Stunning installations at Christmas at Kew

Karen Neville


Seven new displays as the UK’s original festive lights trail returns to Kew Gardens, November 15th to January 7th

Brand-new installations will showcase Kew Gardens in a whole new light, as the UK’s original festive light trail returns to the world-famous botanic gardens in London this November.

Since the inaugural Christmas at Kew trail in 2013, this unique event has paved the way for festive displays across the country. This year’s trail is a celebration of nature by night, bringing Kew’s incredible natural architecture to life. Visitors can expect the return of seasonal favourites alongside immersive new installations, seven of which are making their UK debut. Not to be missed, Christmas at Kew is enchanting seasonal experience for everyone to enjoy.

New installations for 2023

Bespoke new installations include Lili by TILT, a series of abstract, illuminated flowers that stand at almost three metres tall, towering over visitors. ArtAV return with Trapezoid, one of the longest light tunnels to ever feature at Christmas at Kew, and along Camellia Walk over 400 cascading lights are suspended from the tree canopy, set against an assortment of neon backdrops.

Elsewhere, the Hive – a stunning piece of contemporary artwork at Kew that recreates life inside a beehive – will feature in the trail for the first time. With its 1,000 LED lights aglow and an accompanying musical score, see this unique structure like never before as twilight descends across Kew Gardens.

Creative studio Pitaya return to Kew with Spark Ballet, 24 lanterns filled with subtly sparkling lights that appear to ‘dance’, and candles. This brand-new commission sees one hundred candles suspended in the air, magically appearing to float above visitors’ heads. The flickering flames will illuminate tree-lined passageways to create an enchanting festive atmosphere.

Festive favourites

With many of Kew’s 12,000 trees and other botanical treasures being accentuated along the route, visitors can wander beneath colourful canopies and bushes draped in seasonal sparkle, experiencing nature from a new perspective whilst treasuring the essential role that plants play in all our lives.

Other returning favourites include Kew’s famous Christmas Cathedral, a twinkling tunnel of light inspired by arched church windows, and a newly designed Fire Garden. Over 300 candles will line the path to the Temperate House, the oldest Victorian glasshouse in the world, as flame bulbs create the illusion that this cathedral of glass is glowing from within.

Elsewhere, visitors will be entranced as a series of breath-taking light displays dance across the surface of Kew’s iconic Palm House, and LED lights ‘float’ on the surface of the adjacent lake. This grand finale is set to a memorable playlist of much-loved Christmas classics, guaranteed to stir sentimental memories or provide a soundtrack for new traditions.

To add an extra touch of magic to the Christmas at Kew experience, visitors can book a delicious traditional Christmas dinner at The Botanical Brasserie. Indulge in celeriac and truffle soup, Caramelized shallot, beetroot and mushroom wellington or turkey ballotine stuffed with sausage meat, washed down by a warming glass of mulled wine. Kids favourites can be found at the Family Kitchen & Shop, and tasty treats from a selection of independent street food vendors are available along the route. Treat yourself to loaded hash browns, spiced cider, waffles or hot chocolate.

Sandra Botterell, Director of Marketing and Commercial Enterprise at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “Christmas at Kew is a magical celebration of Kew’s natural landscape, offering sparkle and festivities during the winter months. With an incredible range of brand-new installations and some returning favourites, this year’s trail is guaranteed to be a seasonal spectacle like no other.”

At Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, Glow Wild celebrates a milestone 10 years. Bringing festive magic and wonder to the South East with 10 new installations and myriad hand-crafted lanterns, this winter lantern trail is not to be missed.

Tickets for Christmas at Kew and Glow Wild are available to purchase now at: Royal Botanic Gardens

Ally Pally fireworks festival banger’s back

Liz Nicholls


On Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th November Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival is back with a bang, starring live music, Dj sets and entertainment, climaxing in an epic fireworks display above the iconic hill view.

Sad that festival season is drawing to a close? Us too! But good news: the Glastonbury of fireworks is back!

