Firstly congratulations to the England Women’s Football team on being crowned European Champions at Wembley last Sunday after beating Germany by two goals to one after extra time. Some of that sounds vaguely familiar but at last we can finally now talk about a more recent victory at the home of football against the old enemy. We have only had to wait fifty-six years to finally win another senior cup competition, the first time it has happened in my life time.
The whole squad were brilliant right through the whole tournament. Every single one of them played their part and nobody else seemed to have the game changers we had on our bench. The depth of talent in the squad is ridiculous. The manager Sarina Wiegman deserves a lot of the credit I believe, the confidence, professionalism and sheer determination she installed in them was magnificent. As far as I am concerned she is already the coach of the year, well unless Antonio Conte wins the Premier League title for Spurs.
I have been lucky enough the meet the Lionesses’ all-time leading goal scorer Ellen White on a couple of occasions. We were both born in the same town. She is an exceptional player who always leads the line forcefully while being amongst the goals. Just like the rest of the girls seemingly she is also a great person, friendly and approachable with so much desire, she has fought back from some very serious injuries to rightly take her place as the focal point of the team. The younger players coming through are frightening and you do not want to get carried away obviously but you have to suspect that we will do very well in the World Cup next year.
It was great to see them all celebrating after the game and the day after in Trafalgar Square, thoroughly deserved. Some of the goals that we scored were world class, that chip by Ella Toone in the final was one of the best finishes you will see anywhere this season. We can be so proud of all of them and I really think there is still more to come as the domestic women’s game in England becomes more and more competitive that can only help future generations. Let us not leave it another fifty odd years before England win their next senior football trophy!
A couple of weekend’s ago Lynda and I went to see some friends. We had rented a nice house to stay in for a couple of nights in a quaint little village called Ryhall in Rutland. We arrived at our destination late on the Friday night. We were the last to arrive, so we just had a few drinks and a good chat sitting in the lounge, which had a picture of Winston Churchill above the fire place, before heading off to bed. It is always nice when you are with mates who you have not seen for a while as there is usually lots of gossip to catch up on.
In the morning we had a lovely cooked breakfast. There were seven of us in total. It was a nice sunny day so six of us decided to walk to Stamford while the other one decided to drive and meet us there. Mind you he had to give us a good head start as it took about an hour. Us and another couple decided to take the country foot path route while the other two went the road way. It was all dedicated public rights of way but we found ourselves strolling through some corn and a very full wheat field, not to mention battling the dangers of stinging nettles along the way. We managed to get ourselves into the middle of town and met up with everyone else before sampling a few of the pubs there.
It seemed like a nice place with a friendly feel to it, so we stayed for a few hours before one couple decided to walk back while the rest of us me and Lynda included decided to get a taxi. We had a table booked for dinner in one of the two nearby pubs. Eating out can be tricky when you are a coeliac so I had emailed the pub in advance to see if they could provide me with any uncontaminated gluten free food. We managed to come to an arrangement resulting in me pre -ordering my meal so they could prepare it earlier elsewhere. It was only a small local place, so you could see the terror in their eyes when the seven of us walked in.
They were very accommodating for me and took extra care and effort with my food. Although, even though I had ordered it a few days before they seemed to forget my starter. However as they were trying so hard to make sure I was safe they took their eye off the ball a bit with the other meals. One of our steaks was cooked totally the opposite way to how it was requested and a side of onion rings were missed. But they were doing their best; I felt that many of the issues were probably caused by concentrating on me. The place was called The Green Dragon and they do excellent Pizza’s although I could not have any as they do not do gluten free ones but that is just the way it goes sometimes.
After the meal we went back to our home for the weekend for some pudding. Lynda had made it and it was gluten free as she knows how much I like my dessert and she is not that cruel. We had some more drinks while generally having a laugh. One of the gang made the mistake of falling asleep first which led to an impromptu game of Buckaroo as we tried to place various items on them without them waking up. The next morning we had another huge breakfast before tidying up and saying goodbye to everyone. As it happened this was the start of Lynda and mines holiday. They all headed off home while we set off for Nottingham where we were staying for one night only before going to our retreat for the rest of the week.
On the way to our hotel in Nottingham we managed to drive past Trent Bridge, The City Ground and Meadow Lane so it was quite the mini sporting tour. We were staying on the outskirts of the city and the plan was just to have a low key night. We had a few drinks in the hotel bar first and then ordered a takeaway pizza to eat in the room. Happily Pizza Express does offer gluten free ones so I was able to get involved this time. In fact I even ordered pudding as well. After a final drink in the bar, well you have to wash down your dinner, we went to bed.
The next day we got up and had a fantastic breakfast in Cote. A place that is a favourite of mine because they are coeliac accredited so it is a safe place for me to eat. We then drove halfway to our mysterious location to do our food shopping for the next five days. It had been quite a while since I had physically been in a supermarket to do a big shop, so I really enjoyed it. I think we must have checked our every isle. It was then time to head to the Wooden Lodge hideaway that we had booked for the next four nights in Sherwood Forest.
We got there and checked in which seemed straight forward and simple enough before being directed to our lodge. We unpacked and settled in. One of the major attractions for us was that our home for a few nights had its own hot tub. We waited as long as we could before we poured some fizz and donned our swim wear to try it out. I must say it was fantastic, warm with controlled bubbles and views of the trees that surrounded us. It was peaceful and relaxing which is what we both wanted. It also had a barbeque on the decking so I did us burgers on it twice during our stay and Lynda cooked chicken one night. The forth night I did steaks but I opted to cook them inside to show off my versatility.
