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.

Short Little Span Of Attention

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

I feel as if I should be riding round in circles on a bicycle, typing this. Alas, my bicycle-riding days are over.

This one is about how to keep dry at bus stops. Since being forced into the realms of Public Transport I have only been drenched at a bus stop once, but that was enough. The thing with bus stops is that you may have to wait up to an hour at one, and that’s an awful lot of getting wet to endure when all you want is to be already at home with your lunchtime sandwich, swilling back cups of tea.

I thought I had made provision for this by including in my bag the light duty green festival rain cape. Remember, in a previous post I mentioned a heavy duty green festival rain cape? This is now permanently installed on my bed to protect it from senile cats wanting to wee on it.

The light duty green festival rain cape was no good at all. I wrestled it over my head, spectacles and pony-tail, and the head tore off. I deposited the head in the bus-stop-side refuse bin in disgust and sat for the next half an hour in the remaining three-quarters of the rain cape. It seemed not quite long enough to cover the sit-upon problem either, and the bench was damp.

I have been stewing on this problem ever since. I mean, in the middle of summer you don’t always want to be carting around your winter coat just in case. Bulk and weight are the enemy of the traveller on Public Transport – or any traveller. On the other hand, in Britain you can never say it isn’t going to rain. It nearly always is going to, and if you fail one day to take a rainwear of some sort with you, it’s definitely going to.

This morning whilst washing up in my dressing gown the solution came to me – clear plastic bin bags. Our local Council insists on these for excess recyclable waste, because they suspect that we will otherwise be attempting to sneak out our excess vegetable peelings and general filth. They don’t provide them, of course, you have to buy them.

So, what you do: you take two of the clear plastic bin sacks and just leave them folded exactly as they are. This saves having to squeeze the air out, which is a pain. Then you take another two and slit them up one side, and you nest one of the slit-up-the-side bags inside the other. You fold them up like this and squeeze out the air. The whole lot fits inside something the size of a pencil case.

The idea is this. You arrive at the bus stop just as it starts to rain. You observe the bus you ought to have caught disappearing into the distance, so you’ve got an hour to wait. Black clouds loom overhead, the rain is going to get heavier and you do not have a mac. So, you whip out your clear plastic bags. You fold one into four and place it on the damp bench, to sit on. You take the two operated on bags and place them over your head like a monk’s cowl. This will keep you dry(ish) from head to hip, and the bags are light enough that you can push them out of the way to check if the bus is coming, even if you can’t see through them. You sit down on your folded bin sack and place the remaining sack over your knees like an invalid rug.

I haven’t tried this yet, but promise I will as soon as it rains. I imagine it won’t work well in a gale, in which case I suppose the answer is to find a shop doorway or walk to the nearest bus stop with a shelter. Amazing how many bus stops do not have shelter, or only overhanging trees to drip down your neck or expose you to lightning-strike.

One of the few benefits of having a creative turn of mind plus a short little span of attention.

Mote-Mote, Montreal and Marmalade Bread Pudding…Mountains of Things

Well, little mote-mote has had to be sold because I could not afford to drive her any more – for a sum equivalent to the Biblical thirty pieces of silver. By a kind of divine retribution for my Betrayal of my Beloved she has been bought by the Brother-in-Law of the man over the road who, for some reason that he did explain but I was too upset to understand, is keeping her on the driveway of the man over the road and seems in no hurry to take her away. So – there sits my little blue car for an unknown, indefinite spell, no longer mine and not even invisible.

In the odd, sinuous way my mind works, particularly when in distress, this reminds me of Canada and some lines from a famous poem:

My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr Spurgeon

O God! O Montreal!

Of course there is plenty to be getting on with, to take my mind off it. There are cats to be fed, there’s divan beds to be manoeuvred downstairs, there are bathroom sinks to be cleaned, there are two lawns to be mown, there’s an empty bird table, there’s a monster pile of ironing. Stuff to do, people to see…

The world is full of stuff, isn’t it? There’s no getting away from what singer Tracy Chapman once referred to, tunefully but irritatingly, as Mountains O’ Thangs and which Zen Buddhists tend to refer to as ‘The Ten Thousand Things’:

“All things are one and have no life apart from it; the One is all things and is incomplete without the least of them. Yet the parts are parts within the whole, not merged in it; they are interfused with Reality while retaining the full identity of the part, and the One is no less One for the fact that it is a million-million parts.”