Yass: on Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th November book in to experience foot-stomping live music, a taste of Bavaria at the UK’s largest German Bier Festival with sets from tribute acts Joel Coombes: Elton John and Rogue Minogue: Kylie, plus legendary DJ sets in the StrEATlife Village courtesy of none other than Fat Tony and UK garage pioneer DJ Spoony. Enjoy mind-blowing lightning magic from Lords of Lightning, a whizz around the ice rink to a disco soundtrack and, last but not least, lighting up the London skyline with our legendary fireworks display!

Firmly established as one of the biggest and best fireworks events in the country, this year’s highlight will include a stunning programme of live music, DJ sets and entertainment spread across the park and palace’s 196 acres.

The park will also play host to a huge bonfire, funfair and entertainment for all the family. Meanwhile, over in the StrEATlife Festival Village, you’ll find more than 35 of London’s top street food vendors, craft beer bars and cocktails. Live performers and resident DJs will provide the vibes.

Visitors can also step inside the palace, with the ice rink featuring a variety of skating sessions and ice disco. The Great Hall will be transformed into the UK’s largest German Bier Festival, with music coming from the likes of Joel Coombes, Elton John tribute act (Friday) and Rogue Minogue (Saturday).

With Alexandra Palace celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2023, this year’s event continues the tradition of spectacular displays held in the palace grounds, dating back to the late 19th century. This has included astonishing recreations of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in The Last Days of Pompeii and Destruction of the Spanish Armada on the boating lake.

Boom! Ally Pally has been letting off zingers, sending up sky rockets and spinning Catherine wheels into London’s heavens for 150 years! The Friday offers wall-to-wall club classics and on the Saturday relive your favourite movie moments with some of the best film soundtracks of all time.

Diwali recipes & takeaway competition

Liz Nicholls


November is Diwali month so what better time to shine a light on these recipes from Atul Kochhar…? You can also win a takeaway from one of his Bucks restaurants

Diwali is one of India’s most important festivals – a time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.

Mattan (meat) pepper fry

This curry – a common recipe among the Christians of Kerala, where it is most likely made with mutton or goat – has very little gravy.

• 600g boneless lamb rump or neck fillet
• 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger
• Four garlic cloves
• Two onions
• Two teaspoons of black peppercorns, to taste
• Fresh coriander leaves
• 200ml water
• Two teaspoons of white wine vinegar
• One heaped tablespoon of coconut oil
• 5 fresh or dried curry leaves
• Two teaspoons of onion paste
• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
• Sea salt

1. Assemble all the ingredients and equipment before you begin. You need a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, a large heavy-based saucepan with a lid, a sieve and a large sauté or frying pan.
2. Cut the lamb into bite-sized pieces, trimming and discarding any fat, then set aside. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves. Peel, halve and thinly slice the onions. Put the peppercorns in a spice grinder, or use a pestle and mortar to finely grind or crush. Rinse and chop enough coriander leaves to make about 1 tablespoon.
3. Put the lamb, water, vinegar, ½ teaspoon of the freshly ground pepper and ½ teaspoon of the salt in the saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave the meat to simmer a to a slow boil for 8 minutes. Strain the meat, reserving the cooking liquid.
4. Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil over a medium-high heat in the sauté pan. Add onions, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, a pinch of salt, and stir until the onions are lightly coloured. Add the onion paste and turmeric and stir in for 30 seconds.
5. Add the meat and stir in half the reserved cooking liquid, which will be absorbed and evaporate quite quickly. Add the remaining liquid a little at a time, stirring, until it mostly evaporates. With the last addition, the gravy should almost be like a thin paste coating the lamb and the lamb should be tender.
6. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the freshly ground pepper, adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary, and continue stirring until all the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle with about ½ teaspoon of the ground pepper and the chopped coriander leaves just before serving.

Panch Phoron Gobi Aloo
(Bengali cauliflower & potatoes)

Here’s a variation of the curry house favourite, gobi aloo. This is from the coastal region of Bengal; you might have never have had this classic combo with pickling spices and final finish of fresh ginger.

• 12 well-scrubbed small new potatoes (see Atul’s tip, below)
• Two thin short green chillies
• Two garlic cloves
• Two tablespoons mustard oil
• 1¼ teaspoons panch phoron 
• 2 teaspoons ground coriander
• ½ teaspoon red chilli powder, or to taste
• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
• 425ml water
• ½ head of cauliflower, about 400g
• One lemon
• 2cm piece of fresh ginger
• Fresh coriander leaves
• Sea salt

Assemble all the ingredients and equipment. You need a large sauté or frying pan with a lid.

