Monday 26 March 2012

Sleeping Beauties

Standen, West Sussex - property of the National Trust

We must confess to a somewhat love/hate relationship with the National Trust. Of course we respect and applaud this non government institution which has protected historic houses and gardens, places of natural beauty and sites of national importance since 1895 and, in so doing, maintained them in perpetuity for the Nation.

Standen, the drawing room, with much of the original furnishings

However, although there are some 300 properties from which to choose when planning a day out, we find ourselves shunning the Trust's carefully arranged, historically accurate houses and their painstakingly researched decorations, their pristine tea rooms, their tasteful gift shops, and even their well appointed lavatories, in favour of their rather more eccentric and less than perfectly presented alternatives.

Rodmarton Manor, Gloucestershire - the south, garden front

Beyond the reaches of the National Trust, the gardens at Rodmarton Manor are wonderfully wayward with no health and safety disclaimer in sight. On certain days the house is also thrown open and one may just catch a glimpse amongst the Arts and Crafts treasures of a hastily cleared dining table resplendent with tomato sauce bottle. Or Stanway, a glorious Jacobean pile, where on our last visit we were invited to mugs of Instant Coffee in the kitchen and where the bedrooms were signposted with a hand written notice sellotaped to the staircase wall. Meanwhile, outside, the unwary, paying visitor was propositioned by Lord and Lady Neidpath's then very young children who had 'set up shop' in the stable yard. Such fun!

Nádasdy-kastély, Hungary - the entrance front

In Hungary, there are some 2000 castles, palaces and mansions following a rich tradition of impressive house building amongst aristocratic families during the C18 and C19 centuries. Sadly, all too many are in a parlous state, silently rotting into ruins throughout the Hungarian countryside, with only a fortunate few under the protection of  the Múemlékék Nemzeti Gondnoksága.

Nádasdy-kastély - interior looking towards the main entrance

Nádasdy-kastély - the former chapel bereft of all fittings

Founded some 100 years after the United Kingdom's National Trust, one fears that the Múemlékek Nemzeti Gondnoksága lacks the financial resources, organisational expertise and entrepreneurial spirit necessary for the preservation of these historically important and architecturally significant buildings.

season ticket for castle visiting issued and stamped by the MNG

Through the resourcefulness and kindness of our Hungarian friends, Zoli and Viktor, we were presented at Christmas with a pass which entitles us for two years to visit all the properties in the care of the state run and owned MNG as many times as we wish. And so, as the days lengthen and thoughts of day trips come once more to mind, we dream of exploring the former palaces of the Esterházy, Károlyi, Festetics, and Nádasdy families which, we hope, will still have a whiff of paprika in the air.

Monday 19 March 2012

Soup or Stew? That is the Question

start of preparations for making gulyásleves [click to enlarge] 

Now who are we to argue with Miss Smith? Or even to question a single word of what she has written? After all, Delia, as she has become to her many, many followers and admirers, is the woman who has re-educated an entire nation on the boiling of an egg, who has made eating for one fun and whose three part Cookery Course has become legendary.

Delia Smith, a kitchen legend in her own lifetime

And yet we dare! For in one thing, and it may well be the only thing, she is seriously misinformed and thus has, never intentionally, we are certain,  misguided countless aspiring cooks the length and breadth of the land. We refer, of course, to Hungarian Goulash.

the receipt for Delia Smith's so called Hungarian Goulash

To Miss Smith, whose wisdom in all things culinary is without parallel, Hungarian Goulash is a casserole dish, flavoured with paprika and which, on her recommendation, "goes very well with braised cabbage", and for which she gives a receipt in Part II of her trilogy. Alas, in this instance she is incorrect, wrong even.

our cook/housekeeper, Tímea, begins by frying the onions

Gulyásleves is a soup. Named after the word for herdsman, gulyás, this is a hearty meat soup, leves, whose origin most likely lies deep within the country as a nourishing and warming food served to the returning labourer.

the beef meat is chopped into cubes before adding to the onions

Today it has become ubiquitous, appearing on every menu from the smartest of Budapest restaurants to the lowliest csárda, wayside inn. Without exception it is good, full and flavoursome, a meal in itself, richly satisfying. But nowhere is it better than made in the home and there is none to compete, in our view, with Tímea, our cook/housekeeper, when it comes to producing this excellent lunch or supper dish.

And so, for food lovers everywhere [with profuse apologies to vegans and vegetarians] we offer you on this occasion Hegedus Gábor Zsoltné Tímea's very own, delicious gulyásleves.

served in readiness for eating on the dining room hotplate

Move over, Delia, darling!!

