Wednesday 28 December 2011

Granny's Christmas part 3

Interior of Crayke Church

The third and final instalment of Granny's memoirs follows below.

Mother and Father went to church at 8.00 am and we children got up then and were dressed and ready for breakfast at a quarter to 9.00 am. There was church once again at 10.30 am and Christmas Dinner at a quarter to 1.00 pm. The dinner table always looked very gay. We had a brown basket with holly and a robin on it in the middle filled with fruit. There were silver dishes with almonds and raisins and crystallised fruits and sweets. At a party we went to we had each been given a little figure with a nodding head, a man with a wire pigtail, a fluffy dog and a black cat, a plaster puppy with a blue shoe in his mouth and a little fellow called “Billiken”. We liked to see whose figure would keep its head nodding the longest. I think “Billiken” usually won. The same kind friends had also given us a set of huntsmen complete with jumps and hounds and a fox. We used to take care that the fox was well hidden from the hounds. Father carved the turkey and Mother served the plum pudding which was always brought in alight with the brandy. Mother put the little silver charms in at the table. She liked to give Foss the sixpence, Mary often had the thimble and Brooke the bachelor’s button. Margie and I perhaps a 3d piece or a little donkey. Father usually had to go without. 
At 2.00 pm we had a carol service and then home for an early tea. Mrs M and E from the Hall always came to tea. We waited for Foss to ring the bells when everything was ready in the drawing room and then we all rushed in for the great event of the day. There was always a bright fire of logs, the standard lamp stood by the piano, the tree with its shining tinsel and coloured glass ornaments was lit up with its little candles and round the room stood the tables with our presents on them. First we had to sing a carol. We always sang, “Come to the manger in Bethlehem”, which was Mother’s favourite. One year, Father told me to be the page in “Good King Wenceslas” and he was the King. I managed to sing my part quite creditably because I knew it so well. Sometimes the choir boys came round singing carols and were invited in to see the tree. They were given an orange each and pennies. Father kept a bag of pennies to give to the carol singers. Some came on Christmas Eve and some very early on Christmas morning. “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and please will you give us a Christmas Box”, was a familiar cry on Christmas morning.
The celebrations do sound lovely, don't they? Wouldn't it have been nice to have been there?

Monday 26 December 2011

Granny's Christmas part 2

Granny looking very smart
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas Day.   Here is a little more from Granny about her Christmas celebrations.

Foss and Mary decorated the Christmas Tree and we little ones were not allowed into the drawing room till after tea on Christmas Day when we had our presents. We went to bed early on Christmas Eve with our empty stockings at the foot of the bed. We each had one of Father’s golf stockings which could hold a lot. We often woke during the night and felt at the bottom of the bed to know if our stockings were filled. Yes, there it was bulging with odd shaped parcels. It was too early too look at it yet so we got under the clothes again and went back to sleep. When Mother heard us talking in the morning she came in with a lamp and then the joyous excitement began. There was always a cracker at the top, an orange in the toe and an apple in the heel with nuts in between. We generally had a small book, perhaps a Beatrix Potter for the young ones, something for our dolls’ house, a fireplace, a little piano or a bird cage. Often we had a game or a pack of cards, crayons and always some sweets or chocolate. Our stocking presents kept us happy till the evening when we had our big presents.
Mother always chose our presents for us. The Aunts and Uncles must have sent money. We girls usually had something for our dolls, a high chair, a cot or a tea set. We were always surprised and delighted with our presents. Mother seemed to know just what would please us most and we never wanted anything that the others had. As a rule, we each had a book, Fairy Tales or an E. Nesbit, or a children’s classic like “The Water Babies”, “Peter Pan” or “Treasure Island” and usually, there was a box of chocolates for each of us. Then perhaps we had hoops or skipping ropes. The boys had trains and soldiers, tools and puzzles. Brooke generally had a wooden box of tangerines. We took our pile of gifts up to bed with us so that we could gloat over them again in the morning.

Some things don't seem to change that much.

Friday 23 December 2011

Granny's Memoirs - Christmas

Granny and Margie

Granny wrote a lovely description of a typical Christmas for her and the family, so, over the next few blog posts, I'll add her Christmas celebrations to my blog.