1. Quarter the potatoes lengthways. Remove the stalks from the chillies, if necessary, then halve lengthways. Peel and thinly slice the garlic.
2. Heat the mustard oil over a medium-high heat in the pan. Add the garlic and stir around to flavour, it doesn’t need to colour. Add the chillies and panch phoron. Stir until the seeds crackle.
3. Add the potatoes, coriander, chilli powder and turmeric. Season with salt and stir for 30 seconds to cook the spices so the potatoes get coated. Watch closely so the spices do not burn.
4. Stir in the water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan and leave the potatoes to bubble for 12 minutes, or until they are three-quarters cooked.
5. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets, discarding outer leaves & core. Squeeze one tablespoon lemon juice. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Rinse and chop enough coriander to make about 1½ tablespoons. Set all these aside separately.
6. When the potatoes are almost cooked, stir in cauliflower and cook over a high heat for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until both are tender, but the cauliflower is still holding its shape.
7. Stir in the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the ginger and 1 tablespoon of the chopped coriander, and add salt, if necessary. Sprinkle with the remaining ginger & coriander just before serving.

Atul’s time-saving tip

I buy well-scrubbed small new potatoes when cooking this dish, so all I have to do is quarter them. If your potatoes are larger, however, cut the potatoes into 1cm dice so they cook quickly.

Hyderabadi Sour Fish Khatti Machhi (Serves four)

This is a very simple recipe, and one of the quickest to cook in the book. I’ve deliberately left the skin on the sea bass fillets. I know a lot of cooks would be tempted to remove the skin, but I enjoy eating fish with the skin, and it saves you time when preparing the ingredients. In Hindi, khatti means ‘sour’, and the sharpness of this recipe comes from the tomatoes and a little lemon juice.

• 4 large sea bass fillets, skin on
• 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons Ginger-Garlic Paste
• ½ teaspoon red chilli powder, or to taste 
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• vegetable oil
• ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds 
• 350ml passata
• 10 fresh or dried curry leaves
• sea salt
• fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish

Assemble all the ingredients and equipment before you begin. You need a non-reactive bowl, a saucepan and a large non-stick sauté or frying pan.

1. Cut the fillets in half, then place them in the bowl. Squeeze in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and add the ginger-garlic paste, chilli powder and turmeric. Season with salt and use a spoon to gently stir together so all the pieces are well coated with the paste-like marinade. Set aside to marinate while you prepare the gravy.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over a medium-high heat in the saucepan. Add the fenugreek seeds and fry until they become darker in colour. Add the passata and curry leaves. Season with salt, reduce the heat to medium and leave the gravy to simmer while you fry the fish.
3. Heat enough vegetable oil to thinly cover the bottom of the frying pan over a high heat. Add the fillets coated in the marinade, skin side down, and fry for 2 minutes, or until the skin is browned.
4. Turn the fillets over and reduce the heat to medium. Pour the gravy into the pan around the fillets and leave to simmer until the flesh is opaque and cooked through. Take care not to over-cook them. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary. Garnish with coriander sprigs and serve.

Atul’s time-saving tip

If I hadn’t included passata in this recipe, it would have been necessary to blanch, peel and de-seed the tomatoes before puréeing and sieving them. This is a much quicker way to achieve the sour tomato gravy.

Atul’s restaurant & takeaway competitions

Each of Atul Kochhar’s award-winning Bucks restaurants’ styles are reflected through the takeaway options, cooked in the restaurant kitchens to the same exacting standards as the dishes eaten in the restaurant experience in the comfort of their own homes. Takeaways are ordered for online via each website for collection only – but they will also be available via Deliveroo too.

Vaasu, Marlow

Known for its stunning pan-Indian food, Vaasu’s takeaway collection is available to collect from the restaurant, comprising a selection of highlights from the a la carte menu. Choose from the likes of Kashmiri chicken tikka marinated with fennel and saffron, finished in the clay oven for results impossible to achieve at home; Goan fish or prawn curry; braised lamb Parsi curry with sweet apricots, brown onion and coriander korma; and much more.  