Monday 12 March 2012

Games People Play

the rules to the game of Mah Jong originally priced at 2/6

It will probably come as little surprise that we do not participate in games. But, for the sake of accuracy, read sports. Unless unavoidable, as was often the case at school, we were never to be found dribbling the ball up the wing, occupying the position of scrum half [or whatever] in the midst of a mud bath, eagerly anticipating bully-off on the hockey field or fervently attempting to shoot, should that be the correct term, at netball. Cricket, rounders, lacrosse, these are all anathema. In short, we do not embrace the team spirit.

However, if by games we are referring to Tiddly Winks, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, or the more advanced Monopoly, Cludeo, et al, then that is an entirely different matter. These, in a household where television was banished some thirty years ago, are the joys of long winter evenings, of lengthening spring days, of the summer solstice, of autumnal nights.

Cards too we enjoy although seldom, if ever, can we recall the names of games. Indeed a favourite, in which the number of tricks to be won in each round must be guessed in advance, has become Revis and Glyn's Game after the friends who introduced it to us.

the tiles used in the game of Mah Jong - of ivory and bamboo

Alas, for too long now we have been absent from the Mah Jong table. This, at least to us, exciting, centuries old Chinese game is played with ivory tiles which are used at the start to form the Great Wall of China. Combining three suits of Bamboos, Circles and Characters with Dragons, Winds, and Flowers to boost scores, the game demands skill, patience, concentration and quickness of play.

a glimpse inside the rule book dealing with Pungs, a form of trick

For years we would play with visiting parents, often well into the night, and then more recently with our young Russian friends whenever they visit us here in Budapest. Sadly, amongst our Hungarian friends we have yet to find partners; to date none has shown any interest at all. A cultural difference?!!

the contents of the Mah Jong box with tray for play

So, for now, we content ourselves with Patience and Solitaire, or the occasional flick of a coin as we pass the Shove Ha'penny board en route through the Main Hall.

the Shove Ha'penny board on a table in the Main Hall

Now, anyone for tennis?

Tuesday 6 March 2012

It's Shorter by Water

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Harbour [click to enlarge]

Crossing Portsmouth Harbour, as we did on the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, novelist and native of that port, and on the sixtieth anniversary [and one day] of the accession to the throne of HM Queen Elizabeth II, with HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship, visible in the grey gloom of sea and sky, we had cause to reflect, albeit momentarily and, we hasten to add, without the slightest pang of regret, on the loss of Empire.

a yachting marina now stands in place of berths for warships

At the time of the Coronation in 1953, the entire fleet of 197 warships of the Royal Navy, together with representative ships of the Commonwealth, Merchant and foreign navies, assembled in the waters of the Solent immediately outside of Portsmouth Harbour for a review by the newly crowned Monarch. Recalling the occasion so many years later, the memories are of silent ships at anchor, sinister and threatening, nine rows in total, enveloped in a fine drizzle, lending substance to the Royal Navy motto of Si vis pacem, para bellum - if you wish for peace, then prepare for war. Today the fleet is reduced to 79 serving ships!

view across the harbour showing the former naval dockyard

And writing of ships, who now remembers the old 'ship' half penny, pre decimal coins depicting on the reverse side a galleon in full sail? As children these were 'collected' in aid of the London Missionary Society, many of them at the time remaining in circulation from the reign of the late King and still stamped Ind. Imp. - Emperor of India.

aboard the Gosport ferry whose slogan is It's Shorter by Water

Landing on the Gosport side, propelled there at speed by the functional ferry which years ago became the replacement of the old Floating Bridge [just remembered], friend Jeremy, himself a designer of ocean going yachts, was there to greet us at the terminal. A short drive, passing en route the vast, now defunct Haslar Naval Hospital, within minutes we were being welcomed by Claire at the door of their most interesting marine home, a perfect period piece dating from the early 1930s.

Claire and Jeremy Lines' 1930s house at Stokes Bay, Gosport

In our previous post we showed two paintings in our Brighton 'rooms' together with a collection of cockerels. In response to kind enquiries, neither of the paintings is of ourselves. The figures in a café was purchased in 2010 through the Brighton Artists' Open House and is by Peter Morris. The portrait of a boy seated is after Duncan Grant.

The cockerels, in total twenty-five, represent part of what had been a much larger collection and which was inherited from Margaret Hope Hattatt upon her death in 1982.