mardi 19 avril 2011


I was just wondering when it's going to rain? Here in southeastern France, we have had little rain this winter.

The brewers must be tearing their hair out at the lack of rain as it takes 7 pints of water to make 1 pint. 'How come?' I hear you cry. Cleaning and sterilising the brewing kit out after brewing is a lengthy process, which consumes much of the water. Then there's the rain needed for the barley and hops to grow, but that's sent from above anyway.

I don't believe all this global warming nonsense because there is one person who's in charge, the Creator God, and He knows what He's doing. However, the winters don't seem to be as harsh as say in the 1990s.

I remember rinsing a fermenting bin next to my drain in late November, 1996. When the water from the hose hit the concrete slabs of my front path it froze instantly. Real weather then!

The next day, I started early and set the water to reach 65 C, which took about 45 minutes. I shouldn't have rinsed the fermenting bin then as a neighbour tore around the Close on his motorbike and skidded on the ice that resulted from my rinsing water. Thank goodness he didn't come off and wasn't hurt - he would have sued me had it beeen 15 years later!!

Sorry Alien (that was his nickname), I totally forgot about water and ice!

lundi 18 avril 2011


Don't get me wrong, I love the River Cottage series on Channel 4 tv!

I think Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall is a great chef with sound principles - an all round good egg then. He lives in an idyllic part of the world and the innocence and beauty of life in rural West Dorset comes across in the programmes.

But as an experienced homebrewer of both real ale and wine, I've noticed that the recipes given in the programme for making alcoholic drinks are just off the wall.

I would challenge anybody to brew a ginger beer with a Bordeaux yeast in just 2 days - as they claimed in last Saturday evening's show. The yeast needs at least 7 days to ferment all the sugar. The method of pouring the mashed root ginger straight into plastic bottles - and not starting with an anaerobic fermentation process in a plastic bucket and then syphoning into demi-johns before bottling - was also ridiculous. I was amazed that none of the bottles exploded. Why rush anyway when you're living in beautiful Dorset!

Hugh, you have a great programme BUT you need some expert advice on how to make alcoholic drinks if you're concerned about their flavour! Britain has a great heritage of homebrewing, especially since it wasn't always safe to drink from the local water supply.

The hobby of brewing real ale form malted barley and hops and making wine from the wonderful British seasonal fruits are so satisfying and may soon become a necessity as the price of a pint/glass of wine in the pub and supermarket reach heady heights. Gooseberry - aka the poor man's grape - wine is a fantastic drink and not dissimilar to a fine Chrdonnay!!!!

Homebrewing is not rocket science but the keys to it are hygience, a little know-how and patience. The latter two are sadly lacking at River Cottage............

mercredi 13 avril 2011


Almost 20 years since I was presented to HRH Princess of Wales (Diana to you and me!) on 13 June 1991 directly after my last Final BSc Degree exam, which I started at 6am. She had amazing eyes and I was so nervous that I forgot to wish her a happy Birthday for 1st July, which is also mine. She would have been 50 this year and so proud to see her son William marry, no doubt.

Rev Dr Tony Lloyd, my boss at The Leprosy Mission (TLM) who travelled extensively with Princess Diana when she was TLM's patron, said that by shaking hands with, and comforting, a leprosy sufferer Diana did more for the cause of leprosy in 3 minutes than TLM had done in 150 years. Within an hour the pictures and footage of this had been beamed around the world.

I interviewed Dr VJ Kumar, the surgeon who'd shown Diana around TLM's hospital at Anandaban, near Kathmandu, when I toured India in the autumn of 2000. Seeing such talented individuals give their lives and sacrifice their careers to help the poorest of the poor was amazing and the epitomy of a Christ-like work.

Had somebody told me that almost nine years after meeting Princess Diana, I would be working for one of her favourite charities then I would have recommended they see a doctor. But life is sometimes like that. We never know what wonderful things God has in store for us.

After interviewing Pastor John Arul, who runs an ever-expanding orphanage in Tamil Nadu, in Salisbury in 1999, he prayed that I would one day see his work. Exactly a year afterwards I was meeting him at the airport in Madurai, southern India.

John's orphans all slept on concrete floors and were so beautiful. As well as feeding and clothing them, John also educated them. They were all so happy to be away from the clutches of ruthless begging gangs, who gauge these little ones' eyes out so that they can beg for them. One dear little girl, Priya, who was then aged about seven , said to me, 'Will you pray for me Uncle Simon?'

After praying for her there and then, I hugged her and said I would continue to do so.

Meeting Princess Diana in 1991 helped me secure the Editor job at TLM. Touring India and the Far East to see TLM's work and interview medical staff increased my appetite for helping the poor.

Personal experience suggests that we can only really be fulfilled in our working lives if we are making a difference and improving the lot of those most in need.

mardi 12 avril 2011


We've just returned from a week in Interlaken. It's the second year we've been there and no, I definitely didn't go for the beer! The local brew, Ruggensbrau, is a rather bland, uninteresting beverage that typifies 'Eurofizz'. Not sure where their malting barley comes from, certainly not Wiltshire!

But other than the beer, it's a great place to stay. The produce in the local COOP shops is on a par with that which you'd find in Waitrose, and far cheaper. Just can't believe the steak - it melts in one's mouth. So yes, we enjoyed all of our evening meals on the large balcony overlooking the mountains. Sorry, Interlaken restaurateurs!

The scenery is so breathtaking that it often makes one envious of the people who live there. But then, according to a retired company director whom I met in 2006 in a distillery in Villé, Alsace, and who'd travelled extensively in his career, 'Switzerland is the most beautiful country in the world.'

No need to deck off to the US for scenic photographs when you live at the crossroads of Europe!

Our appartment, with a balcony looking straight on to the Jungfrau, was very comfortable and we frequented the swimming pool/ spa in the hotel. I also enjoyed walking around the park opposite and broke last year's record of 38 minutes by 5 minutes. Suppose it's about 2.2 km all round. So, 30 minutes next year is something to aim for!

We went half way up to the Jungfrau to the Kleine Scheidegg where, at 2,061 M, it was alarmingly warm at 13 C. Our coffee (a mere snip at CHF4 or £2.80 per cup!) was ruined by the continual buzzing of a low-flying helicopter ferrying crates of lager and supplies into an adjacent field for the James Blunt concert, which took place on the following Saturday, 09 April.

No, it wasn't beautiful!

More like a pain in the rear end as Lexi, my wife, would say!

Got back on Saturday afternoon to hear the sad news of my great Auntie's death. Still, she'd had a great innings and was seven weeks short of her 94th Birthday. During WW2 she worked in Baker Street, London for Leo Marks, the genius who invented the poem code for SOE agents operatiing in occupied territories. The Silk and the Cyanide by Marks is a cracking read.

Death, or passing from this life, comes to us all. But the amazing story of Easter - Jesus Christ's suffering and death on the cross - put an end to death.

At the church service on our Sunday in Interlaken - where it was nice to sing English hymns in Swiss German, but I understood very little of the sermon and had to rely on Lexi to translate as the dialect is off the wall! - the preacher said that Jesus is the bridge between man and God

'For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.' John 3.16..

Now that really is something to smile and be joyful about. And all you have to do is believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and then live as his disciple. Then you'll be on the path to true happiness.

Will there be any beer in heaven? I hear you ask.

Hopefully not Ruggensbrau!