A selection of sweet treats are also offered, including crispy apple jalebi scented with cardamom and saffron, Atul’s special cheesy chocolate fondue, chocolate brownie with fresh berry salsa and vanilla cream, gulab jamun and rice pudding crowned with lemon jam and raspberry dust. 

Hawkyns, Amersham

A destination Indian restaurant in the picturesque town of Old Amersham, Hawkyns offers sensational cuisine to takeaway, available for collection. Here the takeaway menu comprises a broad selection of highlights plus a concise drinks selection and set menus especially devised by chef Atul Kochhar. Set menu bundles include a meat bundle for two, a veg bundle for two and a vegan bundle for two, all featuring a generous selection of starters, mains, sides, breads and desserts. Expect the likes of butter chicken and railway lamb curry; paneer tikka masala and Bombay aloo; or vegetable jalfrezi and carrot and beans foogath.  

Riwaz, Beaconsfield

Celebrating the culinary history and traditions of India, Riwaz’s takeaway menu is available to collect from the restaurant. The menu features a broad selection of menu highlights, including tandoor-grilled king prawns in Ajwain, chilli, garlic and mustard oil; saag gosht with Welsh slow-cooked lamb; Dum biryani with chicken, vegetables or lamb, and much more. Various set menu bundles are also available, including a meat bundle for two, a veg bundle for two and a vegan bundle for two, all featuring a generous selection of starters, mains, sides, breads and desserts.  

We’ve teamed up with Atul’s team to offer five lucky winners a takeaway. NB you must be local to Bucks for collection. Click here to enter

For more info about Atul Kochhar & his award-winning restaurants please visit Atul Kochhar.

Lucy Benjamin, Guildford panto star Q&A

Liz Nicholls


We chat to EastEnders star, actor Lucy Benjamin who stars as Cinderella’s Wicked Step Mum in the Yvonne Arnaud’s pantomime this year.

Hello Lucy! What’s your first memory of pantomime?

“My first memory of panto, is back when I was five or maybe six when my Grandma took me to Camberley to see Jim Davidson playing Buttons in Cinderella. I even remember getting a merchandise pen! This was a bloomin’ long time ago!”

Q. What are your earliest memories of TV and what’s your favourite soap nowadays?

“I remember watching Bagpuss, Mr Benn, Camberwick Green and Trumpton; I was an avid TV watcher even from a very early age. My fave soap is currently EastEnders because I’ve just been back on the square and got right back into watching it.”

Q. Who was your hero growing up? And now?

“My mum was my hero growing up and still is now. Mums are the best!”

Q. How do you feel about this production of Cinderella?

“I’m delighted to be playing The Wicked Step Mum in Cinderella this year and stepping into the Uglies’ shoes, as there’s nothing more fulfilling than to be playing a baddie, when I’ve spent a lot of my panto years being the goodie. Bring it on!”

Q. Who is the ‘baddest’ pantomime and soap villain of all time?

“I remember performing alongside Kate Omara in Dick Whittington in Dartford one year and realising that it was probably one of the best and sexiest panto villains I’d ever seen. My favourite soap baddie has to be Dirty Den in EastEnders… Phil Mitchell can give him a run for his money though too!”

Q. What is the weirdest or most touching piece of fanmail you have received?

“The weirdest fan thing that’s ever happened to me was that a woman once turned up at stage door at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton during panto season and proceeded to show me a tattoo she’d had done on her thigh of my face! I think she went on to truly regret it, as you would.”

Q. Do you love Christmas and what does the festive season look like in your household?

“I love the Christmas holidays and all the food and drink that goes with being with the family over an extended time. Although I do find cooking Christmas dinner very stressful.”

Q. What’s your favourite piece of music and who’s your favourite singer?

“My favourite artist at the moment is Labi Siffre and the track Lying, Laughing, Loving, Crying.”

Q. What is your favourite book?

“My favourite book as a child was always The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, which ignited my love of reading for the rest of my life!”

