Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2015 – Curborough (Round 9)

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It was a fabulous sunny day, great for sprinting – if you’ve got a car to drive. We managed to break ours on Saturday afternoon. ’No car, no cakes!’ that’s the rules, and we stuck to them (I did have a KitKat Chunky though).

We made our apologies for losing people points and hung out like car-spotting groupies.

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I’ve never watched sprinting before. That might sound a bit daft, and it is, but for some unknown reason last year I just turned up at my first sprint (clutching a moped helmet and a karting suit) with no idea what it was all about!

It was good to watch, but it would have been better to drive.

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We stood at the fence, watching our friends go by, egging them on. Jay was the fastest over the finish line, clocking 101mph, his car is a beast. When Xav pulled off the start line I didn’t think it was him, I was tricked by his colour changing ‘mood roof’, or flip-paint, as it is known by the less flouncy.

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On the first practice Mark took the wrong route because, well, because someone had to. It was inevitable. On his second practice he appeared to hedge his bets between both possible directions and ended up using the grass. Oh dear. Adam announced, loudly, “It’s because he has man flu!” and I added, “I think he might have been rummaging for Haribo!” Probably both accurate statements.

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We recognised the commentator by his hot wheels and corduroy trousers. We handed him our comprehensive notes on the drivers, we’d made them in the car on the way up – it’s amazing how much you can get done in the peace and quiet of an old mans Mercedes.

I have no idea why commentator Hugh didn’t use our comedy gold, apart from that he said my handwriting was appalling. I mean, it was irresistible, and surely it was believable? I was totally onboard with Andy Pigeon being a Bollywood dancer and professional hair model, and who wouldn’t believe that Alan Day’s car is so perfectly polished inside and outside that it is undetectable by speed cameras? (I actually think that might be fact.)

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The commentary was, in its way, interesting though. It was confirmed that Martin Roberts car is yellow (yes, I definitely thought that, but was grateful for the affirmation) and I heard a synopsis of Mads Petersen’s entire life story. At one point the commentator was struggling to find Simon’s name, with frustration Phoebe shouted it out, from quite a distance too, and then we heard over the tannoy, “Thank you young lady… Hmm, I http://oceanadesigns.net/about-us/ hope that was a lady!”

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In the paddock I stopped a small child from crying by smiling kindly at him. I think he was scared, possibly petrified. He’d been upset to have been told off for touching other people’s cars, I told him he could touch Adam’s car if he wanted to, but his dad said no because he’d get really dirty hands.

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As the gulls circled over Simon Foley’s cheese and pickle sandwich, he and his dad searched their car to find the home of the fiery hot bolt that had shot out from behind their car at an unsuspecting marshal.

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Lunch for me was a pork and apple sauce sandwich. Last year I had the chicken and gravy special, and crinkly chips. If I’d remembered they had crinkly chips at the time, I would have had them again as an annual treat.

I am going to pretend that this sticker was inspired by this video though!

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I have to say, it’s not every day you come across a half naked man clingfilming his tyres under a mid-century vintage parasol, and that really is a good thing because I think you could get desensitised, and that’s not what you need. What you do need is an ad hoc ‘garden furniture through the ages’ display to distract you. That’s better.

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Considering we didn’t have a car to drive, it was a very pleasant day!

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Martin Roberts showed real commitment, spinning off on his second practice. His progress throughout the year has been noticeable, he’s been closing the gap on the faster drivers, he is positive on the track and in the paddock, so it seemed most apt that he be awarded ‘Driver of the Day’. Hip hip, hooray!

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In Production Graeme Foley took first place, Rob Clark second, and Simon Foley third. Super Sport was an impressive battle and ended with Xavier Brooke taking first, Jason Weatherall second, and Dave Mann third.

Dave’s been having some problems with his car, but hopefully he’ll be ready for Snetterton, the final round, because the championship may be decided by this race. That’s going to be exciting, tense, and will require serious cakeage!

A Night at The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

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As we headed to the West Country, I wondered what to expect. Wolverhampton is not synonymous with style, it doesn’t have a reputation for being a great getaway destination. I was more than pleasantly surprised by this charming hotel though.

Neighbouring with National Trust property Wightwick Manor, and having previously been owned and renovated by the same family who built Wightwick, The Mount is full of stunning features – magnificent ceilings, fabulous woodwork, and a collection of some of the most simply beautiful windows I have seen.

