With the voices singing in our ears, saying…this was all folly

So…

(I hate people who indulge in this modern trend of starting off with a ‘So…’, as if you were fully cognisant of all that they had been thinking before, or as if they had just been waiting for you to finish asking so that they could launch forth into whatever they’d already decided to say before you ever asked it.)

So…

We (the bus) had got as far as the prison and a prisoner was waiting to get on. They get day passes because it’s an open prison and in theory they’re not murderers or anything. Mostly they look like you and I and behave in a perfectly civilised fashion, but this one did look a bit unsavoury. Unshaven. Beetling-browed. Grubby. Didn’t much like the look of him.

So…

It was particularly important that the bus not linger longer than scheduled at the prison because I had to catch a connecting bus and the connecting bus was only two minutes behind this one!

The prisoner and the bus driver decided to have a row. The prisoner demanded to know what time the bus driver was ‘due in’. He had been standing there, waiting, for several hours, he said. His social skills were poor. There were other ways of putting it. Better still, the option of not putting it at all.

The bus was on time, or had been before the prisoner and the bus driver decided to unleash their joint supply of testosterone upon the world.

The bus driver said he could (*******) get off the bus and what way was that to talk to anybody?

The prisoner said he wasn’t going to (********) get off the bus and did the bus driver get out of bed the wrong side this morning or summink?

This went on for some time, with the language getting riper and riper. Being British we all stared out of the window pretended not to be aware of any argument at all. Including the wriggly little girl with the dummy and various other infants.

To get to visit Mum for an hour I was going to have to be on buses and trains all day. This was only my first bus. The connecting bus, scheduled for minutes behind this one, would surely be gone by now. Another half hour or forty minutes wasted at a damp and chilly bus stop.

The argument went on and on, but eventually the prisoner stumbled to the back of the bus, still swearing, and the bus driver set off. Heavy on the accelerator. Vicious on the brakes all the way to the next village. It felt like some sort of fairground ride. More than usual like some sort of fairground ride.

Everyone was unhappy.

I couldn’t quite forget about it. How had that argument even happened? And then it occurred to me that the prisoner had not read, or maybe was not able read, the timetable attached to the bus stop. He had not noticed the long gap between the workmen’s bus – somewhere around seven a.m. – and the start of regular buses – somewhere around nine a.m. So he might have been standing there for hours.

‘You’re talking b*******’ shouted the bus driver from the front of the bus.

‘No, you’re talking b*******’ shouted the prisoner from the back of the bus.

Is this perhaps how world wars start? Could Armageddon be loosed upon the world through nothing more than two grumpy men and a simple misunderstanding?

Pass me that tin hat, would you?

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Christmas Morning Cranberry Muffins

I know it’s not Christmas, and I know I mentioned Christmas once before already this summer. Blame it on the patchwork. For some reason best known to Self-of-a-few-days-ago I am piecing some Christmas fabric at the moment. Presumably then-Self thought it would be an excellent ruse to try to sell Christmas cushion-covers or a Christmas quilt top in July/August. Who knows?

(Oh dear, five Christmases!)

However, that’s what they’re called, according to Mum. And after all who’s likely to be cooking muffins on Christmas Day itself? Need a few practice runs.

(Seven!)

CHRISTMAS MORNING CRANBERRY MUFFINS (eight, sorry)

  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

I had to look up ‘all purpose flour’. It’s is in Mum’s own handwriting but I notice everything’s in cups so this may originally have been an American or Canadian recipe. According to the internet British plain flour can be substituted for ‘all-purpose’ in all recipes, except bread.

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsps (teaspoons) baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/4 tsp grated orange peel
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup melted margarine
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Coarsely chop cranberries. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.

In bowl stir together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & spice. Make a well in the centre.

Combine egg, orange peel, orange juice & melted butter. Add all at once to the flour mixture to moisten. Fold in cranberry mixture and nuts.

Fill greased muffin tins and bake at 375º F for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Did I just not-bodge something?

I have lived a long time and in all that time I have been, as far as I could tell, a bit of a bodger.