(Yes, I read D T Suzuki too; and no, I didn’t understand most of it either.)

This, owing to the aforementioned sinuous way my mind works, reminds me of a little motto my sister once recited to me over the phone: Your in-tray will never be empty, which was the singular most depressing piece of advice anyone ever gave me. The thought of an endless in-tray, endlessly refilled… O God! (O Montreal!) it’s like that bloke having to push the boulder up the mountain day after day and it rolling down again at night, or Penelope at her loom, weaving her husband’s burial shroud by day, unweaving it by night…

Canadians seem to be fond of little mottoes, or maybe it’s just my sister: mottoes, ice hockey, children and crafts. Innocent, homely, Little House on the Prairie type things. I rather wish I was there now: how much nicer to be collecting little mottoes and entranced by the manufacture of braided coasters and the knitting of dishcloths than a barrage of Brexit, Bombs and Burning Buildings. O God! O British Isles!

But this reminds me – homely things – I promised to share with you one or two of Mum’s recipes from the recipe book I rescued the other day. Here is the first one. I’m afraid I don’t know what the equivalent quantities are in other systems, but I have put the abbreviations in full in brackets, to assist:

MARMALADE BREAD PUDDING

Makes 16 slices

1 lb (pound) stale bread, with crusts removed

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

½ pint milk

8 oz (ounces) mixed dried fruit

4 oz dark brown sugar

3 oz soft magarine

2 level tsp (teaspoons) mixed spice

4 level tbsp (tablespoons) marmalade

1 level tbsp granulated sugar

7 x 11 x 1-inch tin, greased

Set oven to moderately hot, Gas Mark 5 or 375F/190C

Cut the bread into small pieces, place in a large bowl with the orange rind and juice and milk. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Mash with a fork and break up the pieces.

Add the dried fruit, brown sugar, margarine, mixed spice and marmalade to the soaked bread. Mix well together.

Turn into the tin, level out the surface and bake for 1 ¼ hours until firm. Leave in the tin to cool, turn out on to a wire rack and dredge (dredge? does that mean dust?) the top with sugar. Cut into 16 slices.

To freeze: Wrap in foil or polythene bags. Will keep well for 3 months.

Strange Pillows

Snatches of conversation from a very long day on an assortment of buses and trains:

After you, ladies! Six of you today. It’s my job to count you. I don’t count because I’m a gentleman, and because I’m the Counter.

There’ll probably be some more gentlemen along in a minute.

I only like ladies.

dinky9

It’s really quite warm on this bus. I’m beginning to feel Quite Hot. Good thing I wore my deodorant.

Thinks: So that’s what that smell is!

bus2

 

So I said to her, I’ll bring along some sunflower seeds but I don’t know whether they’re the sort that’ll grow or the sterilised sort for feeding to the birds.

Some of them grow too. I’ve got a little mountain of weeds under my bird table.

So I said to her, you’ll just have to plant them and see if anything comes up.

bus3

This metal thing is very low, for waiting on.

Yes, but better than nothing.

‘Spose so. Do you think it’s meant to be a bench or a piece of artwork?

Artwork – probably cost thousands.

A bench would have been more useful.

 

I pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel to shower off the dust

And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust 

I dreamed of 747s over geometric farms

Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

Joni Mitchell: Amelia

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…

Apparently, human beings are evolving towards a state of complete hairlessness. This is because being less rather than more hairy is considered attractive, particularly in women. Therefore, by a process of natural selection over many thousands of years, hair is  on the way out – faster in women than in men because quite a few women still rather like the hairy man and continue to select him for a mate.