The few days before Christmas were a very exciting time for us. We children never sent cards or presents to friends and relations as children do now, but we were very busy decorating the house, fetching the Christmas tree and making chains of holly leaves for the church. We threaded the separate holly leaves on to a fine string which was threaded through a needle with a very big eye. It was painful work and damaging to the fingers but there was a great satisfaction in seeing the prickly snake grow and it looked very handsome twined round one of the pillars in church.
The morning of Christmas Eve was taken up with decorating the church, some of the children from the village used to come and help. We collected baskets of moss and trails of ivy, fetched cans of water, handed up scissors and wire and put little bunches of red flowers amongst the holly and blobs of cotton wool to look like snow. There were two big placards hung on the wall at Christmas and Easter. The Christmas one, “Christ is born” on a red ground and the Easter one, “Christ is risen” on a blue ground. We made a good deal of mess with the moss and the evergreens and tried to tidy up when all was finished, but the Church cleaner must still have spent a busy afternoon in the church. All the decorators came over to the Rectory for a cup of coffee and a mince pie. The children had cocoa and biscuits. We were always very tired and dirty and were glad to get clean and tidy for dinner.
I am sure that everyone is busy with all the things that need to be done and that in some ways, things haven't changed very much since Granny wrote this. However, the over-dependence on materialism that we seem to suffer from these days has left its mark on current Christmas preparations.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Christmas Baking (part two)

 I shall redeem myself a bit with this post as the baking really is Christmassy!  These are iced star biscuits, made for a vegan friend, and they are yumptious.  It is a very simple recipe where all the ingredients go into the bowl and are kneaded together (even the golden syrup), rolled out like squishy pastry and cut into whatever shapes you would like (or have the cutters for).  The recipe is reasonably economical too as you can get lots of biscuits (depending how big the cutter is) out one one batch.
The end result is crunchy on the edges and chewy-ish in the middle, with a flavour of ginger, so perfect for this time of year.  I added an icing outline on the top but how you decorate them is up to you.  When I worked in schools, this recipe was a great one for the children to make and the toppings they put on the biscuits were quite a sight to see. More was quite definitely more!  The only limit to decorating them is your imagination and possibly your budget.
Here is the recipe:
4 oz butter (or vegan margarine - this gives a much stickier end mixture)
4 oz light brown sugar
4 level tablespoons golden syrup
8oz plain flour (you will need more than this if using margarine - add at kneading and rolling out stages as necessary)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Gas 5, 190 degrees C, 375 degrees F

1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and knead.
2. Roll out mixture onto well floured surface and cut into shapes. (The thicker you have the dough, the chewier the biscuits will be)
3. Place on greased baking sheets/trays and bake for 10-15 mins max, or until golden brown.  They are really easy to overcook.
4. Take them off the tray while still hot - they will be very floppy but will harden as they cool.
5. Decorate if required when cold.
6.  Enjoy!

Monday 19 December 2011

Christmas baking (part one)

Having called this post 'Christmas baking', I know these little butterfly cakes don't look particularly Christmassy.  However, they were baked as a Christmas thank you for the Porters, Maintenance and Gardeners team at work, to let them know that what they do is appreciated.  I was going to give them a box of chocolates, but Chris suggested that they would like these cakes much more, so I undertook a baking session yesterday.  They are a simple sponge recipe and the icing is butter cream (in my book, it has to be butter - margarine just doesn't taste anywhere near as nice). 
They do look quite appetising but I didn't even taste one - usually I have to test everything I bake to ensure that they are up to standard, but I forgot.  No doubt Chris will let me know!

Saturday 17 December 2011

Christmas Holiday (and into 2012) reading and my thoughts on Kindles

Here is a lovely pile of books, just waiting for me to dive into them.  This is the plan over the next two weeks!  There's an interesting mixture of fiction (mainly Elizabeth von Arnim, but also including Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel) and non fiction, such as The Lady's Maid (servant to Lady Astor), A History of English Food (which looks fascinating) and Roy Strong's Visions of England (which will hopefully be a positive view of things to be proud of).  I am hoping that Chris is going to buy me a Kindle for Christmas, as there are lots of free classics which I haven't got, but are downloadable, and e-books which aren't available any other way.  My friend in the Netherlands has just epublished her second novel so I am looking forward to getting hold of that too.
I would just like to add that there is no way at all that the Kindle will usurp my precious real books.  I love the feeling of a real book and being able to dive into it and escape totally.  There is also the physical-ness of books (not sure that is actually a word, but I like it - it probably should be physicality) with the feeling of being able to turn proper pages and hold the book. These books are like old friends who it is a joy to meet again, no matter how long it is since you last saw them. Then there is the art, craft, children's books etc. issue - a Kindle would be absolutely useless for any of these, not to mention the large glossy books filled with good quality photos, and... you get the picture?  My Kindle will just be an additional tool to help me enjoy reading even more.  For that reason, I am really looking forward to receiving it.

