Saturday, 26 December 2009

New Panto Group for an Old Tradition

With the old year behind us - "Oh no it isn't!" I hear you say - Budleigh Salterton has yet another entertaining aspect to it in the aptly-named Buscers, who are launching their first production in the New Year.

Budleigh Salterton Community Entertainers will be staging the pantomime Aladdin in the Public Hall on 16 and 23 January, with performances starting at 2.15 pm and 7.15 pm.

Panto director Steve Andrews heads a team of 90 people involved with the show, including 16-year-old Rebecca Clark who is playing principal girl Princess Jasmin. He has been delighted with the enthusiastic response from the Budleigh community. It's going to be, as he says, "a show to remember."

Oh yes it is!

Profits from the show are going to Budleigh Age Concern.

Tickets are £7 and £5 for under-14s and are available from The Card Shop Too in Budleigh Salterton High Street, or from Jenny Nicholls - telephone: (01395) 446415.

A sweet idea for a Budleigh shop

Even in Budleigh Salterton one sees sadly empty or boarded-up business premises, like this shop on the High Street.

When I pass them I wonder what an enterprising shopkeeper would do to fill a gap in the market, and think how hard it must be in these troubled economic times to come up with a good recession-proof idea which would enhance a small town's high street.

Maybe it's the time of year, Christmas being a binge-time for chocoholics, but I was excited when I read the following news from our sister-town of Brewster, Cape Cod, where the appropriately named Mr Lively has opened a shop selling 75 different kinds of chocolate truffles.

Above: Could Budleigh chocolate truffles become as popular as its pebbles?

In a health-conscious community he could be on to a winner. Chocolate which is high in cocoa solids is now recognised as having many qualities that are beneficial to health. It contains essential trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium and potassium, and vitamins A. B1, C, D, and E. Cocoa is also the highest natural source for Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is linked with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and pre-menstrual tension (PMT or PMS).


Truffle master offers unusual treats
By Rich Eldred

There’s a lot more than just a lotta chocolatta in chef Paul Olaf Lively’s terrific truffles.
The chocolatier hand rolls 75 different original truffles with ingredients as diverse as blue cheese, sugar cane, wild blueberries, jalepeno pepper, sun-dried apples, Sumatra coffee, toasted pumpkin seeds, real live mushroom truffles and, naturally, chocolate.

Paul Lively, right, assists a customer at Chocolate Peddler.

It’s a dizzying array of gourmet dessert treats that he sells at Chocolate Peddler at 2628 Main St. next to True Value Hardware along with (amazingly good) soups, biscotti and sundries.

“When I get into a creative mode, I can mix anything with chocolate. I can take my culinary skills, mixed with the pastry stuff to create phenomenal chocolates,” he said proudly. “They’re all created here, it’s about a three-day process where I infuse chocolate for two days, make a mix and hand scoop and roll. I push them so far they’re off the wall.”

You can buy a Georgia-Ray (for Ray Charles), white chocolate infused with white peach, blood orange and raspberry, or the King Kong BBQ comprising grilled red banana, bittersweet chocolate ganache, fresh nutmeg, sugar cane barbecue sauce and mango.

“I make them because I can and nobody else does,” Lively reflected. “The B.B. King has blueberry (for BB), dark chocolate around luscious Lucille (his guitar) caramel and it’s sweet because he plays some sweet riffs. The King of Pop contains orange Grand Marnier, Fuji apples, smoked Gouda cheese dipped in white chocolate and wrapped in silver foil because those were some of Michael Jackson’s favorite things.”

The Neo contains actual truffles. “A chocolate truffle reproduces the look of a mushroom truffle,” Lively pointed out.

Ingredients come from local organic farms such as Ron Becker’s in Brewster and his landlord, Stephan Brown, is next door in his herb shop. “I said, ‘Would you like to sell my product in your store?’ And he said, ‘no, because I’d like you to open your own store.’ Part of my creativity is because I’m in a place that has almost become my home. And being on an organic farm inspires me,” Lively observed.

Lively came to Brewster from Wareham, where he’d started making and selling his chocolates after leaving New York City, where he had established himself as a pastry chef.

Lively was born in Rockland County, N.Y., and started out as a pastry chef in Manhattan at the Russian Tea Room next to Carnegie Hall before being lured into the world of fine chocolates.
“I got into pastry because I wanted to have a bed and breakfast when I was in my 20s,” he recalled. “My job from December ’91 to Jan. 15, was to make truffles, 25,000 in a month.”
That might have put someone off chocolate forever but it had the opposite effect on Lively.
“I worked a 40-hour week and then stayed afterward to learn chocolate; how to mold chocolate, do sugar,” he recalled.

