 'Flora' for the 'Turn of the Screw' little boys were ten a penny but a young girl who could sing 'Dolly shall sleep' was very rare indeed, still is, took an interest is me as he needed someone to sing 'Flora'.

So instead of ballet I became a singer and as the BBC would not employ me in TV  production because I was a woman I stayed a singer in West End Musicals  as Leading Lady or comedy leads which I preferred.

When I married I sang Lieder with my piano playing Oxford GP husband but again I never really enjoyed it. Miles, like Britten, could only play from music and although I could have transposed it into my key the thought never occurred to me. I was a bit miffed, (only joking) when he died because I missed him and my daily sing. I had got used to it and had learned virtually all the soprano repertoire in the 30 years I was married.

For six years after his death I did not sing a note. I tried to employ a pianist but at $30 an hour and the fact that Mahler, Schoenberg, and even Canteloupe require a better than usual pianist my money was spent on their rehearsal let alone me.

Because a singer needs an excellent pianist, lots of practice and the most important thing of all the RIGHT KEY!

Being ill and isolated I discovered Garage band. By chance I learned how to write out a short song and then I had the brilliant idea that I could write out my accompaniments. At last my musical training would be useful.

I started with Schubert's "Die Schone Mullerin" with just piano. I could choose my key and my own interpretation. I even spoke one of the songs and I added a lute, a tolling bell and a few bird songs.

Then I had a go at the "Songs of the Auvergne" with orchestration and I have never looked back. In fact now I love to sing. I could sing all day. Being able to choose my own key and record myself and then mix my voice to my own satisfaction has  given me such pleasure I could do it all day and being retired I do.

I can sing Mahler "Songs of the Wayfarer', Mozart Alleluja & Ave Verum singing all four parts and even Wagner and I don't sound too bad. Big surprise!

I like my voice. Wenarto my biggest fan, said I sing with my whole body and I think I do. I don't make pretty noises I sing with my whole self with meaning. Wenarto is the same he really sings for the joy of it. This is so refreshing as most opera singers 'hoot'. Beautiful noises is all that they think is required.

I always could colour words in poetry and now I can do this when I sing. I always sing in my native tongue which helps and I make sure that the translation is good for me and the mix is good. Raw recording is too unkind on singers and having to dance about at the same time on stage does not get good sound. This is a luxury I never dreamed I would have and yet at the end of my life I have been given the opportunity to sing well. 

Oh to have had Garageband when I was with Britten who was kind enough to say that one day I should be a wonderful Lieder singer although I didn't believe him at the time. I think he and my husband would have been so surprised at how it has turned out. Maybe I should have believed them

Sadly can't offer you 'Songs of the Wayfarer' yet but here's my Lohengrin. 'Elsa's Dream' Wagner. If you don't like the graphics shut your eyes and listen. Surprisingly I sing it rather well though I say so myself. Believe me no one is more surprised than I.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Commonwealth Games Rhythmics Memories

Angela Walker wins Gold Medal for rope routine Auckland  1990
Watching the Rhythmic Gymnastics from the Delhi Commonwealth Games took me back to my involvement in the Auckland Games a long time ago. I never thought I should be part of an international games  event as I am no sports person. I hate playing games as I hate losing and dislike winning as I feel sorry for the loser. This is not good for a sportsperson. You have to want to win at all costs!

My daughter loved Rhythmics and was very talented so it was natural that I got involved. To win at any sport means that you have to do everything your opponents  do plus a 'bit more' and at that time that 'bit more' meant ballet. The Bulgarians and Russians all learned ballet and it seemed to me if New Zealand was to feature in the medals our gymnasts had to learn ballet too. Canada were well into ballet but Australia wasn't. This would give us an edge.

I was asked by Marion Duncan, Angela Walker's coach if I could teach the squad on a weekly basis for the Auckland Games. I decided that the only way to teach them ballet was to do it properly so I embarked on the Royal Academy of Dancing Major Syllabus Course for professional ballet students starting with pre Elementary.

