Bill’s Blog – Come on Chelsea!!!

How well I recall my first visit to The Chelsea Flower Show. As I was leaving ,a young lady from local radio stuck a microphone in my face and asked me : “So was this your first time?” Yes, I replied. “And what did you think? Just a quick comment”. Not enough gnomes I said firmly. “Seriously? “ Yes, absolutely. I didn’t see a single gnome. At first I thought maybe Chelsea didn’t go in for bad taste and silliness, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case at all. For a start, if you want a good giggle just clock some of the ridiculous hats women wear. I presume they only get worn twice a year : Chelsea and Ascot , and a Royal Garden party if they are invited, as I assume most of them are. No doubt they would consider garden gnomes to be cheap and vulgar. Maybe traditional gnomes are banned ,from Chelsea, but this doesn’t mean that so are all manner of humanoid garden creatures. Some are inoffensive. Some are hideous. None of them are cheap.

Gnome corner. No vacancies

Bill Oddie with his pet owl

Dunnock perched on Purple Heron – a frequent sight in my [Bill’s] garden.

In recent years, gnomes have been usurped by woodland folk such as faeries- with an e to denote that they are magical- pixies, nymphs, goblins and sprites. The standard type wears tights, a Peter Pan jerkin, and a perky little cap with a feather , so twee that even Robin Hood would be embarrassed to be seen out in it. Most of them have an expression on their faces that I expect purports to be cheeky or mischievous, but is in fact more of a lascivious leer. Presumably their ardour is directed at females of their kind, though it seems that all pixies, goblins and sprites are male, whilst all the females seem to be faeries- or fairies if you prefer. Come to think of it ,I have never ever seen a lady gnome. Presumably it is all done by magic.

Actually ,it is all done by “craft” companies, who constantly wrack their brains to come up with this years hot ornamental garden creature.  They have of course taken a frightful bashing from Meercats. I am in fact a considerable aficionado of fake garden animals, but I have very strict rules. Principally, that they have to be realistic and really do look like they are supposed to. A rummage through my new book will reveal much much more about the menagerie I have accumulated.  There are some really accurate resin creatures, ranging from a  piglet to a gorilla (neither fully grown).  The best ones are almost exclusively made by a company called Vivid , who no doubt exhibit at all the big flower shows. Moreover, they are by no means exorbitantly pricey, which cannot be said about many of  the work on show, which would have to be carved from gold to justify their price tags. The amazing thing is that at Chelsea there will be people who can afford to buy them.

There are some people who would consider contorted creatures fashioned from copper, tin cans or scrap metal to be art. And some of it certainly is . However, surely no one could claim the same about the ‘comical captions’ section that delights those who have a sharp and eloquent sense of humour. Oscar Wilde would have been jealous. “ Never mind the dog, beware the husband.” “ Or beware of the wife.” “ It’s a bad day, piss off.”  (Wow that’s a clever one.) “ I am down the pub”. Why is that funny? “ Gone hunting” I am reporting that one to the League against cruel sports).At least they are cheap, in both senses.

But surely -you may be wondering – I do have a browse round the flowers? I do, but only outdoors. The massive marquees give me claustrophobia , and the flower displays look like a massive funeral parlour. I far prefer gazing at the “wildflower” gardens ,which happily seem to improve and multiply each year. Natural colours are delightful ,so why on earth is it becoming a fashion to spray blooms in your flower bed to change their colour!. My  wife recently came home with a large hydrangea and a spray can of flower paint to enhance its natural pink! Heathers and rushes seem to be popular targets in parks and flower shows. The natural purple of wild heather looks wonderful, spray it gold or silver and it looks ridiculous.

I don’t know if this little piece -or my book -is helpful or a  harangue . The fact is, the only rule about my gardens has been ‘anything goes ‘. My only advice is”Do your own thing.”

Bill Oddie OBE


Nature’s Party Starts Here – by Author Mark Ward

Mark Ward, author of Wildlife on Your Doorstep published by Reed New Holland this spring, reveals the wildlife delights you can find close to home this spring.

After a sluggish start in March, nature moves into top gear in the months of April and May. Spring has well and truly sprung and all manner of birds, bees, bugs and beasts, many fresh from hibernation, parade their finest colours and set about finding a mate. It is a riot of colour and activity and the great news is you don’t need to travel far to get in on the action.

Frogs are back in ponds in spring and looking for love (Image by Mark Ward)

You can find hundreds of different species within walking distance of your home. All you need to do is to get out there and get looking and listening!