Q. What do you most love about Berkshire & Bucks and how was it as a place to grow up?

“I went to Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead from the age of nine to 17, so have very fond memories of spending many of my formative years in Berkshire. I was also born in Reading, so I have a very local connection.”

Q. How about Surrey – will you and the cast & crew go out in Guildford during the production run?

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of socialising with the cast and crew during the panto run, but trust me, doing two shows a day is no mean feat!”

Q. What advice would you have for any youngsters who are interested in acting?

“My advice to any youngsters wanting to go into acting is to pursue your dreams, but always make sure you have an education to fall back on in order to give you as many strings to your bow as possible if things don’t work out. It’s a tough old business.”

Q. Finally, if you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?

“I’m no Greta Thunberg, so my best (cheesy) answer to this question, is for everyone that can or is able to, to come and see our fabulous panto at the Yvonne Arnaud this year and make the most of the festive period! You won’t be disappointed!

You’re all invited to the ball! Cinderella, 2nd December to 7th January: book your tickets at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

Sale e Pepe’s iconic Italian recipes

Liz Nicholls


With neighbourhood trattoria Sale e Pepe recently being given a complete refurb ahead of its 50th anniversary next year, we’re saving up a taste of la dolce vita for those seeking a fresh at-home recipes to keep those summer vibes going!

The Knightsbridge staple invites lovers of traditional Italian food to take their hand at their classic dishes. Ideal for hosting across the summer period, the illustrious restaurant has always attracted a jet-setting crowd, loved by the likes of Rod Stewart, Sir Roger Moore, Priscilla Presley and Ringo Starr.

Sale E Pepe prides itself in serving the very produce, try your hand at their infamous Costaletta di Vileto Milanaisepan-fried veal chop with breadcrumbs which is signature to the Lombardy region or the Camparian Linguine all’ AragostaLinguine with lobster, cherry tomatoes, basil and garlic. Opt for a more light dish of Insalata di Granchio – crab and avocado salad with tomato concassé, spring onions, chives and lemon dressing, bringing the Italian summer to the table.

Costaletta di Vileto Milanaise

• 500g one bone in veal cutlets about 3/4 thick, trimmed or you can ask the butcher to make flattened for you than will be easier to prepare at home,
Three eggs
• 100gm breadcrumbs granules
• 80 gm all-purpose flour
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 240g clarified butter (recipe is mentioned below)
• One lemon, quartered

1. Make two or three cuts on the edges of cutlet to keep them from curling up as they cook
2. Heat the clarified butter over medium high heat. The secret to cooking the meat is to cook it quickly at a very high temperature to seal the outside and create a crunchy breading while keeping the inside moist and juicy.
3. Whisk the eggs and place them in a shallow pan
4. Place each first into the flour, then the eggs bath and then finally the breadcrumbs as you go to ensure that they don’t fall off
5. Fry the cutlet for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels and allow the extra butter to drain off
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then place on a baking sheet

Linguine all’ Aragosta

• 600g Canadian lobster
80g linguine pasta
• 120g red cherry tomato
• 5g fresh basil leaves
• 18g garlic
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 45ml white wine
• 28ml extra virgin olive oil
• 5g mix micro herbs (optional)

1. Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil, chopped garlic, basil leaves and fry your cherry tomatoes together. Add stock, black pepper and fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally
2. Add the lobster tail and chunks and fry for 1 minute
3. Add the dry white wine and make sure to cook all the alcohol out and reduce until the sauce has thickened slightly
4. Cook your linguine or spaghetti in a LARGE pot of rapidly boiling salted water. Stir the pasta regularly and cook until al dente almost 5 to 6 minutes and using your spaghetti spoon lift, the cooked pasta out of the pot, allow the water to drain off and add it spoonful by spoonful straight into the pan of lobster pasta sauce
5. Toss well and serve garnished with the micro herbs

(Insalata di Granchio) crab & avocado salad

• 45g diced tomatoes
• 85g freshly handpicked crab meat
• One ripe avocado
• 30ml fresh lime juice
• 55ml extra virgin oil
• 5g chipped chives
• 5g spring onion
• 1 gram or pinch of chilli powder
• Sea salt & pepper as per taste

1. First in a small bowl mix together avocado cubes, lime juice, diced tomato, chives, olive oil, salt & pepper, mix well and set aside.
2. Then repeat the same process and add crab meat, lime juice, diced tomato, chilli powder, chopped chives, spring onion, olive oil, salt & pepper, mix well and set aside.
3. Take a flat base plate, place the round shape ring in a centre and add avocado layer and add crab mixture for second layer up, garnish with olive oil & chopped chives.