He worked as a pastry chef at the 21 Club with chef Andre Bonhomme [in New York City] and soon succeeded him as the head pastryman. “Andre taught me the essence of French pastry and myself, and he and Michael Lomonaco came up with the recipes in the 21 Cookbook,” Lively said. “At the Tea Salon is where I got into infusions. Everything was infused with tea.”

Infusion is one of the secrets of Lively’s truffles. “The infusion process is like steeping a cup of tea. The ingredients are steeped into the chocolate so the natural flavors are extended into the chocolate and flavor becomes concentrated and intensified,” he explained. “I’m very particular on how things taste. If you’re infusing shrimp with coconut, you taste the coconut, you taste the shrimp, so one doesn’t overpower the other. I was fortunate to have been a sous chef and then become a pastry chef,” he noted.

Lively intends to produce his own ice cream next year, and add to his line of soups, pastries and organic gourmet takeout meals such as coconut key lime smoked barbecue ribs. He will teach a cooking class in your own kitchen or cater a fancy wedding as your personal chef.

“I really want people to feel welcome. The aura you should feel as you come into the store is comfort,” Lively said. “Everything is the essence of who I am and who you are. Every day is different. I get to experience and meet people and I’m producing a product that is great.”
The shop is modeled after an old mercantile with a soft sofa, copper pots and pans, an old Victrola, several antique radios, cookbooks, photos, jars and boxes of chocolates.

“I have regular customers who come in for soup and food. I love the town of Brewster; it’s one town that really hasn’t changed but where we’re creating a downtown Brewster where we’re all pulling together,” he said.

Chocolate Peddler
2628 Main St., Brewster

Reprinted with permission from
Wicked Local photo by Barry Donahue

"Yule find it's so bracing!"

Well, that's what the mad Christmas Day swimmers told me when I joined crowds of Budleigh residents, curious spectators and the swimmers themselves as they gathered on the beach at 10.00 am on 25 December. A new record for both actors and audience seems to have been broken every year as the ritual grows in popularity, and Budleigh's Christmas Day swim is now a great local tradition as well as being officially listed by the UK's Outdoor Swimming Society as one of their 'must do' events.

On a sunny morning with silvery calm sea, Budleigh is hard to beat, says the Society on its website and as far as I was concerned conditions couldn't have been better on Christmas Day, with a brilliant blue sky and radiant sunshine helping to make some good photos. The sea temperature of 10 degrees wouldn't suit everyone, and I was quite glad to have the excuse that I'd just come out of hospital. But maybe next year...

Just in case of mishaps, the Exmouth lifeboat is on hand for the event at 10.00 am before heading off to the even bigger Exmouth Christmas Day swim a few miles along the coast.

Supporting the RNLI at the event was Gilly Jones from Budleigh. She's been fund-raising for the RNLI for two years, and I hope that she left with a full model life-boat: there must have been 1,000 spectators and 100 swimmers there, she thought. I explained why I wouldn't be going in the water and she explained that she couldn't because of collecting. So her husband Russell had been the one who'd be taking the plunge, his first time. For information about the RNLI see

Local reporter Simon Horn from the Exmouth & Budleigh Journal was another spectator who had a good excuse not to strip off and join the mad people. He's been attending the Budleigh event for 13 years.

Dave Winter from Budleigh was there with his daughter Hazel. She now lives in Eastbourne in Sussex, where they also have a Christmas Day swim. I unkindly suggested that she might have come to swim at Budleigh because the sea temperature would be higher here than in the snowy South East of England. But no, it was simply "a great family tradition."

So now they're under starter's orders with an exciting countdown from 10 just to build up the adrenalin or whatever you need to keep you upright and alive in this bonkers situation. The countdown seemed to work. Nobody chickened out and ran the other way as far as I could see.

It could just have been a lovely sunny summer's day as they all splashed happily in the waves, but the Santa hats are a giveaway.

Running southwards into the sun does help maintain the illusion that you're heading for a warm bath in the English Channel, I suppose. I didn't know whether this sun-facing shot would come out, but it turned out to be quite arty.

You have to be pretty smart with a camera because no sooner have you taken a shot of everyone heading to the water than they start running back again! Understandable really. I say running, but of course those famous pebbles can be quite painful for frozen feet and this couple look as if they're suffering a bit.

Suffering or not, the face of this young man holding the Santa hat shows all the triumph of his crazy achievement.

Amanda Gulbrantson from Littleham has been doing a Christmas Day swim for 20 years. Both she and her dog Sam look as if they've been enjoying themselves. Ryan Morris, next to her, clearly can't understand why that lone swimmer is carrying on towards Sidmouth. I did hear the word "crackers" being used to describe him.

Ryan told me that the event was "non official" and had no organiser because of dreaded health & safety issues. He introduced me to his father Larry who had started it at Budleigh. "Originally it was a Boxing Day swim but that clashed with a raft race so they moved it to Christmas Day," explained Larry. A keen swimmer, he is a member of the local water polo club and was now on his way to swim at the Exmouth Christmas Day event, which begins an hour later at 11.00 am.