My father was a bodger too, sadly. I think I inherited the gene. My father mended things with lumps of putty and wadges of duct tape. My father stood in the bath in his boots to descale the boiler. The bath – as my mother had, in hysterical whispers, predicted – filled up with sharp lumps of stuff which the big boots then ground in, ruining the surface of the bath. More hysterical whispers. My parents rowed in whispers, and occasional muffled sobs.

My father brought home some special rubberised white paint and painted the sandpaper surface of our bath. We did not have a shower in those days and so had all had to put up with sandpapered sit-upons for some weeks by then. The special rubberised white paint began to blister and peel the first time it came into contact with hot water. We are a family of tinkerers and destroyers. Powerless to resist we all separately and secretly picked and tinkered at that peeling paint until the bath was a mass of torn white strips. I don’t recall what happened to the bath in the end. Did they ever replace it?

My father cut down my mother’s favourite tree in the front garden, though she had begged him not to. He just couldn’t resist having a go at that tree once the urge to tinker and destroy struck him. I know that feeling. Must…just…ruin something.

Ex was scathing about the practical manly abilities of my father – and indeed of my grandfather, a carpenter with a tendency to produce stools with a slight wobble to them – criticisms which hurt my feelings all the more deeply for being factually correct. Ex was a clever, gifted and gentle man in many ways but there was a Wide Sargasso Sea of human interaction that he never managed to navigate – or even notice. You could summarise it something like this:

  • Occasionally you can avoid stating the obvious.
  • Sometimes, with difficulty, you can bite your tongue and pretend not to know something when in fact you know it very well.
  • Once in a while you can allow people prove you wrong even when, if you really set your incisive, logical mind to it, you could easily prove them wrong.
  • It is not lying to appear to be impressed by something that is neither clever or wonderful, purely for love of the person who just paid you the compliment of sharing it with you.

Where was this leading? Someone remind me…

Oh yes, not-bodging. Today I made my first patchwork quilt block on the sewing machine. I took care over it, mainly because I wanted to, and because am hoping to sell the ‘quilt’, or rather the quilt top as I have recently learned to call it, once completed. I ironed every seam. I unpicked one seam that had failed to come out exactly a quarter of an inch at one end. And do you know, examine it as I might I can’t actually find any evidence of bodging. One down, only seventy-seven more like that to go.

I thought I might enjoy designing my own quilt patterns but am still waiting for  squared paper to arrive. In the meantime, so as to strike while the iron is hot, I have embarked on a Christmas-themed sampler quilt – ie, working my way through all of the traditional American quilt blocks in my book using the three templates conveniently provided in an envelope at the back. They thought of everything!

Did I just mention the ‘C’ word in July? Sorry.

They have lovely names, but some of the block patterns are more compelling than others. I started with Anvil, which does look like an anvil but is pretty ugly. I guess it may look better when repeated over an entire quilt. Good to get that one out of the way first, I thought, so that’s what I did. And not-bodged it! Next block: Barbara Frietchie’s Star. I am wondering who Barbara Frietchie actually was (and what ‘Old Tippercanoe’ might signify). Answers on a postcard, please.

By the way, if you haven’t yet got round to reading Wide Sargasso Sea – a kind of ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre from the point of view of Mr Rochester’s infamous Madwoman in the Attic – it’s good. Disturbing, but good.

sargasso.jpg

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Mincemeat Bakewell

For the avoidance of doubt (as I often used to type in my legal days):

The kind of mincemeat to which this recipe refers comes in a jar, or it’s easy enough to home make. Although back in the 15th, 16th or 17th centuries the mincemeat that went into pies would have contained real meat – often venison – nowadays it is sweet, and does not.

According to Wikipedia, variants of mincemeat are found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, Ireland, South Africa, the UK and the US but in other parts of world it could be taken to mean minced or ground meat.

Eugh! please do not use minced meat.

For the avoidance of even more doubt:

This does not automatically mean it’s vegetarian. The suet used in the product’s manufacture could either be beef suet or some vegetarian alternative. You would need to check the label.