Apparently, for reasons I have now forgotten, if I ever read that bit, our many, many times great grandchildren may have huge foreheads, great gobstopper eyes like those Manga characters, and teensy-tiny teeth. They are likely to be very tall, but physically rather weak. Etiolated – I seem to remember that word from biology. You put a plant in a dark cupboard and it grows and grows, looking for light, but not finding any light it blanches and weakens and droops. That’s what we’re doing as we sit in the flickering dark catching up on all those box sets. Etiolating.

But that’s in 100,000 years time, and by that time we’ll probably all have long since nuked or poisoned ourselves to extinction. Earth will be crawling with cockroaches and the sea a mass of blind white amoeba type things. Pseudopodium – another word I remember from school biology. It means “false foot” and is a temporary protrusion on the wall of an amoeboid cell for movement or feeding. Irrelevant, of course.

(Why am I suddenly writing about hair? Well, I found this vast list of one word subjects for poems – far better than the usual WordPress prompts – you know the sort of thing – Taxes – Beige – Ant – Cactus – Hat. I thought I would make use of them here from time to time, taking care to cross them off neatly once used, like my mother with her shopping list – Ryvita – Yoghurt – Comb – Comb again – Tinned Peaches – T/paste.)

You may have noticed the picture at the top of La Tour Abolie. I do believe it is of Rapunzel and may have been taken in some open air Grimm’s fairy tales museum. She was the girl who, imprisoned in a tower by a nasty bit of work by the name of Dame Gothel – a tower with no stairs only a very, very high window – learned to let down her long golden hair so that a Prince who happened to be passing could climb up. There are various versions of what happens next. Her skirt becomes mysteriously tight around the waist. She gives the game away to the witch, who cuts her hair and casts her out into the wilderness. Rapunzel’s hair grows back once the Prince touches it. She gives birth to twins. Dame Gothel herself gets trapped in the stairless tower. Who knows?

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy golden stair.

rapunz 2

And then there’s poor Sampson, Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves. Foolish man, he (eventually) confided in the prostitute Delilah that his fantastic strength resided in the seven braids of his hair, which were at once shaven off so that his strength left him, and his eyes were gouged out and he was sent to work at the prison mill, grinding grain with slaves. However, the shaven hair at once began to grow back, and…

sampon 4

A Cabinet of Curiosities

Until a year or two back I imagined an antiquarian to be either a blinkered eccentric of some sort – I think I had read an M R James ghost story in which an antiquarian featured – can’t say I’m keen on M R James, though he was himself an antiquarian – or some old pompous somebody who sold dusty and more or less unreadable books to people who weren’t interested in reading them anyway but just wanted to possess them. That was before I started reading John Aubrey: My Own Life by Ruth Scurr.

Basically, it’s the biography Aubrey never got round to writing. He spent a long-ish 17th century lifetime writing but his writings are all over the place – so much to record, so many new things to discover, so many distractions. What Ms Scurr did was to go through all his papers and extract all the autobiographical entries, rearranging them as nearly as possible in chronological order. She does not put words in his mouth, simply extracts a whole life from a lifetime of scattered notes.

John Aubrey was an English gentleman, comfortably off as a young man, desperately impoverished in later life when, his father having died, his inheritance was discovered to be ‘encumbered with debts’. He lived through all sorts of dangerous history, recording, amongst other things, the execution of the King. A kindly enthusiast, he was a man who made friends easily and kept them. He was naïve, imaginative and somewhat disorganised.

Things never seemed to turn out quite the way he expected. He suffered from recurrent bouts of ‘love-sickness’ which he describes in a matter of fact way, like a kind of indigestion – falling for young ladies who, on the whole, did not fall for him in return. Towards the end of his life he begins to feel the cold greatly. His eyes failing, he continues to record spells (To Cure the Thrush; To Cure the Tooth-ache; For the Jaundice), omens and dreams. He complains about the slowness of printers and fears he will not live to see his Monumenta Britannica in print.