It's "very bracing" says Larry. And this event was clearly just a warm-up for him. "If you think this Budleigh swim is big, come to Exmouth. There'll be three to four thousand people watching and a thousand in the water."

And first-timer Russell Jones' verdict after his little dip? "Fantastic", "exhilarating" he said. But he did admit that the apr├Ęs-splash swig from his mini bottle of sloe gin might have helped.

It sounded fun. Yes, maybe next year...

Brook welcomes Brit Art icons to Budleigh

Renowned names from the British art world joined the team to launch the Brook’s major Christmas exhibition, The Coriander Studio Show. This ‘blockbuster’ of an exhibition opened on 9 December 2009 and runs to 10 January 2010.

The guest list for the private view on Tuesday 8 December included names from the British Art elite such as Brendan Neiland, Brad Faine, Bruce McLean and Sir Peter Blake.

Above: Storm Thorgerson, 'Chrome'

World renowned for its techniques in silkscreen and digital printing, The Coriander Studio’s reputation was honed in the 60s. Now under the direction of Brad Faine, the 500 or so international artists with whom he works are a roll call of Britain’s best, many of which are included in this stunning exhibition. The Brook is also thrilled to be given the opportunity to exhibit for the first time anywhere, two absolutely gorgeous brand new pieces by Damien Hirst – a real coup for an independent gallery.

Above: Peter Blake, 'Madonna on Venice beach'

The exhibition will take your breath away with other works by John Hoyland, Gary Hume, Michael Craig Martin, Maurice Cockrill, Sir Terry Frost, Tom Phillips and Storm Thorgerson, all beautifully and passionately printed by Coriander Studio Ltd. British art and its icons are truly celebrated at this exclusive Christmas show and this last exhibition of the year, truly sets the standard for yet another exceptional 12 months of art in 2010.

The Brook Gallery Coriander Studio exhibition is open 10.30 am to 5.00 pm, closed Sunday mornings. Call 01395 443 003 or email

Above: John Hoyland, 'Gnome'

A pebble for your thoughts

Not too many people venture out on to Budleigh beach at this time of the year - apart from the mad Christmas swimmers of course - but that very special stretch of ancient beautiful pebbles will always charm visitors, whatever the season.

Some Budleigh people might like to keep it as one of those undiscovered gems of the UK coast. One told me recently that one of the things that induced him and his wife to move here nearly ten years ago was that they had been informed that Budleigh Salterton was "not a tourist town, and catered rather for the residents."

"We have found this to be the case, and have much enjoyed its quiet atmosphere," he wrote. "There are plenty of nearby tourist resorts for those who seek them."

Above: A winter scene on Budleigh beach, looking west towards Sandy Bay and Exmouth

Nobody wants to see a string of amusement arcades along the sea front, but I can't imagine how that person thinks that Budleigh traders or indeed the organisers of its very successful festivals will manage without visitors from the world outside.

So - with a few possible exceptions - we should be pleased to see the comments of one recent enchanted visitor who is also a fellow-blogger. "Walk along Budleigh Salterton's pebble beach," he writes. "There are many places in life that will catch your eyes but only a few that will capture your heart."

My American readers may be interested to know that this is a New York-based interior designer who spends his life in what he calls "the pursuit of beauty" and whose client-list extends in the USA from the East to the West coast, and across 'the pond' to England.
Above: New York designer Christopher Ong, a recent visitor to Budleigh

Christopher Ong's career has in fact been international, owing much to an East-meets-West experience. After a childhood in the Far East he studied in Toronto and New York City before starting his design business in 2000. 'Manhattan meets Malaysia' is a theme of much of his work, which has embraced everything from lifestyle product designs to the interior design of various critically acclaimed, celebrity-frequented boutique hotels in South Beach, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

But back to Budleigh Salterton. "It was a windy and wet and chilly afternoon," he writes. "We took a walk along the beautiful clean pebble beach. I had never seen a beach like this before. It was beautiful."

Long may it remain so.

Above: Budleigh beach from the sea
Christopher Ong's work can be seen at

Monday, 21 December 2009

Dealing with some old chestnuts

Well, I think I can face that Bob Monkhouse advert for the Prostate Cancer Charity with a slightly less troubled mind now. Certainly before 19 October 2009 I found it a creepy experience to be faced every time I went into the supermarket by Bob's staring eyes and those warning words: "Prostate cancer cost me my life. Don't let it cost you yours."

And I feel able to post this item and get back to blogging only because I’ve just received what they tell me is a (so far) 'all-clear’ based on the histology report and blood test following surgery on my own prostate.

I won’t be blogging quite so frequently for the time being, and I’m not sure that I’d have been cheery enough to do any at all had I received bad news from the hospital about margins etc. Though of course many brave people do, and Bob Monkhouse is even joking about such things from beyond the grave.