If that hasn’t put you off, here is the recipe for Mincemeat Bakewell:

Pastry

6 oz (ounces) plain flour

2 oz caster sugar

3 oz butter or marge (margarine)

2-3 tablespoons milk

Filling

12 oz mincemeat

4 oz butter or marge

4 oz caster sugar

2 medium eggs, beaten

2 oz self-raising flour

4 oz ground almonds

1 tablespoon milk

2-3 drops almond essence

1 oz flaked almonds

Little icing sugar for sifting, optional

9 inch fluted tin, lightly greased

Oven: moderate – Gas Mark 5 or 375ºF/190ºC

Pastry:

Sift together the flour and sugar. Rub in butter or marge until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface, knead gently then roll out and line the tin. Chill for 15 mins (the pastry, that is).

Filling:

Spread the mincemeat over the pastry base.

Cream the butter, marge and sugar together. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, milk and almond essence. Spread this over the mincemeat. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

Bake in centre oven about 50 mins or until firm. Sift with icing sugar if liked.

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Mystery Sister Tea Brack

I’ve called it that because it’s in one of the sisters’ handwriting but I can’t decide which. They both went through a cramped, backward-slanting gothic phase, as in fact did Mum (she was briefly learning calligraphy from a retired drama-school headmistress who lived down the road). Since the cost is given in ‘s’ and ‘d’ it must be pre the 1971 decimalisation.

TEA BRACK – dated 5th August, no year

  • Cost: about 4s 2d
  • Approximate preparation time: 15 mins (plus overnight standing)
  • Cooking time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 8 ozs (ounces) sultanas, cleaned
  • 8 ozs currants, cleaned
  • 8 ozs soft brown sugar
  • 1/2 pint medium-strength cold tea (plenty of that swilling around in the UK)
  • 1 lb (pound) self-raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons milk

Method:

  • Put fruit, sugar and tea in a bowl. Soak overnight
  • Next day, turn on oven: set at moderate, 375º F, Mark 5 (gas)
  • Grease a round 8 in (inch) tin; line base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper
  • Sift the flour into bowl of fruit. Add milk and beat
  • Turn into prepared tin. Bake in centre of pre-heated oven for 2 hours.
  • Cool on a rack

I’ve sorted it out and bullet-pointed it to make it less cramped-looking on the page, and easier to follow.

Enjoy 🙂

PS: if you’re wondering where the word ‘brack’ comes from, it’s a short form of barm brack, an Irish recipe upon which there are many variations (including this one). In Irish gaelic it’s bairín breac. So now you know.

shamrock.jpg

Just Tell Daisy

I was just emailing Daisy and mentioned in passing I was going to have to resort to another of Mum’s Old Recipe Book recipes as alternative blogging inspiration had failed to strike – when it did. Second time it’s happened. So, that’s the cure for Writer’s Block then – just tell Daisy.

I do despair of myself some days…

most days…

every day, in fact…

because I can’t seem to focus. I have the attention span of a gnat and the persistence of… something that’s not very persistent… can’t actually think of anything (ideas?)

I can’t seem to be able to manage anything sensible and business-like.

I’ve been trying to activate my dormant Crafting gene in order to have stuff to sell at the Artisan Market. Up to now all my ‘creativity’ seems to have gone into writing but now that seems to have worn itself out, or at least the fiction-creating part of it. But surely, I thought, I could make like Canadian Sister and Make Interesting Stuff. Trouble is, though both of us have the gene for inventing, neither of us seem to have the gene for selling or being able to conceive of what might sell. She is always getting into trouble at the Seniors Craft Group in her local community centre for not wanting to knit dishcloths and insisting instead on trying out green and purple crocheted elephants. “Elephants Don’t Sell” the Seniors are always telling her. “Dishcloths Do.”

“But how do you know my Elephants Won’t Sell if you won’t even Put One On Your Stall? How are people to know there is the Possibility of Elephants when all they are ever presented with are Dishcloths?”

I paraphrase and possibly exaggerate here, but you see what I mean.

