Tuesday 30 June 2020

Lost, Found, Lost

This morning I was busy doing some research on the internet when I came across an article written by a journalist with an unusual surname.   Next to the byline was a very small photograph.  Suddenly my brain was on high alert.    There was something familiar about the shape of the face, the darkness of the eyes.   The bright ginger beard threw me a little, but the face I was beginning to remember was that of a beardless pre-teen boy, I began to think that this could be the son of an old friend of mine.  Correct name, red hair, but could it really be that same boy all grown up?

A couple of searches later and I knew for sure.   Carol's son.

I can clearly remember meeting Carol for the first time.    I had recently returned to Lincolnshire from the Middle East and was waiting to collect my children from their new school.      I fell into conversation with an extrovert character with a very strong Liverpudlian accent.

By the time we had walked our children the few hundred yards along the road to home, we had already laughed our heads off.   She was that kind of woman.   Always ready with a funny observation, or a joke.    She was never seen without full makeup, styled hair, and wearing something from her wardrobe of fabulous vintage outfits which had cost very little because no one else had begun collecting them then.   She got me into some bad habits!

It was a nice kind of friendship.   We would take the occasional trawl around charity and antique shops, or go for a coffee somewhere, we didn't spend a huge amount of time together and yet we were real chums.   It suited both of us, we were both friendly but private people. 

Carol had her own business buying inexpensive items, which she would clean and titivate, then present them so beautifully on her stall at antique fairs and the antiques centre that they sold like hot cakes.  On one occasion she turned up at my house, along with her long-suffering husband and his van.     I soon found out why.  She had seen an armchair which she just knew would be perfect for the corner of my dining room.     Her husband hauled the thing in and put it into position, as directed by Carol.    It was the very thing that corner had been lacking.   It was a gift, she wouldn't take any payment.    I had the chair for many years until one of the dogs chomped his way through the upholstery during one stressful stormy night.

Over the years we gradually lost touch, we moved house a few times and the link was broken.   I still  have several of Carol's pieces about the house, a stick stand, a bread bin which I use to store bags of flour (not getting caught out by the panic buyers again) and a wooden trunk which was originally a pigeon-carrier.  They are all in use and have been greatly enjoyed ever since I bought them from her.

It seems that the bearded journalist is her youngest son.   I remember him as a very quiet chap with auburn hair, but other than that I don't remember a huge amount about him.    These days he is a well respected freelance journalist who also writes articles for The Independent and The Guardian newspapers and various journals on the other side of the pond.   He lives and works in U.S.A.

The second article I turned up was a rather wonderful piece that he had written about his mother, her early life, how she met his father, and lots of background details which I vaguely knew, but not in detail.      He wrote very movingly about how his grandmother had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and the fear that she would also fall victim to this disease had caused Carol huge anxiety throughout her life.

It would be about three years since he wrote the article, and she had already been in a nursing home for a couple of years.  Her husband walked along there and visited every day, sometimes she would hold his hand, other days there would be no recognition and she would wander off saying she had chores to do. 

I won't put a link to the article, but it was an amazing read, beautifully written.   I hope that Carol got to fully appreciate her son's writing ability before this terrible disease took over. 

I hardly dare think about what has happened to Carol and her family since then. 

Please don't feel that you have to comment.   This is something I had to write, for Carol and for myself.


Sunday 28 June 2020


We have all missed certain things during these lockdown days, some things more than others of course.   I have missed being able to hug my grandchildren and family but, in general, social distancing is fine by me.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy the world of blog - good friends to chat to, interesting articles to read, but no one physically  close enough to be shocked at my wrinkles, the lack of makeup, or the bristly moustache worthy of a walrus...

I have missed my little jaunts out into the folds of The Wolds,  exploring the many beautiful rural Lincolnshire churches.    Pre-plague days many of them were left open during daylight hours so I would often take myself off to enjoy the church architecture, the medieval artifacts, stained glass, the effigies and to soak up the atmosphere.   

Some churches are empty, no matter how well furnished, clean and polished they may be, and there are others which are filled with warmth and welcome, in spite of having been declared redundant.

Folk art, creativity and love is also on display in some churches.   Simply look at the kneelers/hassocks.  Some are stitched to a set design or are done in regulation colours.  They look neat, but they seem very dull  compared to those  which seem to tell the story of someone who was loved and missed.

Maybe the one above was stitched in memory of Farmer X who was, perhaps,  often to be seen ploughing the fields in his little blue tractor.

Was this to remember someone who went wild fowling, or simply loved his dogs and ducks - perhaps his local pub was 'The Dog and Duck'...