Feel the buzz
Start in your garden where many insects are looking for nectar as flowers burst into bloom. Queen bumblebees are busy looking for places to set up a new colony after spending the winter months hibernating underground.

You could find half a dozen species of bumblebee in your borders in spring alongside marmalade hoverflies (image by Mark Ward).

It’s not just the bumblebees that are on the wing though – there are around 270 species of bee in the UK and dozens of species live in gardens.

Leafcutter bees reveal their presence by leaving perfect semicircles cut out of leaves and use the sections they carry off to seal their nest chambers.

Solitary bees excavate tunnels in soft ground at the edge of your paths, patio and flowerbeds. Look out for tiny holes suddenly appearing, fresh excavations and the inhabitants coming and going. Mini bumblebee-lookalikes include the Tawny Mining Bee and the wonderfully-named Hairy-footed Flower Bee.

The number of butterflies increases dramatically as April progresses. My favourite is the gorgeous male Orange-tip. It is a white butterfly and has the brightest orange tips to its forewings and a mossy-green pattern on its hindwings.

The Brimstone butterfly (below) might be your first of the year though. If ever a creature lived up to its name, this butterfly does it with its bright butter colours that leave you in no doubt that spring, and warmer weather, is here!

Will your first butterfly of the year be a beautiful brimstone? (image by Mark Ward)

Back from Africa
Garden birds have laid claim to any nestboxes you have and many migrants, fresh back from a winter in Africa. Watch for white-rumped House Martins from around mid-April, but the all black, screaming Swifts won’t appear until a month later.

The dawn chorus peaks in late April and early May when the voices of the Cuckoo, warblers including the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and many other African migrants join your resident songsters.

It’s also the time to start looking for baby animals with Fox cubs to be found from April and Badger cubs appearing above ground in May.

Wildlife on Your Doorstep by Mark Ward is published by New Holland Publishers and is available at Hive.

A Badger literally on my doorstep on a May evening (Image by Mark Ward).

This extract from Wildlife on Your Doorstep captures one of my most magical spring moments.

Diary Notes: 30th May – We have Badgers!

Nine in the evening and Springwatch had finished on TV, filling me with inspiration about the wildlife-watching season ahead. With a good hour’s daylight left, I went into the garden to gaze over the hedge into the field, hoping to see an owl. In one of the moments when you sense rather than see, I turned my head left to see a low-slung shape, blazing black and white stripes on its head, barrelling up the field edge, before scurrying into the hedge surrounding the garden next to ours. I wanted that garden to be ours more than anything at that moment. We have Badgers.

The next night I hopped over the fence to put out food on the track next to our hedge. I picked up a bag of dog biscuits from the supermarket, a bit worried that my choice of the cheapest range of biscuits might attract some disapproving glances from pet owners.

I eagerly waited, watching those biscuits, but nothing came. The following night, the sound of crunching as soon as I stepped outside saw me approaching the hedge with the lightest footsteps I think I’ve ever made. I’d done it – a Badger was feeding there. It immediately accepted me watching from eight feet away hidden behind the privet hedge and hardly daring to breathe. It stayed for 10 minutes, enough time to gobble the lot before turning and scurrying off back up the path.

From Mother to Mother: Recipes from a Family Kitchen with Lisa Faulkner

Lisa Faulkner joined us at Hive to catch up and share some insights and her favourite recipe from her new book From Mother to Mother: Recipes from a Family Kitchen.

Do you ever take inspiration from places you have travelled, or visited?

Everywhere, I take inspiration from everywhere. It’s my favourite thing about going anywhere that I haven’t been before. It’s finding people that live in the place, finding out about different foods, traditions, people fascinate me and food fascinates me so going somewhere different is a bonus.

Being part of a ‘Master’ Chef household, do you both do your fair share of cooking? If so, who would you say is the better cook?

Obviously John is the better cook as he’s the chef (and he’s brilliant) but we both cook all the time, we both share the cooking and love cooking together. It’s lovely!

What is your favourite flavour (of anything)

Oh god, I love butter. The flavour of butter maybe one of my favourite things, oh and coriander!

Do you have any tips out there for aspiring baker?

The tip I got from Mary Berry was read the recipe three times. The first time you read it you don’t really take it in or you are just looking at the ingredients and nothing else. So if you read it three times before you do it you will be able to prepare yourself much better.

What is your favourite recipe from the book?

There are so many favourites! I was looking at them yesterday and keep changing my mind on them. I love the peanut chicken satay balls at the moment they are my favourite thing but it changes on a daily basis!

Is there anything you really enjoy making with your daughter?