I have been trying to force myself to make sensible little items – “small objects of desire” as the phrase used to be – but what comes out is weird stuff – eccentric items that surely Won’t Sell – a miniature Dr Who scarf, for example – so many possible uses:

  • Winter wrist-warmer
  • Granny Chic bracelet (I have only just discovered Granny Chic, unfortunately you have to be no older than twenty-two to wear it)
  • Must-have addition to Teddy’s wardrobe?

Or the Dancing Doorknob Cat (don’t ask) or the Two-Tailed Catnip Mice (my cats look askance at them) or the Odd-Eyed Lucky Fish. I can visualise the potential customers at the Artisan Market – that army of muffin-topped, much-tattooed, legging-wearing, toddler-toting females – and somehow I can’t see them going for the Dancing Doorknob Cat even if I label it Shabby Chic. Shabby Chic, like the lurid feature wall, is much in vogue here still. Granny Chic hasn’t got here yet and probably never will.

Canadian Sister once told me she finds it difficult to make more than two iterations of any design – she just wants to move on – and I suspect I’m the same. No wonder she hated doing all those dishcloths. I’m sick of the sight of Two-Tailed Mice already.

And now I’ve discovered Pinterest. For years Pinterest was just a nuisance to me, popping up all over the internet and interrupting my browsing. I didn’t know what it was for, to be honest. And then I saw someone on the business programme explaining it was a search engine, like Google, but for images, and the penny dropped. I registered. Now, far from constantly clicking on that little ‘x’ in the corner to get rid of it because I didn’t want to enter my email address, I’m hooked on Pinterest.

But now I am both fascinated and depressed. Fascinated because there’s an Aladdin’s Cave of beautiful, creative, wonderful stuff being produced all over the globe. But depressed because – too overwhelmingly many un-have-able (by-me) crafting ideas. Too wonderful ever to be emulated by a spare-room Lucky Fish manufacturer like me. I feel like Mrs Macron standing next to Milania Trump – like, why bother being a svelte, elegant, Parisian older woman when there’s that towering above me?

Ah well, on with the motley. Tomorrow, maybe, a patchwork bag with a Two-Tailed Mouse poking out of the pocket…

dr who cat

 

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Welsh Cakes

This one’s actually an English Sister (my youngest sister) recipe which Mum had filed in her recipe book along with her own. I won’t give away English Sister’s age (can never exactly remember it to be honest) but she must have been at school when she wrote it out as it’s dated 1st March 1969. I remember a phase of her locking herself in the kitchen whilst she practised again the recipes she had just learned at school. How everyone’s handwriting changes as they grow up!

English Sister no longer emails/texts me (I mean, I suppose one day she might, still) but at one point soon after she retired she rediscovered the cake-making bug – a bit like me rediscovering far-out hippiedom etc – and a particular obsession with perfecting the Lemon Drizzle Cake. I did get rather tired of messages with no information just hundreds of pictures of the latest magnificent Lemon Drizzle, and always sideways or upside down. Is there something about Lemon Drizzle that it can’t appear in electronic form the right way up?

I was gratified to discover a spelling mistake, if only one. I have left it in – see if you can spot it.

WELSH CAKES – 1.3.69

Costs about 3s 4d (three old shillings and four old pence)

Approximate preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking Time: 24 minutes

Makes 24 cakes

 

1 lb (pound) self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

3 oz (ounces) of lard

3 oz butter

4 oz caster sugar

2 oz stoned raisins cleaned (Mum’s note here: I use mixed fruit)

2 oz currants, cleaned

1 large egg

A little milk

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in lard and butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in caster sugar, raisins and currants. Mix well. Beat the egg. Add to boal with a little milk to give a stiff mixture. It should not be too sticky.

Roll out onto a floured board to 1/2 in (inch) thickness and using a 2 1/2 in fluted cutter or tumbler cut 24 rounds.

Grease a heavy-based frying pan or girdle with lard. When really hot cook 6 cakes for 3 mins on each side or until cooked through and golden brown.

Cook remainder in 3 batches. Serve cold, sprinkled with caster sugar, if liked.