This is very basic but essential.  Angela Walker was the one who took this seriously. She never missed a class and by the end she was performing the RAD Intermediate Syllabus very competently.  This is  very challenging. Angel learned how to use her body beautifully as well as handle the equipment

Th Games was a bit of a disappointment. Although Marion and I had done the real coaching for the Games a special official coach was selected and Marion who was the NZTV commentator and I were demoted to  the gallery to watch although we had done the work. It was surreal to be a part and yet not part of a major world wide event. I had to beg and buy my ticket. I nearly did not get one!

The rest is history. Angela won a gold medal for her individual rope routine. It came as a surprise to all NZ as a gold had not been expected. The ceremony had to be postponed until the tape of the National Anthem arrived. I was so proud to see someone I had trained win a gold medal.

Late that night I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened the door I found Angela had been and left me her bouquet that was handed to her on the dais. You can see the ribbons in the picture above. It was such a kind and wonderful thing to do. I dried it and still have it as a memento which I get out proudly each Commonwealth Games as a status symbol!!!!

 Angela Walker was a joy to teach. She knew what she needed to do and did it and deserved her medal. In a small way I am  so proud I had part of her achievement.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Queen Elizabeth II the third!

Queen Elizabeth II has just launched the third version of this famous liner. Strangely I remember the second version with fondness and gratitude for it bought one of life's windfalls that one reads of in books but never happens in reality for in about 1980 the Second QE II come to Aucklnad bringing with it my long lost Great Aunt Gracie.

Auntie Gracie was my Grandfather's youngest sister. She was born in the USA as my great grandfather was a stone mason and had emigrated to build Pittsburgh. Although the family returned to Glasgow Auntie Gracie retained her US citizenship.

By the nineteen hundreds the family had raised themselves socially. The Miller's were rich thanks entirely to the game of golf but Auntie Gracie met  an American football player, Archie Stevenson and married him to the consternation of the now smart family who felt any sort of football player was beneath their dignity.  Gracie was banished to New York never to be seen again.

Unknown to the family Archie was a chemist and founded an enormous cotton textile plant. He grew rich beyond any of the Miller's imagination. Two world wars and camouflage material for the three forces saw to that. So rich than when Archie died Auntie Gracie spent the next seven years living on the QE II with a companion who had a separate cabin. She never left the ship.

Except once in Auckland when the ship docked. On a beautiful day Auntie Gracie came to call. It was perfect , my daughter was just four and behaved like an angel. We took Auntie for lunch at 'Mon Desire', now demolished and sat while she ate two plates of oysters under the Pohoutokawa Trees and looked at Rangitoto the resident volcano in the wine dark sea.

The up come was Auntie Gracie left my father what she had left which was not a lot  as living full time on the QE II does not come cheap but a considerable amount for us. I got my roof extension and view from it for which I was extremely grateful. I thank and think of her every day.  

No more rich aunts but one day I hope to make a short voyage on QE II the third, looks deliciously vulgar!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quince Time in Auckland

The Quince is out. Every September early October the quince tree flowers and it brings the first sight of summer ahead.

At this time in 1986 I was filming 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat for 'Dance Tales Story Ballet' and luckily for my exceptionally brilliant designer Elizabeth Jenkins we were able to use real quince flowers to illustrate Edward Lear's nonsense poem. 

'They dined on quince and slices of  mince
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon'.

Poor 'Owl & Pussy Cat',  raw quince is the most inedible  thing I have ever eaten. So bitter and dry but cooked with apples or as a jelly it is delicious. Hint if you want to cook them quickly do not put the sugar in until they are soft. They will cook in about seven minutes. It you are silly enough to make a sugar syrup first then the quince will take about three hours! Take your pick.

I always remember those frantic ten days when I see the quince in bloom.

Then there is the wisteria. It is so beautiful and the smell is of heaven. Summer is around the corner.

My garden this year is going to be exceptional. It looked after itself when I was ill and now I have time and energy to look after it. The builders have gone and thier feet and plants do not go together. I have had to revive many beloved plants that were close to the house.

My neighbours have unintentionally not been so thoughtful. All sides have done major pruning & tree cutting down sessions which they are entitled to do but has left some of my previously well protected borders a bit bare.