We spent most of the our time there in the hot tub just chilling, well as much as we could as the main problem with the place was that it did seem to have a wasp infestation so we were constantly fending them off, plus every time you opened a door or a window one would instantly appear inside. On one afternoon we went for tea and cake at the onsite cafe and we were plagued by these aggressive wasps so much Lynda ended up getting stung which then left me having get the thing off her and remove the sting. I can safely say that was the first time that I have ever done that.
We went for a couple of nice walks in the woods while we were there. There was a nice view of the forest from the bedroom which was great to wake up to. The place was big enough to enjoy each other’s company and when required have our own space but the best thing was the hot tub. I am thinking about getting one installed at home but I worry that if I do I will never go out ever again. Lastly the wildlife except the wasps seemed to be friendly at the Forest Lodge. I can only presume other people feed them as we had a grey squirrel join us who wanted get on our table and share my seat. I was put off the idea by his constant scratching and licking of himself. It was just a nice summer break in England for a change.
The evening we got back we went to see a film at The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted. It has an art-deco design and is somewhere you can sit in very big comfy chairs while enjoying drinks from the bar which stays open during the movies. We watched Jurassic World the latest in that series. I must confess that I have not seen any of the old ones so some of the references and nods to the original went right over my head. That said I did like it, I would probably describe it as a good fun action film in the style of Indiana Jones but with Dinosaurs. Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill both look great and are clearly both ageing gracefully, I think grey hair gives people some gravitas that I will sadly never get to experience. It is one of my favourite venues to watch films but that may be because it has red wine on tap.
For the second year running we went to see one of the St Albans Comedy Garden gigs in Verulamium Park. It is a huge space and we had a nice walk around it before we arrived at the fenced off arena part. I did manage to find a stall that was doing gluten free only food which is a rare and beautiful thing. They were called The Lankan Kitchen and they did a very nice chicken curry rice bowl and some great Sri Lankan friend chicken. As it was a Saturday afternoon and we were still technically on holiday we had some cider.
Ian Smith was the host and I thought he was excellence, sometimes due to the fact they need to interact with the crowd and get the atmosphere pumped up they can be a little aggressive but he seems like a nice and funny guy. He set the tone perfectly. The first act on was Simon Amstell, it was the first time I had seen him live and he is a great communicator and story teller, such a talented writer and producer to, it is fair to say he is very honest on stage and it was kind of half comedy show and life coach lecture but it was brilliant!
Then after the first interval we were treated to Fatiha El-Ghorri who was fantastic, it was also the first time I had seen her. She has some very good and unique jokes which she executes extremely cleverly turning some well-known stereotyping on its head. I expect to see and hear more of her over the next couple of years. Then it was Mr Masked Singer himself Joel Dommett, we got the inside scoop on the popular television show along with some great stories and a rap masterclass none of us knew we needed.
The headline act was the always wonderful Sara Pascoe. I saw her years ago at one of the Live at The Palladium Shows. A lot has changed in her personal life since then but she is still very funny. I learnt things I did not need to know but I am now glad I do, I think. It is a really nicely run event and they always have top quality line ups. If you like your comedy, then keep an eye out for next year’s festival of fun. It does not even feel that strange sitting in a park in daylight enjoying comedians, it all just works. We finished the evening in one of our favourite restaurants called Tabure. The Food and service in there is always top class and you never leave hungry.
I went and saw Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith last Tuesday night. I have not been there for years, in fact the last time may have been when I had front row tickets to see Darren Hayes, although I think I saw something else there more recently but cannot remember what. Anybody who knows me at all will not be surprised to hear that I never saw the original film version of Sister Act. I was however at least aware of it.
Lynda and I had tickets to see the previously planned production that actually had Whoopi Goldberg in the cast but that one was sadly lost to the second lockdown. Happily we managed to get our hands on some tickets when they did thankfully get to put it on for a limited run this year. We had some reasonably good seats in the stalls and after getting a can of wine at the bar, which was slightly classier than it sounds as they did at least serve them in plastic glasses, we settled down ready to be entertained.
The show itself was fantastic, for such a huge musical as you can imagine they have put together a sensational cast. It has some great songs in it and a lot of laughs but it does have a really beautiful storyline running through it, which is possibly even more relevant now than when the movie version first came out. Beverley Knight has transformed herself from pop star to West End leading lady effortlessly but when you have a voice like hers it lifts any song, I could listen to her sing all night and she was fabulous as Deloris. Add to that the fact that the comedy legend Jennifer Saunders is Mother Superior and it takes the whole thing even higher, she always makes me laugh a lot whatever she is in.
Lesley Joseph is also it in and she is brilliant to and has some very funny stand out moments. In fact everyone involved on stage is marvellous and they all get their chance to shine and take centre stage, which is great I think. It is always a guide of how good a show is if you leave the theatre in a really great and happy mood and I certainly did after this one. See it if you can but it is only on until the end of the month, so you will have to be quick.
A reminder that you can listen to me every Saturday afternoon between 2pm – 4pm on Radio Ninespringshttps://www.radioninesprings.co.uk/
Have fun and we will catch up again soon. Stay safe! Cheers Neil.