St. Albans

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 30 May 2007

St. Albans in Hertfordshire is one of my most favourite places on Earth. It has such lovely memories for me. When I was studying the piano I would be taken on the 358 bus, past three mental hospitals and a couple of pill boxes, to travel the few miles to buy music from the music shop on the steep hill, down from the centre of town. Wooden counters, stacks of shelves with Associated Board Books of scales and the unmistakable smell of fusty sheet music in the air.

Paying a few bob to climb The little Clock Tower by the Abbey was a regular treat. The stone steps are worn down from hundreds of feet, over hundeds of years, walking slowly round and round to the roof. Meeting another person on a bend was always precarious. Breathing in and squashing yourself against the old white walls always worked.

The view at the top is not so much spectacular as comforting. Tree tops and red-tile roofed houses. I have a photo of me in my ubiquitous blue dungaress, my arms akimbo, which Jim took when we first met.

The Abbey is full of old wood. I had no idea that oak and ash carried memories. But Jim is a cabinet maker, as well as an actor etc., so he taught me how to recognise different grains (something I'm still not very good at) and how to identify each tree by its smell. The first time I stroked one of the old worm-holed doors in the nave my fingers ached. I could feel hundreds of years of people's energy captured inside the wood. I know it's not just me. There must be other tree huggers out there. But when I walk bare-footed on a wooden floor, I get all peculiar too. Jim reckons it's either because I come from peasant stock or because I am temperamental. Not much temper but very mental.

I love The Cock, too.

The pub is one of, if not the, oldest pub in England and the lake by the Abbey is the site of my first marriage proposal.

We all went there after our final exams, back in 1967. I was just 18 and ever so much in love with a boy with blonde hair and a triangular torso. He thought I was exotic and beautiful. I thought him clever and handsome. He would say with my looks and his brains we would go far. We did - he went to Birmingham and I went to Golders Green. Our passion was damaged by British Rail connections and my refusal to live in a commune.

When we decamped to the olde tea shoppe next to the Abbey gardens I nearly accepted his proposal but just imagine - I would now be living in Edgbaston, the wife of a Government Inspector. What would Jim make of that?

Now, the reason I bring up St. Albans at all is because I had lunch in a restaurant with the same name. It's on Regent Street in good old London Town. I was taken by Mr.L and Mr.Mc. We met Rob on site. They collected me from the flat and we pretty much used up all our news by the time we arrived. The traffic was dreadful around Traflalgar Square.

I'm still kicking myself for missing the greenery last week. The photos of people sitting picnicing on the turf under Nelson made me want to jump bus when I saw it but I never got round to it.

Today instead of grass there were Chelsea Tractors and Gawd knows what else snarling up the road so we three arrived late.

The restaurant is a big, white, swanky dining room. It feels French. The waiters are friendly, the food simple and good. The owners also own The Wolsey, which is the posh one near the Ritz.

I had cold vegetable soup, then broad beans with green salad and a delightfully prepared tomato and onion salad. The Maitre D' was pleasant and gracious. Mr. L had a starter of shrimp salad and a main course of liver, which if I weren't eating raw would have gone down a treat. Mr. Mc. had broad beans with chorizo and then Gressingham duck. It looked just the job. Rob had smoked eel salad and then pork belly, and if I weren't eating raw and still de-toxing, I would have eaten his as well. They had a pleasant wine and I had still water. They completed their meal with expresso coffee - one double and one single which Mr.L said tasted more Greek than Italian. He then had raspberry jelly which looked a little wallpaper pasty and we both agreed was gelatinous. My comment was visual, his oral. Rob had strawberry soup which would have been a mighty fine dessert if I weren't so full of bean sprouts. The bill came to 167 for four - I know that cos I watched Mr. L take out his credit card and I sneaked a look at the bill - which is about 40 quid a head, so it's not somewhere to go if you are financially embarassed. But it's a lovely place to be taken to and thanked for five years of GFL. I had a lovely time and the four of us dished the dirt, gasped at what telly folk we know and were touched by the waiter who recognised me and wanted the show back. Mr. L and Mr. Mc are working on it.

But we also talked about ideas and then we jumped into a taxi and I was dropped off at the flat.

