The No 1 Ladies Opera House, Botswana

Baobab in Botswana

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is a fan of the No 1 Ladies Detective series and is delighted to hear about the new Opera house that has been set up in Botswana by Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the series.
I taught in the bush of Botswana for a couple of years and every morning I was treated to the beautiful singing of the students at assembly. Apart from the morning they burnt the boarding house down, but that’s another story…
The new Opera House has been set up in Gaborone, the capital city and the building is an old garage. There is a delightful cafe and I am really looking forward to another trip to the Southern hemisphere to find out more. Then I can sit under the shade of the trees enjoying a ravenous rambler breakfast.
Why not find out more from the website.


Cedar House Rules – a review of the Cedar Cafe in Marlow

11 November

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Marlow is a delightful old town in Buckinghamshire on the Thames. There is a great regetta here to rival the more famous Henley Regetta just up river. There are some delightful shops but the question is, where to go for coffee. There is a Costa coffee and Starbucks but in my quest to find independent coffee shops I refuse to go into these chains.
Down near the river there is the quaint Burgers Patisserie if you would like a more formal occasion but I like the small Cedar Coffee shop up in West Street. There is a window seat and then the rest of the seating is at the back adjoining the alternative treatment shop which shares the same entrance.
As I go in, I am confronted by the bar where there is a huge choice of cakes and other delights, including the exceptionally pretty waitress. She took my order and then I sat myself down in the corner to relax and have my treats brought to me.
I had a lovely cup of coffee and a couple of slices of brown toast with marmalade. There was gentle music playing away and low murmur of chat from the other customers. I didn’t like the commercial pictures on the wall – maybe they would like some of mine? A shame there was no view but you can’t have everything. I paid on my way out – they are very trusting and then smirked at the poor loosers in Costa’s as I rambled on my way.

Hay fever

Heath Spotted Orchid

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

As a long term hay fever sufferer, the summer means only one thing to me – sneezing and runny eyes. I usually stay in for the month of June. Yes, all thoughts of rambling takes a back seat as I sit in a darkened room and turn into a chess playing, book reading geek. Until now, that is. I think I may have finally cracked it.
Before I reveal the secret of my success, I want to explain the full extent of my sufferings. First, the symptoms. Yes, there is the sneezing but the itchy eyes are the worst thing. It usually gets worse as I go to bed and have to resist rubbing them otherwise in the morning I wake up with bags the size of suitcases under my eyes which are so coated with a glue like substance that I can’t open them, let alone put my contact lenses in. After a week or two of this, it seems to get into my chest and I go about wheezing and the only way I can breath at night is to sit up.
How to cope with this. Well, going to live in Botswana helped. The symptoms kicked in at a different time of year which was novel but it was still there. Not going outside helps a lot but when you are a ravenous rambler this is difficult. I cope with the itchy eyes by drinking tea! Sounds strange but it works. You have to use a large mug and breath into the steam. It helps calm the eyes and stops you wanting to itch them all the time. Sneezing fits. These can be very draining. Just lay down with your head in a pillow and meditate. It works for me.
So, what is the miracle cure. Well this year my hay fever is under control for the first time. I have been out and about cycling and walking and hardly any sneezing and my eyes are normal! For the past year, I have been eating local honey every morning on my special Ravenous Rambler breakfast. It is said to help make you immune to the effects of the pollen and it seems to work for me. Good luck and hope you have a sneeze free summer.

Tea is the new coffee

Tea at the Apothecary

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Have you ever sat in Costas or one of the new coffee chains and decided that actually the coffee you are drinking is ..well…awful. I certainly have although I like coffee when I make it and in spite of all their publicity it really is not very good. OK, try the tea. This is just as bad because they just don’t know how to make tea.
This is where my big idea kicks in! I see a whole new genre of excellent tea shops. Not the ones we find left over from Victorian Britain with lace table clothes and frilly cushions everywhere. Although they are good in their own way and certainly, if you want somewhere to take your granny they are perfect. I am thinking of something different. A sleek new modern metro-sexual tea bar but serving tea in china pots with lashings of hot water to top up with. Plenty of tea choice and served with love and affection in warmed pots and boiling water – French people take note! Coffee would be a second option – the poor relation maybe.
There is the question of food. We have to offer something and maybe quiches with small salads for the lunch people. Toast with marmalade or honey for breakfast and elevenses. In the afternoon – more toast and jam with maybe some cakes. I think the Ramblers Tea bar should be open into the early evening for the office workers who don’t want to drink alcohol. Maybe toast and hummus. (You see – I like toast!)
What sort of tea would be on offer? Maybe a pot of Earl Grey or Black China and like Mma Ramotswe of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, red bush tea is a must. We will be able to sit in quiet contemplation, thinking about life and drinking a nice cup of red-bush. Bliss. I can see business people having meetings around the pot savouring the Orange Pekoe. If there is music (and I can’t quite make my mind up about this one) it would be classical.
Countries of the world might follow our lead. The Americans have never understood our love of tea since they threw it all overboard in 1773 at the Boston Tea Party! What a way to spark a revolution. The British would much rather sit down and put on another brew and talk about it.
The Chinese invented the drink of tea and it has been found in tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty around 206 -220 BC but, according to the Tea Council, it really took off in the Tang Dynasty 618 – 908 AD). It was adopted by the Japanese soon after and they developed the wonderful tea ceremony. It was Dutch traders that brought the idea of tea to Europe and then it spread to England. It was a popular drink in the coffee houses of the big cities where perhaps much business was carried out as is the case today. I bet they were a little more stylish with making and presenting their brews though.
My favourite place for tea at the moment is Egypt. They have adopted the idea of tea from the British and do it rather well. The Winter Palace hotel on the front at Luxor has a shady balcony where you sit in peace watching the throngs below, drinking tea from a china pot and eating rather nice cakes. You can imagine being Inspector Poirot on a new case getting the old grey cells fired up on a brew of First Flush Assam.
Tea is also better for you. Victoria Lambert was writing in today’s Telegraph about the health benefits of the cuppa and quotes the American Health Foundation. They say that regular tea-drinkers show less risk of developing heart disease. Apparently the flavonoids have an anti-oxidant effect like fruit and vegetables. Watch out for drinking tea with milk though as there is evidence to suggest that the milks stops the flavonoids working. There still seems to be a lot of research to do before the jury comes out – better put the kettle on whilst we are waiting!