Taught me a lesson! All screening planting must be on my side of the fence so I never again experience a major loss. Tropical storms also have this ability to knock over trees and I almost lost my Kentsia Palm that Miles gave me a a tiny house plant. I have replanted it and my fingers are crossed.

Sadly spring was not so memorable this year. The wild freesia border that I have guarded and nurtured for 37 years since I first arrived in Auckland looked very sick. Freesias are very hard to grow and it took many years to encourage them to be so prolific. I thought at first it must be a sharp frost that had killed them, freesias hate frost but I think they may have been poisoned by accident from drift from the pesticide Roundup.

The Council also heat treated my hedge freesias and the freesias in the road.

My poor mother just after the war would buy a few freesias every spring. They were imported at great expense from France and she loved the smell. She had very little money just £2 per week. This is possibly why I love them as they remind me of her.

There is no chance of me restoring this border in my lifetime. I cannot even afford to replant with bought bulbs as they are $1 each and I need thousands but I shall start again but not on that side.

However  my garden looks wonderful. A little love and a garden repays you over and over again. I am going to enjoy it.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coffee Eclairs Anyone?


My Bosch oven is at last working as it should .... I hope.

The electrician arrived and made the insides of my cupboards look like a swiss cheese. I  decided the best test I could give it was to cook some eclairs as I know these can be difficult.

Eclairs were the first thing I learned to cook when I married. I realise now that this was ambitious but I never had any difficulty with them. I do like a coffee eclairs, like Karl Lagerfeld I like coffee anything, cakes, eclairs and ice cream when my sensitive teeth allow.

So I experimented first in the small top oven. It was a while since I have made them and I used Delia Smiths  recipe and got it wrong. Disaster, oven too hot. So I had another go using a NZ Edmunds recipe. The texture of the mix I knew was just right but the oven was too hot.

By this time I was really depressed. Two lots of mix butter and eggs in the waste bin. Being a child of the second world war I hate wasting any food especially eggs and butter.

But I decided to give it another go in the main oven using the fan bake and bingo glorious eclairs. Then I tried cup cakes and later scones gorgeous mouth watering perfect.

As an encore I had my best friend Elizabeth around for Sunday lunch and we had a go at a lamb roast. Well I should have read the manual but I did eventually and found the right setting for the oven which was not the one I have ever used before. Not standard oven, not fan bake but a half and half setting that browns and roasts. it is really good.

After three hours the lamb looked cooked to us although the meat thermometer said otherwise. It was cooked beautifully.  I should have turned the leg half way through but even so it was delicious.

The Bosch Electrician gave the ventilation holes the thumbs up although he was concerned that I had to keep the cupboard doors open. He too was surprised at the manual choice of settings and suggested I use the photo as a screen saver.

So coffee, eclairs and cup cakes anyone?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ryders one man's fascinating folly

Tucked into a  peninsula in Auckland New Zealand among factories and a race course is the private fantasy of one man a Mr Ryder. 

There is no web site just an address but people in the know  are fortunate to be able to share one man's personal dream. It was my turn last night when I was taken for a 'night out' at Ryders.

I did not know what to expect but it turned out to be a night to remember. I had been told that Mr Ryder, I have no idea of his Christian name, had been a stevedore on the Auckland docks when this was a cushy occupation with lots of spare time. Evidently Mr Ryder went around collecting the paraphernalia  of life that nobody wanted.

Steam engines, petrol pumps, telephone boxes all arrived at his home in Rosebank and gradually Ryder collected enough for a private museum. He even had a short working railway although sadly this is now a car park for the visitors who partake of a great roast beef meal and a special showing of a film in his private cinema.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a folly of splendid proportions and I eagerly set about taking pictures in the sunset. I loved the old red fire engine  and put out tabby cat who finished off the left overs.

I was most impressed. The small restaurant felt like a typical working New Zealand farm, with wood stove and warmth. The bola beef, pumpkin,roast potatoes and peas had a delicious home cooked flavour followed by an ice cream cone and film.

As this was a ladies night 'My life in Ruins' a romantic comedy of a coach tour around Greece was the happy choice. Not great art but a good evenings entertainment and fun. The small audience even clapped.

Ryders do not advertise, have no web page just word of mouth. I loved it and would happily repeat the experience.