He recorded everything, was interested in anything and everything. He travelled backwards and forwards from Wiltshire into Wales, to Oxford, over to France, and wherever he went he sketched what he saw. Every story he heard, he wrote down. He was elected to the Royal Society, and proposed to them his idea for moving blood between chickens, which was laughed at, causing his natural stammer to become worse from sheer embarrassment. But a short while later he was proposing to them a new idea – for a cart with legs instead of wheels.

He commissioned drawings of ancient ruins, so that they should not be lost to history. He collected things, including a turquoise ring, which fascinates him. He records where spots have appeared on the ring, and how they have moved. He corresponds with others about the ideas of fluidity in stones.

He loved Stonehenge, and realised it was far older than Roman times. He was even more deeply impressed by Avebury ring. He was anxious about the damage being done to these monuments – ancient stones being carried away to make house lintels, for instance, or ground up for medicine. The King asked him to make a sketch of Avebury and present it to him.

It seems that antiquarians have been around since ancient Greek and Roman times. They have been in China, in India – all over the world. Often mocked as narrow obsessives who recorded trivia in ridiculous detail for no obvious purpose – today’s equivalent would be nerds, train-spotters, anoraks – they have often turned out to be more accurate original sources than the ‘historians’ of the day. Their interests included customs, religious rituals, political institutions, genealogy, topography and landmarks, and etymology.

The reason they have proven unexpectedly useful is this – they believed in empirical evidence. They did not allow themselves to assume anything – ‘We speak from facts not theory’ (Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 18th Century antiquary). Neither did they presume to interpret what they recorded. They left interpretation to later generations but in the meantime saw themselves as saving what was left lying around after a shipwreck – the passage of time, history itself, being the shipwreck. They saved things – curious physical objects (often displayed in a ‘cabinet of curiosities’), stories, data, words, facts, rarities. They often collected books, borrowed books from each other, corresponded at length about passages in those books, or things they had discovered. They drew, they wrote, they thought, they shared information, they asked questions, they wondered.

In those days, gentlemen had the time to dream. They had a reverence and a fascination for the past. They were curious, longing to know anything they might know. They had opportunities to travel – slowly – and collect – indiscriminately – and were humble enough to ask the questions their contemporaries dismissed as foolish.

Time for Plan B, concluded

Early morning in Splott High Street, and Gethyn was taking Toto for his walk. What breed of dog Toto might be and why he was called Toto, Gethyn didn’t know. Old Tom had been muttering something about shiny red shoes and Kansas – or it might have been Texas – when that last ambulance came and scraped him up. Totes was kind of small and kind of white, and his left eye was missing. Gethyn didn’t like to think overmuch about that eye and how, or for what purpose, it might have been sacrificed. Toto began to pull on his improvised rope lead, and snuffle.

‘Yes, it’s your old place, Totes.’ Marks and Spencer’s doorway was where Old Tom would always sit, muffled up in charity clothes, old bedspreads and various bits of rag. They made a good team. Tom would spread a brown raincoat in front of him, and a greasy, upturned cap. Toto would curl up on the mac looking scruffy and sad, casting the occasional wistful one-eyed glance towards the cap and the four two-penny pieces it always contained at the beginning of the day. Toto’s task was to look as if he was really, really, really needed some food, which wasn’t difficult. Gethyn wasn’t the only one who had lost his job recently.

‘Well, doglet, our little bit of luck ran out.’

Yesterday was a bit of a blur, what with starting his job at the supermarket, failing a test he didn’t even know he was taking, then being dismissed from his job at the supermarket. The only bright side – Gethyn always tried to find the bright side – was the tin of Good Boy dog-food he had accidentally acquired. They had let him come home in his uniform – they had no choice, really, since he’d left his other clothes back at the boarding-house room the charity had found for him – which he was shortly to lose, he supposed. There was one very small window, a kitchenette the size of a cupboard behind a pull-across plastic curtain, and an extensive fungus-formation in the upper corner. Gethyn sometimes awoke in the middle of the night and imagined he could see a face in that fungus.