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

This is my favourite drink from elderflowers. It makes a wonderful summer drink diluted to taste with water.


20 heads of elderflowers
2 pints (1.2L) of water
3 lbs (1.3kg) of sugar
1 sliced lemon
3 oz ( 75g) citric acid

Bring the water to the boil and add the sugar and lemon. remove from the heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Re-boil and add the flower heads and citric acid. Bring to boil again then stand aside until cool. Bottle in air-tight bottles.

London to Brighton Cycle Ride

London to Brighton Cycle Ride

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is feeling tired and stiff. On Sunday 15th June he cycled all the way from London to Brighton for Heart Foundation.

It was an early start to get to Clapham for 6am. There were crowds of people there. People queuing for the loo, last minute mechanical problems and general mayhem like soldiers preparing for battle. I stood with about three hundred other people under the starting funnel and we collected our map and got our ID card stamped. Then into another funnel for the actual start. People standing around nervously ready to go over the top. Light banter and looking at each other’s kit and wondering how fit they were. Then we were off and as we started it was difficult to get a clear piece of road. Then there were traffic lights that everyone wanted to ignore except for the policemen and road wardens shouting “Stop”. It was a bit start and stop at the beginning through London and then out to Croydon but then the road opened up, the field cleared a bit and we were off across beautiful countryside. This was England at its best; a blue sky, small roads curving their way over the North downs and then winding their way to the South Downs and the heights of Ditchling beacon.

Some of the villages had put on festivals with brass bands playing and everyone was out to see the thousands of cyclists coming through. These villages were ancient. Thatched roofs, old churches, commuter land near Gatwick Airport. At one stop the jets came overhead with undercarriage down on late finals. Had I really cycled to Gatwick Airport! At each refreshment stop cyclists were strewn all over the place, there were stalls selling cakes and sandwiches. Water for free, tea and coffee and cold drinks. You could talk to anyone – we were all in it together. We minded each others bikes and we shared stories. There were many tales of injuries. We were the lucky few who had survived. Then I caught site of the South Downs and my heart fell. It looked huge. A large green grassy ridge that we had to cross to get to Brighton. It must have had the same effect on invaders many years ago. As we approached, everyone slowed down, they were reserving their energy for the big push. Now there was no talking, this was serious, we were confronting the enemy once more…
I wanted to cycle up but the big problem was going to be negotiating the crowds. People had a tendency to stop in the middle of the road. Earlier in the day, I had been forced to walk up a hill just because of fellow cyclists stopping like this in front of me. It made it impossible to ride unless you were skillful in avoiding the stoppers.
My tactic was to call out to everyone around me – “keep going’, “don’t stop now”, “coming round’, I called out all the time to warn the people in front and those behind what was happening. I tried to be as polite as possible, it was strange because I was the only one doing this but once I had started I carried on. It got me up the hill. It only really got a struggle at the top at the last bit but otherwise I made it with little effort.
After a stop on top, the drop off the beacon was a delight – up to forty miles an hour on my speedo, not that I dared look at it very much. Coming in to Brighton was tricky – there were so many traffic lights and the crowd bounced up but it was the best place to finish along the Brighton frontage and there were so many people! The Brighton front has to be best race finish in the world. The road runs parallel to the sea along a wide boulevard. There were flags and barriers up to keep the crowds at bay. And were there crowds, the whole place was a carnival. Thousands of supporters (and Mrs Rambler) all looking out for their charges. I felt a slight fraudster – had I really done this – did I belong here. Well, yes I did, I had cycled all the way from London to Brighton, I hadn’t walked up Ditchling Beacon and I was proud of my achievement. Many thanks to all my sponsors.

Breakfast – Start the day the Rambler Way!

lomo thoughts

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

There is nothing like waking up late on a summer’s Sunday afternoon, doing a few chores and then settling down with a good breakfast and the papers. Choose a good spot outside in the shade and get everything ready. Put a large pot of coffee on and choose large cups with saucers to drink the coffee.
I remember having this breakfast as a treat at the Victoria Falls hotel in Zimbabwe where the fruit was all fresh fruit like papaya and guava. The monkeys snatched my bananas!

So prepare my dish of the day – breakfast muesli with yoghurt and honey.
any other fruit of your choice
Handful of sultanas
Cup of porridge oats
Mixed dried fruit and nuts of your choice. I like cranberries and hazelnuts.

Chop up all fruit and put into large deep cereal bowls. Pour on the oats and mix in the dried ingredients. Pour on the milk, yoghurt and honey and then make a large jug of coffee and some fresh orange juice. This gives the milk a chance to turn the oats nice and soggy.
Then settle down to enjoy this awesome treat.

If you still have room, make some toast and eat with some home made marmalade. This will set you up for a long walk in the afternoon and is an ideal feast to serve guests as it doesn’t need much preparation and I find making bacon and fried eggs just too hot in the Summer months.