In memory of someone who loved to fish, perhaps.

More country scenes, I like the simplicity and the little details which personalise and anchor them to a place.

One of the 'Tennyson'churches has this kneeler - when I first saw it I found it amusing and thought there had to be a story behind it.    There is, I found this in one of my local history books...

On the green, where Bag Enderby Lane leaves the road from Harrington, is the shell of an old elm of enormous girth.   John Wesley is reputed to have preached under the boughs of the tree.    The trunk of the old tree is decayed to such an extent that children used to play in it.   The Tennyson children (Alfred Tennyson, the poet, born in 1809, and his siblings) built a swing on a branch which conveniently spread out horizontally.  

At one time the bough jutted out across the lane, so that traffic had to make a diversion round.   It was long enough for the whole of the population of the village (an extremely small village, by the way) to sit on it at the same time.

I have plenty more images to show you, but I imagine that this must be almost as tedious as being obliged to watch someone's homemade holiday videos!

I will leave you with just one more.    A  tractor which could well have been the symbol I would have picked to put on a kneeler for a farming friend.   She was rarely seen anywhere without her little red tractor.

You should be able to 'click' and enlarge any you can't see very clearly.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

p.s.  Sorry, I never could count accurately. 😉

Friday 26 June 2020

Owl Wood Cook Book

I have finally got around to covering my cook book, the one in which I write my favourite recipes. 

The book which I hope will be added to, and then passed on down through the generations, until someone forgets the family significance. 

Owl Wood is the unofficial name for our small patch of woodland.    By daytime it used to be home to our lovely hens, they free-ranged there and led a marvellous life.    While the hens roamed, the owls slept.    The hens are no longer with us, but the Tawnies are.   Three more little Tawny Owls have spread their wings and left the woodland.

Tweed offcuts and embroidery silks don't really seem like ideal/practical choices for a cookery book, I know but, so what?   

Owl Wood Cook Book it is.

I added a new recipe to it today.   It is actually based on an eighteenth century recipe - Coconut Bread.    Real bread with desiccated coconut for texture and an intriguing flavour.    I saw the recipe and was intrigued, dithered about whether or not to bake it, or to just do a plain bread.   Curiosity won, of course.

It was well worth the effort, beautifully light with just the merest hint of coconut at the end. 

Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

The Village Show

In years gone by, some of the residents of Little Bunting, Dovecot Dell and Butterbump Splash would be busy reading through the schedule,  drawing up lists, deciding which classes they would enter in the village show.     

Old scores would need to be settled.     Secrecy and subterfuge would be employed, abilities and hopes played down.     Even the mildest and most gentle of folk were secretly driven. 

Special concoctions were brewed, preserves simmered and skimmed to the point of perfection, bottles and jars filled and labelled appropriately then carefully stored, others made perfect, tiny stitches, bold brush strokes, or perfectly composed photographs.     

Entries would be judged to Women's Institute standards, the trouble being that no one, other than a few WI members, knew what those standards were.    Never mind, we all gave it our best shot, increasing our knowledge from year to year.

Alas, as I have so often bewailed, that is now a thing of the past.   Nothing to do with Coronavirus.   

A few of the organisational stalwarts moved, older ones were no longer around to participate or support.   Few people stepped forward to help.   It became unsustainable.   Such is life.

Why am I warbling on about the old village show?       Simply because I came across a sheet of paper with a scribbled recipe for Lemon Curd which also contained a note saying that it was the recipe with which I had won first prize in the village show in 2011.    I had no recollection of having won that class, so I dug out my pile of old prize cards, see above.     

Slowly the cogs turned and I remembered. 

In 2009 I won third, which was marvellous because that was the first time I had ever attempted to make curd.   I recall that I determined never to make any again because it seemed such a performance and required an inordinate amount of stirring.   In 2011 I relented, had another go, and made a better job of it.

All this talk of Lemon Curd made my mouth water.      Luckily I had some lemons in the fruit bowl.  Lockdown meant that I had plenty of time on my hands.     So, for the third time in my life, I made a small batch of Lemon Curd.   What a palaver.  Grate, squeeze, melt, double saucepan, tedium. 

Now I know that it is not pure laziness which prevents me from making it too often. 

It tastes good,  far too good.   I could find ways to use it at every meal.     So I am carefully rationing myself to a generous spoonful swirled into plain Greek yogurt and I won't be making any more for the foreseeable future. 

All this indulgence is tempered by lots of homegrown vegetables.

They are not beautiful, definitely not up to show standards, but they taste great. 

The next few days look set to be fair and hot.    I love it, but I know that many others don't. 