Pizza. She loves making pizza. She loves making soup – there is a tortilla soup in the book that she loves so yeah quite a lot of things. She would much rather make savoury things than sweet so we make the big crab linguini on the front (of the book) she likes doing that as well.

Are there any foods you really dislike?

Liver, Kidney…so offal, basically, is awful!

Marmite – love it? Hate it?

Love it. Love it. Love it!

Do you have any tips our there for busy working mums?

I think that we all feel so guilty and I think that we just need to give ourselves a break. Sometimes you can’t cook, sometimes you can’t be there, sometimes you wake up late and we give ourselves a hard time trying to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect and that’s what makes us brilliant at our job because you understand all the little bits that make you imperfect.

Do you have a favourite meal as a child that you like to make now?

Chicken tarragon. It’s in my first book but it’s my favourite and in fact there’s two recipes very similar in this book because I absolutely love it. It was one of my mum’s favourite dishes and she used to make it for our birthdays and it’s still my favourite thing to make.

What is your quick fix when you get ‘hangry’?

Oh it depends, I mean if it’s a quick dinner then it’s something like a broccoli pasta which takes no time at all. It’s also Billie’s go to recipe that he asks for dinner!

What would you say is the one item that is totally invaluable in the kitchen?

I love my kitchen aid.

Do you have a baking ritual? 

No I don’t have a ritual but I do listen to music. I love to put on some music and cook all day, that’s my favourite thing.

Traditional Malaysian Chicken Satay Balls


Serves 4

A traditional satay sauce is quite thick, but for this dish John loosens it with coconut milk to make a more liquid sauce for the chicken balls and noodles.

My other half, John, is a chef and an Aussie. Ever since he came back from working in Malaysia and made this dish for Billie and me I have been pestering him for this Chicken Satay recipe. A traditional satay sauce is quite thick, but for this dish John loosens it with coconut milk to make a more liquid sauce for the chicken balls and noodles. I don’t think you will ever want to buy a jar of ready-made satay sauce again, but for those among you who have no time but want to make the balls and noodles, you can cheat and use shop-bought sauce and then loosen it with coconut milk, I won’t tell!

If your children are reluctant to try spice, satay is a great way to introduce them to it gently. There’s only a mild hit of chilli, and most kids just love the sweetness of the peanut butter mixed with the coconut milk – which is seriously moreish – so they don’t even notice there’s a bit of kick behind them.


  • 1 x 400g tin coconut milk, chilled for a few hours or overnight
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 400g minced chicken or turkey
  • 200g medium egg noodles
  • To serve
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Handful of chopped coriander
  • Lime wedges


  1. Without shaking the tin of coconut milk, open and scoop the solid layer of cream from the top into a pan. Add the curry paste and cook over a medium–high heat until the sauce splits. Add the peanut butter and soy sauce and a third of the remaining coconut milk, mix together then bring to the boil and bubble away until thickened. Keep the sauce warm over a low heat while you make the chicken balls.
  2. Add a heaped tablespoon of this sauce to the minced chicken, stir to combine, and shape into balls – about the size of a ping pong ball. Heat a frying pan and brown the chicken balls all over, then add them to the sauce with the remaining coconut milk.
  3. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain and add to the chicken balls and sauce. Toss everything together then serve scattered with the sesame seeds, spring onions, coriander and lime wedges to squeeze over.

Out of the Box – Getting Creative with Jemma Westing

9780241286906As I type this, I notice out of the corner of my eye the big bag of cardboard tubes that I am storing in the corner of my living room… I wonder what the tubes will become. The tubes are destined for the Oxford Story Museum, where my BrilliantBuilds workshop has been invited to run a short session there in the spring.

I put BrilliantBuilds together at the beginning of 2013 and the first event for the workshop was Latitude festival. Sharon Reuben (the lovely organiser of the kids’ field) took a massive chance on me and I am forever thankful to her. I go to Latitude every year and it is one of my favourite places.

BrilliantBuilds is simple: it’s a not-for-profit, drop-in style, cutting and sticking workshop designed to give young families the time and space to be creative together. I was inspired to set it up after having been involved with various widening participation initiatives over the years that support the creative arts and help to make art education programs accessible and inclusive. My opinion is that anyone can be creative and I set out to prove that every time I run BrilliantBuilds. When the workshop is underway you get to see families collaborating, solving problems together and sharing ideas. It’s great to see such variety in the makes when you set a simple theme like ‘car’ or ‘city’.