As I write, I am wearing socks from the plane, my pink Crocks, pink jim-jams and a thick fake furry coat that belonged to BB 6 years ago. It hangs on the hall stand for such emergencies. I am freezing. It's cos of the food I am eating - or not depending how you look at it - so in a minute I am going to have a bath with some new fizzy bubbly stuff I bought from the health store. Then I will settle down with Jim, who got so cross at how I looked, that he nearly didn't come and feed the ducks with me.

I told you he thinks I am a barm cake.

I bought a packet of ciabatta rolls and they went green (horrid things they put in bread now so it doesn't go stale any more). Anyway, we took the three rolls, walked down to stairs to the river and lobbed bits of ciabatta into the mud flats. The birds came a-huddling: one white swan, two families of geese with their goslings, three pigeons, one seagull and a couple of ducks. They looked up at us and I swear the swan looked disdainfully at my outfit.

Then to the corner shop for light bulbs and Beecham's Powders. The freezing weather has given both of us colds. So, back to the flat and in for the night. He's now reading the paper and I'm about to prepare something tasty for supper. Organic beef burger, homemade, with fried onions and a green salad for the Yorkshireman, a bita' broccolli with more brocolli and a green salad pour moi.

Ah! the joys of family life.

Eat well. And cu2morrer.

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes


1. At May 31, 2007 2:31 AM Shelley Karo wrote:

Our darlin' Jeni wrote...

"I had a lovely time and the four of us dished the dirt, gasped at what telly folk we know and were touched by the waiter who recognised me and wanted the show back. Mr. L and Mr. Mc are working on it.

But we also talked about ideas and then we jumped into a taxi and I was dropped off at the flat."

I wrote....

THANK GOD.......Mr L. and Mr Mc, pull fingers out and get on with it...please... GFL was on here in OZ at 11am, my treadmill time, MK + treadmill dont mix, if you think of no one then think of me and my little fat bottom downunder. Tar Shells

2. At May 31, 2007 9:41 AM Jenny Blanchard wrote:

Dare we be hopeful?? Could it be that Mr. L and Mr. Mc could pull strings and get you and GFL back on air. No one in their right mind could say that MK was worth watching. My evenings are now so bereft - my only consolation is the stock of recordings I made of the last few weeks of GFL and your blogs. When will someone realise that all the GFL fans are now suffering from terminal depression and GET YOU BACK ON!!
Lots of love
Jenny B

3. At May 31, 2007 12:44 PM Libby wrote:

Hi Jen

Back from NYC and loving my daily dose of you. Time to get back to work and slimming world. My Crocs are blue aren't they they best things ever!!
Get back on telly we miss you, have to say you brought out the best in every chef/cook you had on GFL, even if the lovely Ed B is on another show he's not the same, you made them all feel comfortable. We need you back!!!!!
Lots of love Marmite Girl xx

4. At May 31, 2007 1:24 PM Geraldine wrote:

Mr. L and Mr. Mc are working on it.

Can you get them to work on it a bit quicker - I cant stand to watch anymore Soup Kitchen.

So glad to hear that you are ok, its lovely to hear all your news, look after yourself, your fans are eagerly awaiting your return


5. At May 31, 2007 1:29 PM Jill wrote:

Aha there you are! I'm freezing too - doing the 2 bowls of cereals a day thingy, more like horse food! GFL returning? Oh how wonderful mind you anything with you in to brighten our early evening would be fantastic, couldn't they start with re-runs?? Am reduced to the irish girl and Ainsleyrunning around like a blue ***ed fly nowadays. Hurry up back gal?
Bbye, Jill

6. At May 31, 2007 6:00 PM tony wrote:

Is there light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel? I do hope so, we've missed u so much. Don't watch uktvf now (sob sob), and it's lovely to read ur blogs.
Cheers. Tony.