Spells of sunshine and heat are rare so I take full advantage, abandon all but the essential jobs and pretend that I am on holiday.     That doesn't mean that I sunbathe, but I do take full advantage to pick up my books and lounge around. 

How about you?   Does this weather fill you with delight, or do you melt and wilt?

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Smelly Old Books

These are the bookshelves in my craft room.  You can clearly see that I resisted the temptation to tidy them before I took the photograph.

There are similar bookshelves scattered throughout the house, some are considerably tidier than these, for these are my cookery books, my best loved books, frequently browsed and greatly enjoyed.    Every now and then my inner librarian takes over and sort them out.   They soon revert to a more comfortable relaxed  condition.

I used to attend book auctions and that is where I first came across a book which set me off in collecting old cookery books.   It is handwritten and took me quite a while to decipher.    That book remains one of my favourites.   It was written by a vicar's cook and is simply a hardback exercise book which was discarded by one of the vicar's daughters, back in the mid 1850's, taken over by Cook and filled from cover to cover. 

There are family recipes, recipes from friends, several methods for dealing with enormous hams with various methods for curing them.  Best of all, there are lists of the quantities of food which were used to prepare Easter and Christmas parties for the village school, as well as lists of the pickles, jams and preserves in the pantry.   Wonderful stuff!

However, this is a post about books, not just cookery books.

I suffer from one great disadvantage when it comes to books.   Unlike many other people I intensely dislike the smell of them.   I don't mind worn and grubby books, but anything more than just a whiff of old book smell really puts me off.

These days I tend to buy secondhand books from abebooks, amazon, or ebay.   I love trawling around, tracking down an obscure title, or tripping across a book which is on my wish list.   Generally I prefer to buy worn and well used old volumes, not only are they less expensive but they also have more character.  

No matter whether the books have been gently used or have been used and splashed, they all have to pass the sniff test before I can read them.

Those which fail have to be put to one side; sometimes all that is required is that they spend a few days in a warm dry room.   Other books have a stronger smell and that calls for stronger action.   A dish of non-scented cat litter is placed into a box, along with the offending book, and then they are left for a week or two.   The cat litter absorbs the smell, but do take care not to use a scented litter because then you end up with a scented book and that is possibly worse than the original.      A similar result can be obtained by using a dish of bicarbonate of soda and a box.

If any smell does still linger after the treatment, I leave the book face up and open to finish airing off.    

As I type this I can imagine some people will be thinking what a fuss about nothing.   Indeed, for some people, the smell of an old book is half the pleasure.

My sensitive nose has been the bane of my life since childhood, it often got me into trouble.   Unfairly, in my opinion.   I only spoke the truth!

What about you?  Do you like the smell of old books?

Friday 12 June 2020

Halfway to Paradise + Books

The middle of June would normally see our village pub celebrating with a big roast turkey dinner.   The crackers and decorations would be out and everyone attending would have their happy faces on as they slurped and ate their way through a rather delicious Halfway to Christmas Dinner.

I attended one of these do's once; it was silly, but fun, of course this was back in the days when I could drink wine, so that may have something to do with my rosy memories!

This year is simply flying by, which is really strange given how home-centric life has become.     Luckily, the little filing clerk in my head is still working and she kindly tickled my brain and reminded me that I should be making my preparations for ...Christmas.  (sorry!)

I lifted down the kitchen scales, rummaged through the dried fruits and alcohol stores in the pantry to see what was available to make a Paradise Cake which is what I use as a Christmas cake these days.   I found the recipe in an old WI recipe book which used to belong to our old friend (the beekeeper) and his wife.

Blogger is messing about at the moment, things
are scooting around all over the page, images disappear then reappear in the wrong location.   That's what I get for trying out the new version.

As you can see from the photographs, it does involve a lot of chopping and slicing of dried fruit, but I just put the radio on, sit down at the kitchen table and get on with it.   Then I soak the dried fruit in alcohol, but it isn't really necessary.    The cake is a celebration of dried fruits, nuts, and ginger.  I more or less stick to the quantities in the recipe, but how I make up the weights depends on what I have available!  

(The recipe can be found in the post Paradise and Aztecs which is in the side bar.)

Once baked the cake should be cooled and then wrapped and stored until nearer Christmas.   It is far better than regular Christmas cake, if you like the delights which go into it.  Serve it with a slice of cheese and you have a feast fit for a king.   It is so good that I bake two of them.    If there was nothing else in the pantry you could survive  for quite a while on a slice of Paradise Cake!

This was the pile of books which I had by my side the other day.    Most of them are old recipe books which I find endlessly interesting, not for the recipes, but for exploring their economic and social context.   I suppose they are also useful because they can be enjoyed in small snatches, which fits into the demands of a day.