Theatre: The Making of Mary Shelley

Round & About


Jonathan Lovett tells us about a fascinating new play about Mary Shelley landing at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Thursday, 12th October, as part of a UK tour

Conception: Mary Shelley – the Making of a Monster celebrates the incredible life of Mary Shelley on the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Frankenstein to bear her name.

This latest production by feminist theatre company CLAIR/OSCUR focuses on the return of Mary to Lake Geneva, the birthplace of her most famous novel. Haunted by the ghosts of her husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and others from that infamous ‘year without a summer’ she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery resulting in a brutal confrontation with the very creation that made her name.

Unlike Frankenstein the life of Mary Shelley is not so well known… and yet it reads like the plot of one of her tragic, Gothic novels. Suffering three infant deaths and one miscarriage that almost killed her she then lost the love of her life, Percy, drowned in a yachting accident, in her early 20s.

Deserted by friends and with little money or means to support her one surviving son, she was known as the widow of Percy and some even questioned whether he was the author of Frankenstein. And yet, in the face of a misogynistic, critical society, this single mother went on to write a further eight novels, more than 50 short stories and essays and even, in a typically selfless act, brought together her husband’s writings in a complete works edition that made Percy’s name.

The play’s writer and star Deborah Clair says: “In Mary Shelley’s day society dictated the need for women to be wives. If not, the other paths were decidedly perilous: spinster, divorced, widow, harlot… corpse,” said “Mary was completely off-grid with her choices – elopement, travel, children out of wedlock, a thinker and writer. Her life straddled two eras – Romantic and Victorian – and the latter really didn’t know what to do with her!”

As well as playing the role of Mary, Deborah is director of CLAIR/OBSCUR, a female led-theatre company dedicated to placing inspiring women of the past centre-stage. Conception is directed by Lucy Speed who starred in EastEnders and The Bill and is currently playing Stella in The Archers.

Conception is being performed at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead on Thursday, 12th October at 8pm as part of a national tour. For ticket details visit Conception: Mary Shelley – The Making of a Monster : Norden Farm Centre for the Arts.

Keeping adoptive siblings in care together

Round & About


Adoption agencies across the UK, including Parents And Children Together (PACT) have joined forces to keep brothers and sisters together.

Voluntary adoption agencies across the UK have come together with a joint mission to stop brothers and sisters who are waiting in care from being separated when adopted.

Almost half of children currently waiting in care* are part of a family group and voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) are looking for people who can offer them a permanent and loving home.

Thames Valley-based Parents And Children Together (PACT) is among 23 VAAs from all over the UK who have together created a guide for people considering adoption containing helpful information and advice from parents who have already adopted sibling groups.

Lorna Hunt of PACT said: “The impact on children in care who are separated their brothers and sisters to enable them to find a permanent family is huge and causes anxiety and loss for children who have already experienced a difficult start in life. Yet so few people feel equipped or able to consider adopting a sibling group of three, or even four children.

“We are excited to be a part of this project sharing first-hand, heartfelt experience and advice from families who have already done this incredible thing of adopting a sibling pair or group.”

VAAs are specialists in finding families for children who wait the longest in care. They work in partnership with local authorities to find families for children waiting for a permanent home. VAAs are independent, not-for-profit organisations who have intensive services to provide families with vital support both when the children are placed and into the future.

Maggie Jones, chief executive of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) which represents VAAs across the country said: “Brother and sisters who are adopted together are often the only constant thing in each other’s lives in times of huge upheaval, loss and trauma. The voluntary adoption sector are specialists in finding families for sibling groups and being there for them with bespoke packages of support for as long as its needed.”

“Brother and sisters who are adopted together are often the only constant thing in each other’s lives in times of huge upheaval, loss and trauma!”