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It is said that The Mount was built for comfort and entertaining, and it certainly felt that way, especially with the epic afternoon tea we’d consumed upon arrival!

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I was desperate to explore the hotel. I wondered round ‘ooing’ and ‘ahing’ at everything, imagining how incredible the house must have been as a home. I lay on the floor in the Great Hall and looked up at the magnificent ceiling, (after I had photographed the carpet, of course!)

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Where the communal spaces of the hotel retained their Victorian drama, the Garden Suite added modern design and a sense of serenity to the mix.

The Garden Suite was beautiful. I hadn’t expected anything special, I hadn’t thought it would be so lovely, and for me, everything was so lovely.

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I loved the stone framed windows and the balcony overlooking the gardens that wrapped around the building – like a big green blanket hemmed with dark trees, dressed with glassy dollops of rain that weightily and sporadically dropped from their dense canopy.

The room was light, airy and welcoming. The colour scheme, gentle and calm.

On the bed was a neat little card telling us that our room had been serviced by Jennifer. The room was immaculate. Nice one Jennifer, thank you!

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I loved the big bed with it’s beautifully buttoned velvet headboard. I lay there and looked around, ‘I could live here!’ I thought.

The room was fully equipped with tea and biscuits (the things I need most – apart from when I’ve had ALL the afternoon tea) wifi, Ultra HD TV,  iPhone 5 dock, robes and slippers, sewing kit, dental kit… Yes, I really could live here!

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I woke, from eight hours of deep sleep, like a contented sausage in a sandwich of soft white bed. I listened to the silence. Excellent. After two restless nights in Wales (listening to the kitchen’s music and banter until the early hours) this was the most welcome solace.

All I could manage for breakfast was a bowl of coco pops and some more photos of carpets. I didn’t have an appetite, caused mostly, I think, by my distress at having to leave my newly claimed home, and probably just a teeny bit because of the gargantuan afternoon tea we’d delightfully devoured on our arrival the day before.

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A top notch stay for two at The Mount, in the Garden Suite, is £165 per night (including breakfast) and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. In fact, I am planning on going back soon.

We were guests of The Mount, and did all our own lounging, sleeping and relaxing. My opinions are my own, as are my photos of hotel carpets.  

Afternoon Tea at The Mount Hotel, Wolverhampton

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We sat by the big bright windows as the rain poured down outside. The pampas grasses in the garden lulled and nodded under the weight of the water. The Drawing Room was peaceful and calm, decorated in my favourite colours – greyish blue and blueish grey.

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On the table a selection of loose teas were displayed in small glass jars. We were invited to take a moment to choose from them, breathing in their scent and imagining their flavour. Darjeeling, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Red Berries – ‘mmm, that’s nice!’ Red Berries was in fact so nice that it was sniffed and sniffed again, then slung, luscious and loose leafed into my handbag with accidental abandon.

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Adam chose a very light and delicate Darjeeling, while I opted for good ol’ English Breakfast tea. (I knew I could always have the Red Berries later, when I salvaged the remnants of over excited tea-sniffing from the bottom of my bag!)

We settled into our surroundings and gazed out of the windows as the tiered tea stand was set down in front of us. Behold one of the nicest afternoon teas I have ever seen.

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Substantially filled sandwiches of egg and mayonnaise, smoked salmon with cucumber, ham and tomato, and cucumber and cream cheese, sat neatly next to plump scones and bright red fruits.

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The sandwiches were pleasant, but the scones were something else. Just cooked fresh scones, soft and homely, with clotted cream and jam. I could have eaten scones all afternoon. I mean it. (You know I mean it).

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We took our time. I think that’s one of the best things about afternoon tea – that it is seen as such an occasion that you can take your time, enjoy and savour it. So often we rush our meals because there is something else to be done, or somewhere else to be, but afternoon tea makes the exception.

The top tier was brimming with sweet treats.

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Eton mess mousse – pretty and pink, fresh cream and strawberries whipped into a very light mousse.

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Chocolate mousse – to me it seemed to be a bit more of a very sweet fondant. Adam’s looked like a little brown bird with a raspberry backpack.

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Vanilla cheesecake – very light and enjoyable.