Monday 12 December 2011

Jewellery design

This is my latest jewellery design, made as a commission for the friend of a friend.  I tried several different versions before arriving at this one.  It has an amethyst pendant and the necklace itself is made from fluorite, amethyst and labradorite.  The greens and purples of the fluorite complement the amethyst very well and I have used various sizes of stones to add some interest.  I also used a weave technique as the necklace was too heavy with the beads threaded on singly.  I think it is quite eye-catching and am going to make myself some fluorite jewellery next. ( Incidentally, I do like the way that the fluorite reacts to the light - I have only seen this effect in photos so far.)

Tuesday 6 December 2011

I was on TV (and a lovely cat picture)

Well, what a surprise!  I was watching a regional news programme last night, called 'Look North', as I usually do and they were showing a film about the Christmas Market and saying how it was one of the best years ever.  There were shots of the Cathedral, the Castle, some stalls and then the Carousel/Roundabout/Gallopers.  Who was there, on the horse, smiling away!  Now I think about it, I did spot a large camera but hadn't really taken much notice of it really.  What are the chances of it being focused on me at the very time I was there, on the roundabout? It was a 'blink and you miss it' appearance, but it was great fun!
On the way back from the market, we stopped at a gallery on Steep Hill  called Harding House, which is an artists' co-operative and always has a wide selection of art and craft work for sale.  We were looking at various prints when one in particular made us both say, "Scruffy!"

It is a print by Alison Read, who creates very quirky printed animals.  Scruffy really isn't that thin, but there is just something about the image that reminded us of him.  She doesn't appear to have her own website, but here are a couple of links to other galleries if you'd like to see more of her work.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Lincoln Christmas Market

 Chris and I have just got back having been to the Christmas Market here.  It is the last day today and we usually go on the last day as the crowds have eased and things are a little quieter.  However, not so today!  We were jostled, joggled and squashed.  I think this was because we went a little earlier than we normally do, so the crowds were still there.  Last year, the Market was cancelled due to being up to the knees in snow, so people have definitely made the most of this year's event.
 I was happy as I had a ride on the Gallopers which took me back to my childhood.  This was my very favourite fairground ride - and still is!  I sat on the middle one of these three horses.  It really made the visit for me.
The Cathedral looked lovely in the floodlights, despite the building and conservation work currently going on.
 The Bishop's Palace had a Medieval Market in the grounds, but there was a massive queue to get in, so we gave that a miss.  We enjoyed the changing lights projected on the building though.
Looking back towards the Cathedral...
 ...and over to the Castle.  Busy, busy, busy!  I bought a present for my friend in Canada and a little Scandinavian fretwork snowflake for our Christmas tree.
The best thing about getting home - a lovely milky hot chocolate (in a very appropriate mug!) with some chocolate finger biscuits.  Mmm!

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Latest reading - Vera

I have just finished Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim, which I really enjoyed.  It was the second book I have read by the author (the first was The Enchanted April) and it was almost the complete opposite.  Elizabeth von Arnim was the cousin of Katherine Mansfield, moved in similar literary circles as her cousin and was married unsatisfactorily twice, to a Count and then an Earl.  Her first marriage provided the inspiration for Elizabeth and her German Garden while the second was the inspiration for Vera.  I wonder whether Daphne du Maurier knew this book, because there are some similarities to this story in Rebecca.  However, this book concerns the relationship between a young and innocent twenty-two year old heroine who has just lost her father and the older man who befriends, looks after and then wants to control her.  The reader is drawn in very quietly but can see all the signs that Lucy misses.  In the introduction, it says that the author thought that this was her best book and it certainly kept me totally engrossed.

Monday 28 November 2011

A Bargain

Above is a lovely arrangement from my bargain book of the weekend - Vintage Flowers by Vic Brotherson. I thought that this book would be lovely and having read about it on amazon and on several blogs, I put it on my wish list. It was one of those, "One day, when I feel like treating myself..." things. I went into the town on Saturday (and spent an absolute fortune in the process) and saw the very same book in a cut price book shop for the bargain price of £5.99. Well, I couldn't just leave it there, could I? The book is all about colour and texture, and about using pots, jugs, vases and containers in an interesting way. I don't think I'm suddenly going to be able to create wonderful arrangements, but it is really inspiring to look at the lovely pictures (taken by Catherine Gratwicke). There are one or two storage ideas that I really like too, such as open shelves and a vast storage cabinet.
I would love one of the above cupboards - all the lovely craft things I could keep in there.  Of course, I would need, at the very least, a whole room devoted to my craft endeavours.  I'll just have to keep dreaming...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