Cultural Travels from Home: online adventures!

Liz Nicholls


After venturing online during lockdown, Cultural Travels from Home are still flying high and taking happy travellers to far-off destinations virtually with a highlight on 28th September, thanks to art historian Siân Walters

Art tour and event company, Art History in Focus has been much loved by Surrey residents for over 20 years who have regularly followed its impressive programme of local courses and overseas tours around the world. The focus of the company changed however during the Covid pandemic when its director, art historian Siân Walters devised pioneering approach to cultural travel, bringing galleries’ art collections to people at home. At a period when all museums were closed and when people were unable to travel, she worked with directors of many major European art galleries and cultural sites, enabling people to enjoy exclusive, live access to their collections.

Museums at your fingertips

The programme, entitled Cultural Travels from Home, has gone from strength to strength. Led by expert guides and art historians, each tour is live and interactive, with an opportunity to ask questions and spend time savouring details of artworks which cannot be seen with the naked eye, thanks to the high-resolution technology used during the visits. The programme has become particularly popular with art followers who now find it difficult to travel or who are challenged physically, meaning that in-person visits are not so easy. There’s also a sense of friendship and camaraderie: as one regular puts: “I feel as if I have a new ‘art family’!”

Private exhibition visits

Another innovative feature is the exhibition tour programme, enabling viewers to enjoy a private online tour of a major art exhibition, from anywhere in the world. This October, viewers will enjoy an exclusive tour broadcast from a Titian exhibition at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, led by its curator. Later in the year there will be a broadcast from the Belvedere in Vienna with a special focus on Gustav Klimt, and a tour of an important upcoming exhibition dedicated to the enduring popular artist Rosalba Carriera and her career as a miniaturist.

Cultural Travels from Home

Since its creation, Art History in Focus has devised and presented the world’s first livestream tours of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, the Medici Palace in Florence, the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, the Palazzo Colonna and Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome and very many more.

There are also regular walking tours throughout Europe from Lisbon, Ljubljana and Amsterdam to Madrid, Bruges and Barcelona. The special expertise of the Art History in Focus guides often lends a unique touch to the experiences – for example, participants recently attended an unforgettable twilight tour of Pompeii in the company of a well-known local archaeologist, who showed them some of the site’s most recent excavations.  

Another highlight was a tour from Kyiv in which viewers were able to learn about the history of Ukraine and celebrate its beauty and cultural heritage. One happy traveller commented: “Thank you so much for another beautifully presented course… Travel and galleries and museums are difficult for me, so I very much appreciate particularly the live visits.”

Worldwide following

Siân, who alongside running Art History in Focus lectures for the National Gallery in London – and for many years lectured at the University of Surrey – says: “It has been heart-warming to receive such wonderful feedback from our visitors and students as well as the participating museums, and I’m so glad to be continuing with these programmes which are enabling us all to enjoy art and culture in new and varied ways. Our followers now join us from all over the world and it’s such a pleasure to welcome them each week.”

Coming soon

Amongst the events scheduled for the coming months are a live virtual guided tour of Titan 1508 at the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice and Rosalba Carriera: Miniatures on Ivory at the Ca’ Rezzonico, commemorating the 350th year anniversary of the artist’s birth in 1673. These visits form part of an online course entitled “Europe’s Great Galleries”, starting on 29th September and exploring a different museum each week. 

For further information, please visit Cultural Travels from Home: The Frari Basilica in Venice – Art History in Focus

Q&A with Fiona Allen on tour

Liz Nicholls


We chat to comedian & Smack The Pony star Fiona Allen who is on tour with her debut stand-up show On The Run, including stops at Guildford’s Electric Theatre on 28th September, plus Swindon, London & Maidenhead

Q. Hi Fiona. Seeing as your show is called On The Run, can you tell us about your impulse to get away from your hometown?

“I think I get my wanderlust from my mum and dad. My mum grew up in the time of Franco and left Spain as a young woman. She couldn’t speak English and was an au pair, then she became a nurse in the north of England where she met my dad (a psychiatric nurse). He then went on to work in Saudi Arabia when I was eight (interesting school holidays in Saudi…). Then the family home moved back to Spain, then back to the UK, so basically itchy feet are hardwired into me. I think I’m genetically predisposed to look at the horizon and think I wonder what’s over the hill. I was like that as a chid, and I simply haven’t changed.”