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Raspberry chocolate brownie cheesecake – thick and yoghurt-like raspberry cream, with a chocolate-chip-filled chocolate cake base.

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Banana loaf – very smooth and tasty.

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Coconut and pineapple loaf – squishy, chunks of pineapple in sponge with coconut on top.

There was far more food than we could manage, even though we took our hours over it and I really did try my best. I could have made room for another scone though! The fact that all the food was made in the hotel kitchen, and the scones had been made fresh, to order, left an impression on me. It’s those little touches that make things personal, genuine and worthwhile. Those are the things that make food worth savouring.

It was also nice to have teas available at the table so we could choose with our noses (and handbag) too.

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In our sugar induced stupor we left the table and wandered off to explore the hotel.

Afternoon tea at The Mount is £17.50 per person, or £19.50 with a glass of Prosecco, and I think, totally worth it.

We were guests at The Mount, and very happy ones too.

A Photography Picnic With Pink Lady Apples

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I was recovering from a weird virus and still feeling poorly after a badly placed (in my mouth) pineapple fritter from the chip shop, but I was determined not to let anything stand in my way.

Arriving at the BBC building I felt unusually nervous. I’ve done a few radio interviews before, but none of them from the studio. In the past I’ve done breakfast show chats, over the phone from the warmth of my bed with a cat or two trampling my notes and turning them into nests. This was different, this was real, and there were no cats.

I sat in the waiting room, listening to the live radio show and fidgeting with my bag. A song started to play, my ears pricked up because I recognised it, the song from Flashdance, ‘Love it!’ I thought, and then to my surprise I heard the voice of presenter Sue Dougan say ‘In a minute, it’s blogger Karen Harvey!’

Then, there I was, sitting in the studio wondering whether to put the headphones on and starring straight at a massive yellow microphone.

I don’t know what I’d been worried about, within no time at all I was perfectly at ease, talking about dirty old banana skins and about painting grey food brown.

We talked about the importance of good imagery, and the added importance of creating your own style (and not just copying everyone else), and how if people want to be food bloggers they shouldn’t photograph dirty grey food with broken plates, unless they write Dimly Lit Meals for One, one of my favourite food blogs (and the only one I gave a shout out to!)

We talked about food, and styling, and photography, about bin fires, powertools, pinterest-able laundry rooms, and how photogenic peas are. I’d say we pretty much covered something for everyone really.

I finished by saying that I would happily enter into conversations about photography in exchange for biscuits, and then they played Friday I’m In Love and it was time for me to go.

Sue was so lovely to talk to. She said I was ‘most fascinating’ and invited me back. I think it was genuine too!

My friends listened in, my mum messaged me to say she was proud of how I came across, Zoe tweeted to say I should get a regular slot, and Jaime text to say he was going to paint his cod and chips. I pictured a beautiful rainbow of potato.

You can ‘listen again’, if you want to? The show is here. http://oceanadesigns.net/envira/brown-chocolate-leather/  I’m on from about 33 – 58 minutes (don’t worry, it’s not all me talking!) and will be available until 27th September 2015.

I trotted off, gleefully, to my next appointment – a meeting where I got to talk about food, styling and photography. Can you sense a theme here? It was definitely a cohesive day.

After a very good meeting (which, I hope, I will be able to share more about soon) I whizzed over to Aoife’s house where she was gathering her potions with precision. I think she just might be the most organised person I know!

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We headed over to Jesus Green, the sun was shining and we found a spot that shared the sun with the shade of the trees. Whilst Aoife did her cocktail magic I piled everything up into an attractive display to get the photography thing going.

People came by and asked what we were doing, some inquisitive, some excited. We met a delightful foxy-faced dog called Troy, and gave apples to ladies on bicycles.

At one point a chap in a jesters hat came over and tried to enter into conversation, but the bloggers were having none of it. It was only after he’d gone I found out that he read peoples auras. What?! I would have so had a man in a jesters hat read my aura! I really missed out there. (Remember that guy who said if I had a gold aura I could join his cult or something?)

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I talked at people. I told them what I thought. I shared some of my photography tips and hoped they realised that I’m not mad, I’m just enthusiastic! I’m so used to talking to a huge lecture hall full of students, or having one-to-one time with photographers, that it felt quite strange to be engaging in this group of twenty-ish people. Thank goodness for Aoife and her cocktails!