300th Blog Post - 'Russian Roulette' Revels Cake

This is my 300th blog post (hooray!) so thank you very much to my loyal blog readers who help to keep me going.
To celebrate, this blog is all about cake.
 It was Chris' birthday last Sunday and it is an unspoken rule amongst his colleagues that the birthday person has to take a cake or cakes for them all to share and celebrate.  Some colleagues were away yesterday and today, so he has a cake to take in tomorrow.  It is a 'Russian Roulette' Revels cake.  I would just like to point out that eating it is not really dicing with death and there are no guns involved.  However, there are Revels all over the top as you can see.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this confectionery, let me explain.  Inside a layer of chocolate, there are hidden different fillings; orange, coconut, toffee, malteser, raisin, peanut, chocolate and worst of all, by far (in my opinion), coffee.  I would not want to have to eat a coffee one!  (In fact, there has recently been an advert for Revels which featured this very conundrum in an 'eat-off' competition and the loser was the one who got the coffee!)  So, all Chris' colleagues are going to have to face this problem, which should make it quite entertaining.
The cake is a really simple chocolate one, which stays really moist and is delicious.  I have made a squidgy chocolate fudge icing for the topping and then added the dreaded Revels.
So, would you take on the challenge of the 'Russian Roulette' Revels Cake?

Monday 21 November 2011

Apple crumble bars

I recently found a recipe for apple crumble bars which tempted me to make them. The apple is coated with a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, then placed over half the crumble mixture and topped with the other half.  The addition of the spices gives a very autumnal flavour to the bar.  My first attempt was, ahem, rather a disaster, due to me thinking that I knew best on the quantities and ending up with a very soggy cake-type creation (although it did taste nice).  I had only said to Chris a few days previously that baking is the one thing where you have to stick to the recipe, so I have no-one to blame but myself.  However, not to be discouraged, I decided to have another go, this time following the recipe exactly.    It has turned out with more crunch to it, but I still feel that it will go soggy.  Perhaps this is something that needs to be eaten quickly - never a problem in our house!

Monday 14 November 2011

"Soup of the evening, beautiful soup..."

 Autumn is the perfect time for a delicious soup - in this instance, tomato, pepper, carrot, onion, garlic and herbs.  This one was made by Chris and was one of the tastiest he's ever made.  Accompanied by crostini with garlic and herb soft cheese, it was the highlight of the day.
Perhaps not something I would usually post about, but occasionally, food does get a look in, when it can elbow gardening, reading, felt making or jewellery making out of the way.  The soup was the perfect meal to enjoy on a slightly grey, dull November day.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Tulip planting

I have finally got round to planting my tulip bulbs which have been waiting patiently for about one and a half months, sitting quietly in the cupboard.  I hope they will provide as much enjoyment as this year's tulips did.  I have bought 'Carnaval de Nice' again becuase I loved the striped petals,  ' Peach Blossom', a fluffy, frilly pink and a mixture called 'Triumph'.  I have planted them in containers, one type to each pot and have planted some cheerful violas in different colours on the top to give me something to look at while the tulips are growing.
I had a lovely time planting the tulips and thought what a positive activity gardening is, as there is always next year to look forward to.  No matter if your gardening year was awful, there is always the hope that next year will be so much better!

Friday 11 November 2011

More thoughts on Katherine Mansfield

Having nearly finished the book I borrowed from the Library, I have become a real fan of these short stories.  Most are incredibly bittersweet, many are poignant, only a few are happy.  I decided to find out more about the author and have discovered that she is regarded as one of the first Modernist writers.  Why had I not heard of her before?  I think this is because she wrote short stories - there was never a major novel that earned her fame or fortune.  Her short stories are superbly constructed and the characterisations are masterly.  I felt as though I knew these people, even though they only have a few pages in which to tell their story.  A couple of them were particularly moving; "Life of Ma Parker", which describes the life of a char lady, with all the disappointments and tragedy that life has thrown her way and "Miss Brill", who goes every Sunday in her fur collar to listen to the band and indulge in some people watching.  She happens to overhear a conversation and I really felt  her pain as she returns home with her life utterly destroyed.
Katherine Mansfield was only thirty five when she died of tuberculosis. I have bought her complete works so that I can read more of her fascinating stories and continue to find out more about her and her work.

Monday 7 November 2011

Bonfire Night 2011

Pictures of fireworks seem to be an annual part of my blog, due to the proximity of our house to the local football ground where the council-run 'extravaganza' (their description, not mine) takes place around this time each year. 
 This year, the show seemed to be shorter than ever, probably due to all the council cuts and the exorbitant cost of putting on a display.  However, I can't grumble because I got a free show.
Unfortunately, the art of taking photos of fireworks is one that eludes me somewhat - just after I pressed the button, there always seemed to be much more beautiful colours and shapes.  However, the photos above give some idea - my favourite is the second one.