I am very lucky to have a pool of creative friends who come and volunteer their time to BrilliantBuilds. I could not run it without them, especially when there are instances where 40+ people are trying to visit my tent in one go!

Whenever there is a quiet moment during a workshop session, I try to take photos of the workshop makes and over the years I have compiled a large portfolio. I have photographs of hand-held makes, larger items that took collaborative efforts to finish, projects that move, and some great costume pieces.

When I’m not running the workshop, I’m a full time designer for DK. A big part of my role at DK is to help to visualise new book ideas and I do this by scamping up book jacket designs and spread layouts. One day I wondered whether I could come up with a books worth of recycled cardboard projects. I designed a book jacket and a few spreads for my publisher and that’s when discussions started. I am now sitting here knowing that on the 1st of March, a fun looking book called Out of the Box will be published which is almost totally inspired by BrilliantBuilds! I have seen an advance copy and the amazing DK knowledge team have done a super job! The steps for each project are really clear and I hope that everyone who buys the book will share photographs of their makes with me and the rest of the BrilliantBuilds crew. Photos of makes can be posted here:


Buy Out of the Box at

Recipes from Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook

jocookbookWith the festive season fast approaching we thought it would be great idea to give you a sneak peak of what’s in the long awaited Christmas Cookbook from Jamie Oliver. So surprise friends and family this year with these two amazing ideas to make sure your Christmas is the tastiest ever!

Roast Goose Slow-Cooked With Christmas Spices

If you’ve never had roast goose before, it’s an absolute must. This method is reliable and will give you an experience you definitely won’t forget, whether it’s the first meal from it, or using up the lovely leftovers it gives you (if there are any!).

Serves 8
Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes

1 large goose (4-5kg), halved lengthways by your butcher
6cm piece of ginger
6 large sticks of cinnamon
6 star anise
2 teaspoons whole cloves
olive oil
2 oranges
red wine vinegar

Get your meat out of the fridge and up to room temperature before you cook it. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Peel and finely slice the ginger, then, keeping everything quite coarse, lightly crush it in a pestle and mortar with the cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves and a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Rub into the skin of the goose halves, then put both halves skin side up in your biggest deep-sided roasting tray and drizzle with a little oil. Roast for 3 hours (depending on the size of your goose), basting every hour. After the goose has been in for 2 hours, slice the oranges and carefully add to the tray.

The goose is cooked when the leg meat falls easily off the bone. Now you’ve got two choices. Leave it to rest, covered, for 30 minutes, then serve up while it’s hot and crispy-skinned, in which case simply remove the meat to a board, shred the leg meat and slice the breast. Pour all the fat into a jar, cool, and place in the fridge for tasty cooking another day, such roast potatoes. Stir a good swig of vinegar into the tray to pick up all the sticky goodness from the base, then drizzle over your meat. Serve with spuds, veg and all the usual trimmings.

Your second choice is to let everything cool in the tray, then place it in the fridge for up to 2 days, with the goose submerged and protected in its own fat, ready to reheat when you need it, getting you ahead of the game and saving you time and oven space another day. To reheat, put the whole tray back in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/gas 4 and let the goose crisp up for around 30 minutes, or until hot through, then shred, slice and serve as above.

Love your leftovers
They’ll be delicious shredded into a salad or stew, or used in place of leftover turkey meat for recipes in the Leftovers chapter. Blitz any leftover skin with breadcrumbs, then toast, and use as an epic sprinkle.

487kcal 34.4g 10.5g 43.5g 1.8g 1.8g 0.6g 0.5g

Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2016 Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook). Photographer: David Loftus.


Banoffee Alaska – Almond Pastry, Caramel, Bananas & Vanilla Ice Cream

I had this idea to marry off two of my favourite desserts – banoffee pie and baked Alaska, which means you get creamy cold vanilla ice cream in the middle of a delicious warm tart. And let me tell you, this marriage is blooming amazing!

Serves 12
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling & freezing

150g unsalted butter (cold), plus extra for greasing
1 orange
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g ground almonds
6 large free-range eggs
1 x 500g tub of quality vanilla ice cream
4 tablespoons dulce de leche or caramel sauce
300g caster sugar
2 large ripe bananas
1 lime
1 tablespoon Camp coffee syrup

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Lightly grease a deep, 25cm loose-bottomed tart tin. To make the pastry, finely grate the orange zest into a food processor, add the cold butter, the flour, almonds and 1 egg, then blitz until it comes together into a ball of dough, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out on a clean flour-dusted surface until just under ½cm thick, then loosely roll up around the rolling pin and unroll over the tart tin, easing it in and pushing it carefully into the sides. Trim off any excess, patch up any holes, then prick the base with a fork, cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes (use any leftovers for mince pies). When the time’s up, line the pastry case with quality clingfilm (non- PVC), then fill with rice, making sure you pack it right out to the sides. Bake blind for 15 minutes, remove the clingfilm and rice and bake for another 5 minutes, or until lightly golden, then leave to cool. Soften your ice cream in the fridge.