Elisa from My Foodie Days buy Lyrica in australia  brought along the most beautiful patisserie tart and I looked at it a lot. Strangely, I didn’t take a picture, but I did eat a slice and it absolutely tasted as good as it looked. I did take a photo of one of Phoebe’s cornflake cakes though! I’ve never had a cornflake cake like it before – a jam tart base with sticky syrupy cornflake topping. It was very sweet and I liked it, but I also went sugar blind from eating it!

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Everyone sat together, sharing food and props (Sian and Alex from Bone White China brought along all sorts of goodies and the prettiest gold spoons!) and the weather stayed pleasant.

It was a good evening, but eventually it was time to go home.

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Our biggest and bestest thanks go to:

Pink Lady® Apples for supporting the workshop, for the goody bags and crispy crunchy apples. Check out the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards, there’s a special category for bloggers too!

Aladdin for the amazing mason jar tumblers. Plastic, stylish, insulated receptacles for drinks with lids to stop your drink getting out and the flies getting in – awesome!

My kind friends at Chase for sending over their top quality gin, and samples of their marmalade vodka which might possibly be the nectar of the Gods. Seriously. I’ve seen their vodka fountain.

GLORIOUS! Foods for sending over vouchers for everyone and helping me create a ‘shooting soup’ challenge, with a prize of £500 too!

My fenny neighbours, Corkers Crisps, who make cracking crisps and made sure there was a flavour for everyone.

And Brownie Brownie. I can’t begin to tell you how good these brownies are – because I’ve got one stuff-rammed in my mouth and I can’t speak. Mmmm. Really good!

Thanks to everyone for coming along (thank you for the lovely messages and emails), and most of all THANK YOU to Aoife of Sweetpeas and Sours (and to her kind husband too) for helping pull it all together.

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If you’d like to talk about photography with me then please do get in touch and let me know what kind of biscuits you’ve got. I’m happy to help… you eat them, and, in all seriousness, if you are a photographer you might be interested in, and benefit from, the Pop-Up Portfolio Reviews we are doing with Shutter Hub. 

Bring biscuits. Good ones.

The Fifties Museum, Wales & A Man Called Sparrow

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As we drove down the long steep drive to Cae Dai, wondering if there really was a museum in the middle of nowhere or whether it was a trap and we were about to be killed, a large solid looking pig strolled nonchalantly across in front of our car and stopped still. As Adam gently rolled the car towards it, a man rushed out of a ramshackle shed, booted the pig up the bum, and ran back into the shed again. The pig strolled on at a very slightly increased pace.

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At the door we were greeted by the museum’s founder, Sparrow Harrison. He showed us round with quick excitement, taking us from room to room enthusing and telling stories as if he was telling them for the first time. His eyes sparkled with delight and interest. He was cheerful, with an air of considerable positivity. He is what some people might describe as eccentric, and I like him very much for it.

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The museum was more than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. There was so much to see, and too much to take in all at once.

We marvelled at all the cigarette packets – all the beautiful and stylish designs, the bizarre Christmas gift packs, and the advertising to go alongside – ‘Blow her in the face and she’ll follow you anywhere!’ and ‘More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.’  I was reminded of an old lady at a nursing home where my grandmother had stayed. This tiny, folded up, fragile looking women spent full days shouting, ‘Camel!’ with a raspy voice and vigorous commitment. Somebody should have got her a cigarette, or a doctor.

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Sparrow was an aficionado of tobacco culture, he told us all about the aspirational marketing, the way the brands identified people’s social standing and the importance of a decent looking lighter to impress the ladies with.

I must admit, it all made smoking sound very sleek and glamorous. Of course, I know different! As a teenager, my friend Emma and I used to frequent the old arcade tobacconists and buy Cocktail cigarettes. Pastel coloured, gold tipped, beauties, bought just for the visual delight. They tasted rank.

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The museum was full of such lovely things. Things that I have never seen before, things that I have heard about, and even some things that I own – like the tea tin I attached my taxidermy crow to!

The collection of tins was marvellous, I love a good tin! The plate display was also pretty magical. It looked like a scene from a ‘smash ‘em up’ stall at a 1980s village fete!