Human Resources had threatened to get the law on him if he didn’t return the itchy, too-tight uniform. They had even handed him a medium-size supermarket plastic bag to put it in. P45 to follow in the post, they said. End of the month. No mention of a pay packet for his single day of employment. When he got home he realised the tin he had confiscated from the bogus old lady, was still crammed into the pocket. Technically, he supposed, he had shoplifted the dog-food, or re-shoplifted it.

That was it, then. Second chances were hard to come by. You could only become a very, very lucky young man once: after that it was shop doorways for you. Perhaps he could claim the Marks and Spencer spot now Old Tom had gone. Might get it without a fight if he moved a bit quick, like, since there was only that woman in the hijab selling The Big Issue to compete with, and she wasn’t there all the time; moved around a lot, he’d heard; town to town on the railway. Maybe he and Toto could do that, except unlike Mrs Big Issue he didn’t have the fare. ‘We could be hobos, Totes.’ Except that it might be difficult to get onto a moving train with a one-eyed dog and he couldn’t remember which rail was the electrocuting one.

Marks’s was a good spot for begging. People had usually got a fair bit of money if they shopped in here. Money to squander, you might say. That generously overhanging façade kept off the rain and best of all in winter they had this hot-air feature which was meant to put customers in just the right sort of mood for wasting money. As they crossed the threshold a gust of cosy warmth enveloped them from above. Occasionally a little waft of it might also extend to a man and his dog in the doorway, if they’d positioned themselves just right.

They made a detour round the cobbled bit by the church, squeezed through a gap in the churchyard railings and sat on smallish tomb right at the edge to share the pre-packed sandwich lunch Gethyn had found in a bin outside Marks’s. Ham and pickle. Maybe someone bought it and then didn’t fancy it. Toto slurped some water from a puddle by the church wall. Gethyn had refilled his water bottle from the tap before leaving home. It was starting to rain again. When was it ever not, in Splott? ‘We’re poets who don’t know it, Totesie.’

Gethyn always sat on this same tomb. Street people had their favourite places – favourite parks, favourite benches, favourite doorways. It made them feel safe, or relatively. This one was special because it had got a dog on it; not one like Toto but a long, smooth dog with a smug and devious expression, some kind of hound. It had this really weird inscription, and on the stone you could just make out, long-faded and half-obscured by moss, an engraving of a broken gun – not like kaput broken, but like when they deliberately disengaged one half from the other for safety. Gethyn liked to make up stories about the people inside the tombs. He had decided that this man – Henry Marland Mistletoe – or Miftletoe, if you read it the way it looked – must have been a gamekeeper.

He got up and walked around the tomb. The grass at the edge was bumpy, and full of rabbit droppings. He thought he had read everything there was to read on it, but now he spotted something else, a single line engraved along the base of the stone at the back. It said

The Lord helpf thofe who help themfelves

Not so much a gamekeeper as a poacher, then. That might why they’d stuck him out at the edge here. Disreputable, but not exactly hated. Someone – the stonemason, perhaps – had had a sense of humour and been fond of Henry Mistletoe. Growing on the grave were some odd-looking blue flowers – some sort of weeds. Gethyn wondered why he had hadn’t noticed them before, and why they had only decided to grow on this particular grave.

The rain was coming down faster now. He picked Totes up and thrust him inside his jacket for warmth. ‘Let’s get ourselves off home, doglet. I’ve got an idea. A cunning plan, even.’

That evening, curled up on his single mattress with Totes as starlight streamed through the one small window and the giant fungus cast eerie patterns on the walls, Gethyn finished re-reading all the handouts in the beautiful bright blue file they had given him on the training course. He got up stiffly and made himself a cup of cocoa, came back to the mattress and thought for a bit. Toto was chasing rabbits in his dreams, paws twitching.

Then Gethyn took up the brand new black Bic pen they had given him on the Psychology of Theft course; also what was left of his beautiful pad of file-paper with the pale blue ruling and four holes that exactly matched the silver rings in the bright blue plastic file, and set to work, writing Modus Operandi across the top and underlining it. Everything he could possibly need to know, do and avoid doing had been here all the time. He and Toto were about to become the best shoplifters ever.