But then, cancer does give you a sense of tumour. (Sorry about that one, Bob).

In spite of having lost that annoying and mysterious little gland I can’t say I feel greatly changed after my op, though I could have prepared myself better for some of the bewildering side-effects. But every body is different, and time will hopefully heal the damage. It’s been an educational experience in some ways: I’d always thought that pelvic floor exercises were yoga stuff that women had to do on the floor.

It certainly feels better to be out of those white surgical stockings, bags and tubes – though I’d have been able to strike a real horror note at the Halloween party I missed.

Thanks again to people who sent their best wishes. Men’s prostates seem to be getting their rightfully higher profile nowadays, what with a whole special supplement about prostate cancer being published in The Times in the week that I went into hospital, and the news that Andrew Lloyd Webber was being treated for it at the same time as me

Of course you could say that there is too much information out there on the web, and after a bit your head starts spinning, especially when you read about the different ways of treating the disease. Devon even has its own Chestnut Appeal website at – the organ is often likened to a chestnut because of its size and shape – to provide support for patients and their families and to raise funds for treatment. And just after my op I read in the newspaper a full page article about a new ‘therapy’ for the disease which was clearly a re-hash of a piece similar to that which had appeared a year ago in December 2008 – ‘Nanotechnology delivers lethal dose of drug to prostate cancer cells’
Initially you think, “Damn, why didn’t I wait for this new wonder drug instead of letting them cut me up?” But of course the wonder drug is not going to be available tomorrow, even privately: as one online commentator on that article noted “it takes anywhere from 3 to 13+ years for a drug to trudge through the pipeline.” And meanwhile, as the Bob Monkhouse ad says, prostate cancer is a disease "killing one man every hour in the UK."

After an initial positive diagnosis in 2004 I opted for active surveillance and regular PSA blood tests as a treatment rather than immediate surgery or radiotherapy. After all, in apparently 50% of cases the cancer doesn’t progress and you’re likely to die of something else. But earlier this year it was worryingly clear that the PSA was taking a rather too steep upwards turn, and I’m grateful to my consultant at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital for telling me that more dynamic action was now needed.

Exeter would have been more convenient, but the NHS currently offers only open surgery for radical prostatectomy at the RD&E, and I was pretty sure that I wanted the more modern laparoscopic procedure that is offered at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, just 45 minutes away on the motorway: less blood loss, a lesser risk of wound infection, faster recovery time etc.

And now, after a hospital stay of only two nights, I feel that I’ve just been given the best chance of a cure, if there is such a thing. In a moment of post-op enthusiastic admiration for the neat surgery I did look at some film of laparoscopic prostatectomy at when I got back home. Fascinating to watch and a tribute to the skill of the surgeon, but I fairly quickly decided that putting my feet up and admiring the beautiful autumn colours of the garden was easier on the eye. And soon, I hope, the whole thing will be a distant memory, including those upsetting side-effects about which I won’t go into detail.

But before I forget it totally, and especially for my American readers, I would like to say that, whatever they were told on Fox TV by UK Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan about our National Health Service being a 60-year-old “mistake” which has “made people iller”
I was grateful and full of admiration for the doctors and nurses I met on Ward 3 at Musgrove Park Hospital. They could not be faulted for their careful and considerate approach. It was surely beyond the call of duty for my surgeon to call in three times during my two-day hospital stay to check up on what seems to have been a routine operation; and the anaesthetist called twice to see how I was recovering.

The NHS as a system is not perfect. My own case was marked by some minor but unnecessary clerical errors, and I did have to wait for two months for an op because of what I was told were “problems with capacity.” But prostate tumours are generally slow-growing, and the delay did mean that I got those gardening jobs done.

Any system can be improved. To reject it as a failed 1940s social experiment in “a nice togetherness”, as Mr Hannan did in his interview, sounds to me like a rejection of the whole philosophy of caring for others.

What’s so wrong with “togetherness”? It can help put lots of things into perspective. By some chance I was put in a side-room on my own in Musgrove Park after my op. Only as I was about to leave the hospital did I meet other patients in the main men’s ward as I began to experiment with walking again. There was the brave amputee Ray, about to be fitted with an artificial leg, who told me how his experience had made him want to volunteer to meet other amputees to show how he had coped. Just a few beds away was the surprisingly well-looking fellow-prostate cancer sufferer whose disease had spread to his bones. And then there were the really sick-looking people who made me wish I’d been clever enough to follow a medical career to do something for them.

I realised that I may have got off fairly lightly, for the moment anyway. Part of me was happy to go home to convalesce after my short stay. But I also felt like staying to try and cheer them up.

Mr Hannan’s cruel and dismissive judgement on our health service is as much an old chestnut as was my dodgy prostate.