Our Hidden Lives is wonderful - Mass Observation Diaries of five people, post Second World War.  Again, a useful one for dipping in and out, real people, real lives, very difficult times.   On Chapel Sands was recently recommended to me, it is a Lincolnshire based story, so of interest to me.

Life rolls on.   I have had some inner ear problems recently.  Luckily it has only occurred while I was indoors and able to clutch on to something as I lurched around like a drunkard (is one allowed to say drunkard these days?!) as the world spun around and I felt sick, legs like lead I staggered to the nearest chair.    Growing older is such fun.

To end on a lighter note - one of the Best Way books has a recipe which begins "Not many people know how to make Pork taste like Turkey....".     I bet they don't.   Do let me know if you would like to try it out.  😊

Wednesday 3 June 2020

A Jolly Jaunt to Cowslip Cottage

The invitation was unexpected, but very exciting.   Would we like to go and visit our son and daughter-in-law who live three or four miles away?

In normal times that would have been a nice, but quite, ordinary thing to do.   After more than ten weeks of going no further than I can walk the dog, it was very exciting indeed!

Yesterday, for the first time in months,  I was faced with the question of what to wear, having decided that smelly old dog-walking jeans and raggedy top were not ideal.

I chose a pair of very old, wide-legged linen trousers,  added a white linen top, an outlandish necklace and bracelet, slathered on some factor 50, grabbed a wide brimmed hat, for this was to be an outdoor, social-distancing gathering and the sun was fierce and wonderful.  

All set!

Me and Mr. Toad — CenterForLit
Image borrowed from

Just getting into the car felt weird, never mind about driving out through the front gates and onto the lane.  There was no traffic at all for the first couple of miles, which was just as well because we both found it such a strange experience to be out and about.    I kept reassuring myself that we were actually allowed to be out - mentioned it to husband and he admitted that he felt the same.

The short drive, less than ten minutes, was wonderful.   It was a pleasure to see the slightly wider countryside, familiar farms and fields, old cottages, and the windmill at Alford.    

Our son had prepared for our arrival, leaving the garden gate wide open, so that we wouldn't have to struggle with/touch the latches, and MingMing, our lovely daughter-in-law, had prepared the outdoor seating area so that we could all chat comfortably, in a socially distant way.

I wanted to hug them but, of course, I didn't.    It was a joy to simply sit there in the sunshine with them, catch up and chat, then wander around the garden and marvel at all the changes they have made over the last couple of months.

We only stayed for an hour or so, then drove home.   Once again, the roads were very quiet, but it all felt much less strange.

Talk about a big day out!

Has anyone else found it strange having that little bit more freedom?

Monday 1 June 2020

Mouldy Old Dough when Yeast is in Short Supply

The merry month of May,  has ended.   It has been an enjoyable month, I think.    Nothing special, but nothing bad either.    The days and weeks have flown by.

What have I been doing?    Quite.   I often ask myself the same question.

Truth to tell, the month passed pleasantly, but it had a dreamlike quality about it.  I suppose certain anchor points are missing due to lockdown so every day seems much the same.

Enough of this rambling.   Back to the title, mouldy old dough.

Yeast became really difficult to obtain once everyone got into panic buying.   It was as though everyone had suddenly decided to fill their store cupboards with loo rolls, hand gel, and yeast.

I was lucky, I already had a couple of small tins in the pantry, but I know a lot of people were very frustrated when they were unable to get their hands on some.  Sourdough is an option, but I really don't have the patience to pamper the starter.   

I recently came across a really useful tip from Shirley Goode - perhaps some of you will recall her television and radio appearances and her abundant  money-saving ideas and kitchen tips, though I daresay that most of you will be too young to remember that far back.

Her 1981 book, More for your Money, gives her version of Sourdough which she presented as being useful 'during the inevitable bread strikes'.     It is equally useful during times of yeast shortages.   I tried it out last week, just to make sure that it really works.   It does.

'All you need to do is keep back a small lump of dough, about the size of a small apple, from your baking and leave it in a small basin covered with water for about 4 days.   As it rises, turn it occasionally so that the top gets wet.   It will begin to smell sour after a few days and will then collapse into the water.   This is when it is ready to use.   Stir it well and add 1 tsp sugar.   Stir in the required amount of warm milk or water according to the recipe you are using, add to the flour then make the bread in the usual way.'

It takes a little longer than normal for the dough to rise, but I find that it works beautifully.    The most difficult part is remembering to save the piece of dough for the next batch of bread.