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There was a small cabinet full of Ridgway Homemaker. I remember my first, and only, piece of Homemaker. I must have been about fifteen, and I came across a small side plate in an old junk shop. The print was blurry, it was obviously a second, and although it wasn’t perfect I still wanted to own it, to start my collection. I paid the grand sum of 15p and put it away, safe. The price of Homemaker went up, and my tastes changed (although I still love it, it’s just too fancy for me to eat off!) so fifteen years later I decided to part with the plate. Apparently misprints of Homemaker are rare, and there was a market for them, a market that willingly paid £50 for my little plate! Good times. Almost as good as the time Adam’s mum was going to chuck out a rare Clarice Cliff dish.

We rushed round, calling each over to look at things. ‘Wow! That looks just like my Nanny! I am sure she had that coat and hat!’ I exclaimed. Adam agreed, he’d thought the same thing, and was just about to say so.

Turns out we were both looking at different things though!

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There was a real shop set up, a replica of the old ‘Tin Shop’ that had stood in Denbigh for over fifty years. Of course I had to pop behind the counter and pretend I worked there. ‘Fork handles?’ ‘No, four candles!’ I said to myself, jauntily.

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The shelves were lined with the most wonderful and interesting things. Birds Instant Whip, Andrews Liver Salts for inner cleanliness, Black Magic chocolates. I was particularly impressed by the surviving block of Blue Bonnet Margarine – this is why we don’t eat margarine, people!

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I was enthralled by the realistic room sets, the amazing yellow kitchen, the living rooms, the bar set up with the superb cigarette dispenser and selection of fruit shaped ice buckets.

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There was an area dedicated to just a few cars, those that were most popular in the UK in the 1950s, and a massive pink cadillac that was itself as big as four cars!

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There was also a 1980’s Ford Fiesta that had belonged to Christine Keeler, the model who came to fame for her part in the Profumo affair. Having her car in the museum seemed a bit weird to me, and a bit sad, but the mannequin really did look impressively like her.

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Across the yard, passed the ducks, turkeys and pigs, the barn door was half open, allowing a glimpse of the old lorry inside. The actual lorry from The Great Train Robbery. This place is just amazing!

The museum is part of the Cae Dai Trust, a charity set up by Sparrow Harrison in the mid 1990s to provide sheltered accommodation after the North Wales Hospital closed and left many vulnerable adults homeless. The museum and farm now provides a place for people from all walks of life to rebuild their lives and make a fresh start.

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Denbigh Boxing Club is also based on the same site as the museum and has an interesting display of items, pictures and press-cuttings.

Look closely and you’ll read that charming Mr Harrison who has shown you around is also a champion amateur boxer, having fought over 200 fights, and at 75 he can still pack a punch. He didn’t punch either of us though, which was nice.

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As soon as I met Sparrow I instantly liked him, and having spent time talking to him I liked him even more. Coming home and using the power of the internet to find out more about his life just made me feel overwhelmingly in awe of his wonder!

Sparrow Harrison is brilliant man with a rich and colourful history, from playing in his band Sparrow and the Gossamers, to running a nightclub for the Krays, being a good friend of Bruce Reynolds – the brains behind The Great Train Robbery, and best friends with John Peel, co-founding the British Stammering Association and setting up the Cae Dai Trust, to recently receiving an MBE – some of which he failed to mention whilst recounting his delightful tales, like the bit about the MBE for example!

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The Fifties Museum was rebuilt after a fire a few years ago, and you’d never tell – the collections are vast, displayed in such a way that it feels okay to touch them and be part of the experience, and kept perfectly in place by the team of volunteers, which includes Eric, who only put his fabulous yellow feather duster down so that he could make us a cup of tea.

All of that for just £5.00 each!

Do you know what was missing though? More information on the great work that the Cae Dai Trust does (because it is brilliant, and exemplary), and, donation collection points. We would have been happy to give more than our ticket price and feel positive that other people would too. So, with that in mind I’m off to post them a cheque, (old school!) and I’m also planning on donating some of my precious 1950s things to the museum.

If you are planning a trip to North Wales then I thoroughly recommend adding the Fifties Museum to your ‘Must Visit’ list. You’ll not regret it, seriously.

The best place to find out more is on facebook (and give them a like and a share if you can!)

The Fifties Museum . Open 11am – 4pm, daily.
Cae Dai on the B4501 road to Nantglyn, Denbigh, LL16 4SU