Once the pastry case is cool, spread the dulce de leche or caramel across the base, scoop over the ice cream and freeze until frozen solid – you could get it up to this stage a day in advance. Turn the oven up to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. To make your meringue topping, separate the remaining 5 eggs (keep the yolks for another day). In a free-standing mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of sea salt until they form soft peaks. Place the sugar and 80ml of water in a pan on a high heat. Use a sugar thermometer to monitor it getting up to 110°C, then reduce the temperature to low. Let it gently bubble until it gets up to 120°C. Remove from the heat and let the bubbles settle for 30 seconds, then very gradually pour it into the egg whites, whisking constantly on a low speed. Leave it whisking for 10 minutes to cool and thicken the mixture. Meanwhile, peel and slice the bananas, finely grate over the lime zest and squeeze over the juice, then toss together.

Get your tart out of the freezer, arrange the bananas over the ice cream, then pile on the meringue in nice peaks. Use a fork to ripple through drips of Camp coffee. Bake on the bottom of the oven for just 4 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly golden, leaving the ice cream frozen inside. Remove from the tin, and serve.

444kcal 18.64g 9g 7.2g 62.1g 47.3g 0.3g 1.1g

Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2016 Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook). Photographer: David Loftus.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2016


The winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford Prize Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in which historical, legal and familial narratives are woven together to reveal the origins of international law, beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg trial.

You can get the winning title on Hive by clicking the image below.


Shortlist announced for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2016

The political is personal, the personal is political

Shortlist announced for
The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2016


Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, alongside a writer previously shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
An international list with British, American and Belarusian authors, with one work in translation

The shortlist for the £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Monday 17 October.

The four titles on this year’s shortlist are:

Second-hand Time, Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Negroland: A Memoir, Margo Jefferson (Granta Books)
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between, Hisham Matar (Viking)
East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)








The titles chosen by the judges all interrogate rigorously the world around us, with particular focus on how individual lives are informed and shaped by social, political and historical forces.

Broader studies of moments in history are grounded in deeply personal narratives. Margo Jefferson’s Negroland: A Memoir chronicles the experience of growing up in Chicago’s black elite in the 1960s and 70s ‘sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty’. Jefferson explores this space at a time of great change for race and gender relations in America.

Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeivich’s Second-hand Time (translated by Bela Shayevich) also uses personal testimony to evoke a particular time and place. Her book is a polyphonic collage that reveals what life in the USSR was like just prior to its collapse, charting the disappearance of an entire world.

They are joined on the shortlist by Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in which historical, legal and familial narratives are woven together to reveal the origins of international law, beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg trial.

Family is at the heart of Hisham Matar’s shortlisted title, too. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between sees Matar return to his home country of Libya following the fall of Gaddafi. Twenty-two years earlier, the regime kidnapped and imprisoned Matar’s father, who he would never see again. It is a profound account of how love and loss both shape and deform an individual life.

Stephanie Flanders, Chair of the Judges, comments:

“Some shortlists are creatures of compromise. You end up with a list that everyone can live with, rather than a set of titles that each judge can wholeheartedly endorse. But I’m delighted to say there was no need for messy compromises this year – or even much debate. Of the many superb books on the long list, these are the four books that each of us would be happy so see win.

“If they have anything in common it is perhaps the emphasis on the first person – and first-hand reporting. There are voices and stories in these books that we haven’t heard before and which are going to stay with me for a very long time.”

The shortlist has been chosen by a panel chaired by former BBC Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders, together with Philip Ball, science writer and author; Jonathan Derbyshire, executive comment editor of the Financial Times; Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, scholar, writer and literary critic and Rohan Silva, co-founder of the social enterprise, Second Home.

The winner of this year’s award will be announced on Tuesday 15 November, at a dinner supported by a donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation. The winner of last year’s prize was Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman.

Sarah Whitley, Partner of Baillie Gifford and Chair of its Sponsorship Committee, adds:
“We are delighted to have begun our long-term relationship with the Prize. We recognise the difficult choices the judges have had to make in refining this shortlist from the excellent group of longlisted authors. The topics tackled by the short listed authors are wonderfully varied in their nature and locations.”