7. At May 31, 2007 8:22 PM judi4 wrote:

Dear Jeni, Thanks for your reply last night I'm thrilled to be right about something at last! Here's hoping GFL returns soon. I'm glad someone else (Jenny I think) taped the last few as well as me. My very very favourite programme was your 5th birthday show, it makes me laugh every time,its a classic!! Lots a luv Judi xx

8. At May 31, 2007 9:45 PM Jason wrote:

St Albans, I spent many a market day there when I was a student buying sweets (1 a bag) from the stall there. Then graduated in the Cathedral (very drafty)

9. At June 1, 2007 2:21 AM Bruce Downunder wrote:

Whether it's GFL or not, can't wait to see more of you. How odd celebrity is, I feel that I've known you all my life! Here in Oz you were on at 6.30pm and that always made my day! I really looked forward to it. The show was YOU, I've seen the chefs on other shows and - I don't know how you did it but - you made them come out of their shell. These guys aren't the same on the "other" show!

10. At June 1, 2007 9:08 AM Dave W wrote:

Hi Jen,

Just sitting here at work, catching up with your blog...cheers me up no end, ready for the day ahead.

Hopefully good news to come re GFL...its got to come back. Our evenings have been a little wanting since you've gone. Actually tried 'soup kitchen' or whatever its called! for the first time last night and felt depressed at the thought of totally wasting an hour our my lives. We have therefore decided to ban the UKTV Food channel until you return...not too long hopefully eh? :)

I can stare at the Quantock Hills from my office window and dream. In the mean time I'd better look as though Im doing something!


Dave & Andy

11. At June 1, 2007 5:28 PM Liz wrote:

OK the Powers That Be are having a laugh with MK right?? They've compared it to you and GFL and ticked the wrong box just to wind us all up? Promise we'll all fall about if they put you back NOW.

12. At June 2, 2007 7:24 PM Kirsten wrote:

Let's all focus really hard on Mr. L & Mr. Mc & get them to bring back Jeni & GFL asap!! I can't believe I haven't watched UKtv Food since the end of the show.
Jeni, it's wonderful to read your blogs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, I may be reading but I can hear your voice - loud & clear! Hugs.

13. At June 2, 2007 11:24 PM Mo wrote:

Hi Jeni,

Hope Mr. L and Mr. Mc are working on it quickly! I haven't watched market kitchen, don't even watch uktvfood now, at one time it was the 1st channel I would switch on to but it's not the same without you and GFL :-(

Best wishes,

14. At June 4, 2007 12:33 PM myra wrote:


15. At June 4, 2007 2:05 PM Ali wrote:

Hi Jeni
As I work from home, my lunchtime was always geared around watching GFL, loved it and loved watching you too. In a non pervy way. I can't stand MK, I gave it a try and it is patronising and dull. I hope they read your blogs and figure out they have made a mistake. Miss you lots!

16. At June 5, 2007 12:57 PM carole smith wrote:

Oh please please please let it be true that there is a possibility of GFL returning, I too have stopped watching and only check your blog and the food board to see if anything will change, I need inspiration and thats what you and your chefs did Jeni, I miss my lunchtime fix.xx

17. At June 5, 2007 5:04 PM Jen Twydell wrote:

Welcome back Jeni! You are very brave to put yourself through de-tox. I hope you are pleased with the results! So happy to hear you will Be on air soon. I can't wait to see you back on TV. Market Kitchen is absoutely dire. I thought it might improve, but it feels as wooden now, as the first show. You are missed!! GFL was brilliant and those people at UKTV need to listen to their dwindling viewers opinions.



18. At June 5, 2007 5:51 PM Helen wrote:

Hello Jeni,

Why oh why did they cancel GFL? It was funny and educational and you were a brilliant, witty host. I was lucky enough to visit the show twice and had a lovely time. Fingers crossed the show's back on air soon.

19. At June 13, 2007 3:02 PM maria wrote:

Hi Jeni,
I really enjoyed GFL, even though I would sometimes berate my husband for wathching it every day, sometimes even while we ate. He is potty about you and in my opinion a good judge, also he's a butcher and appreciated the way you would encourage people to shop with their local traders. You are a very natural presenter who always gave such encouragement to people who were new to the show, you could see their confidence growing. A show as informative and with such warmth is a rare treat on Tv now, Mk is just dire, not even a pale imitation. I would be so happy to see you return on GFL, good luck. Maria x

Copyright 2007, Jeni Barnett. Website produced by Chopstix.