Q. How did you meet your husband & how has the whirlwind of family life affected ‘romance’?

“He was a location manager on the first series of Smack The Pony. We kept glancing at each other but trying to look like we weren’t. Then the director, who was getting slightly irritated, said ‘for God’s sake, talk to each other and go on a date’. One day I slipped filming a scene and missed the crash mat as it was the wrong way round. I banged my head, and he took me back to the base. It was then, when I was dazed, confused and slightly concussed that he asked me out for a drink! I could be flippant about the romance question, but I won’t be as one thing I really believe is that marriage is sometimes how you navigate the tough times together. Flowers, kind thoughts and actions are lovely, but nothing is more romantic than knowing that every day, no matter what, someone has always got your back. However he doesn’t tidy up and drives me bonkers.”

Q. What about meeting your father-in-law, Michael Parkingson?

“He was just a normal (very) Northern bloke who happened to be famous. Good to chat to as a journo and cut through stuff. He can ask a question. I can so answer it.”

Want to keep reading?

Download the FREE Round & About App to view the full article.

For Android

Adam Smith’s Peppered Venison dish recipe

Liz Nicholls


Adam Smith, executive chef at Coworth Park in Ascot, shares his recipe for a seasonal game salad

This is a great dish showcasing some of my favourite autumnal ingredients. It’s simple to prepare in advance and although relatively light eating it’s also warm and comforting with the rich sticky figs and beautifully spiced vension.

Peppered venison salad, serves six


• 1kg venison loin
• 1tbsp black peppercorns
• 2tbsp pink peppercorns
• 1 star anise
• 1tbsp juniper berries
• 6 fresh figs
• 250g roast pecan nuts
• Selection of bitter leafs (red and white chicory, radicchio, frisse, Castro Franco)
• 120ml walnut oil
• 100ml rape seed oil
• 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
• 100ml cabernet Savion vinegar
• 200ml red wine
• 200ml ruby port
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 50g fresh ginger
• 2 star anise
• 6 cardamom pods
• 2 cloves
• 6 juniper berries

Peppered venison loin

• 1kg venison loin
• 1tbsp black peppercorns
• 2 tbsp pink peppercorns
• 1 star anise
• 1tbsp juniper berries
• 1tbsp Dijon mustard


1. Roast all the spices in a dry pan, then into a pestle and mortar and crush them to a coarse powder
2. Season the venison loin with salt and sear in a hot pan, remove from the pan brush all over with the Dijon mustard and roll into the crushed spices
3. Cook in the oven at 180C until a core temperature of 48C is achieved
4. Remove from the oven and allow to rest at room temperature


• 120ml walnut oil
• 100ml rape seed oil
• 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
• 100ml cabernet Savion vinegar

1. Whisk the Dijon mustard and the vinegar together in a round bottomed bowl
2. Combine the two oils and slowly add to the bowl ensuring to continually whisk to emulsify the dressing
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Port roast figs

• 6 fresh figs
• 200ml red wine
• 200ml ruby port
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 50g fresh ginger
• 2 star anise
• 6 cardamom pods
• 2 cloves
• 6 juniper berries


1. Thickly slice the ginger and crack the cardamom pods and place into a pan with the cloves, star anise, soft brown sugar, red wine and port
2. Bring to the boil and reduce to a syrup
3. Pass through a fine sieve
4. Score the figs and drizzle in the syrup
5. Place into an oven at 180C and cook for around 4-5min
6. The timing will differ depending on the ripeness of your figs, you want the soft and sticky but still able to hold their shape

To serve

• Pick down and wash all of the bitter leaves in ice cold water, if you have a salad spinner, spin then dry
• Place the washed salad with ½ of the pecan nuts into a large salad bowl and dress generously with your walnut oil dressing
• Arrange these into your serving bowl
• Slice your peppered venison about 5mm thick then place on the top with the roast glazed figs
• Add the other ½ of the pecan nuts on top and add a little extra dressing if desired