Saturday 5 November 2011

More about Scruffy

Scruffy has decided that he likes sleeping on the stairs. There is nothing wrong with that when he has his head up so that you can see his white bib.
 However, if he has his head down, it is quite a different matter, especially if the light isn't on!  I can foresee a "Winnie the Witch" moment (see picture below from the book by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul with Wilbur on the stairs.  I love Korky Paul's fantastic illustrations - my favourite is where Winnie doesn't see Wilbur on the chair and sits on him.)

As neither Chris or myself want to end up in the hospital nursing broken bones, we have come to the conclusion that when he is on the stairs, we must switch the light on.
In such a short space of time, it is amazing that one small cat has managed to cause us so much trouble! (But we still love him!)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Latest Reading - Katherine Mansfield

(My original photo for this post was deemed to be 'boring' by Chris, so I have put a different one in, which I hope is a little more interesting.)
Above is a photo of my latest reading, 'The Garden Party and other stories' by Katherine Mansfield.  This  copy is from the library at college and hasn't been taken out since 1995.  However, while browsing through the blogs that I follow, I was intrigued by this book.  It is, as the title suggests, a collection of short stories and was first published in 1922.  Having read the first five stories, I can say that they are very well written, with excellent characterisations but are somewhat unsatisfactory as I have been left wondering "what happened next?" with each one.  There is a great attention to detail and description and some of the vernacular language the author uses really conjures up an image of the speaker.  Below is my favourite example of this so far from The Daughters of the Late Colonel:
"When I was with Lady Tukes," said Nurse Andrews, "she had such a dainty little contrayvance for the buttah.  It was a silvah Cupid balanced on the - bordah of a glass dish, holding a tayny fork.  And when you wanted some buttah you simply pressed his foot and he bent down and speared you a piece.  It was quite a gayme."
Josephine could hardly bear that.  But "I think those things are very extravagant" was all she said.
"But whey?" asked Nurse Andrews, beaming through her eyeglasses.  "No one, surely, would take more buttah than one wanted - would one?"

Katherine Mansfield

The stories are a little dated, but they do give a real feeling of the time they were written and I am enjoying becoming acquainted with each of the characters.
Photo of Katherine Mansfield from

Sunday 30 October 2011

An uneasy truce

 Scruffy has very quickly inveigled himself into our family - finding all the best places to sleep, being first to be fed, demanding to be played with, and trying to be friends with Ginny and Gonga.

 Gonga tolerates him but isn't above swiping him with a paw if he gets too close.

Occasionally, it seems as though they quite like being together.

Monday 24 October 2011

Things I like about Autumn

 A few things I like about Autumn...  The last flowers making the most of precious sunny days (aster novae-angliae, Hydrangea Endless Summer Pink and Clematis Rebecca), giving me colour in the garden.
 A beautiful blue Autumn sky with wispy white clouds.

The right time of year to read Persuasion, accompanied by a cup of tea and a bar of my current favourite chocolate (Lindt Extra Creamy is my top all-time favourite, but Galaxy Bubbles comes a close second).  I indulged myself last week and watched the dramatisation of Persuasion with Amanda Root as Anne Elliot - a perfect treat for this time of year.

Sunday 23 October 2011

More jewellery

I have finally started to use some of my 'stash' of gemstones and have been enjoying being creative.  Above is a set of amazonite jewellery, using different cuts of stone and a bit of silver.  I have been looking for some blouses/tops to match the colour and have found several, but none of them was quite right - too tight, too baggy - you know how it is!  Anyway, I can always wear white until I find the style and type that actually fits. 
I love the different shades in the amazonite, from a milky green/white to a deep almost turquoise blue/green, to teal.  There are lots of other colours in the stones too, from reds and browns through to black and grey.  It never ceases to amaze me how all these colours come from one particular stone.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Latest jewellery for me

The set above is a present for myself and is something I have been meaning to make ever since I bought the gemstones in the summer.  I used kyanite, fluorite, jade, two silver beads and an agate circle and I am very happy with the set.  I love the blues and greens in the pieces.  The bracelet is made using a weave technique and I made the pendant for the necklace separately and used a wrap loop to secure it to the main body.  Now I just have to wear them!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Latest jewellery creations

Here is one of my latest creations - made for Rachael, my work colleague.  She is kindly being a guinea pig for me by trying out the jewellery to see whether I have finally managed to sort my jump ring issue.  (The jump rings kept working open, despite my best efforts, so I bought some split rings (like key rings) in the hope they would prove to be more secure.)  We shall see.  The above necklace and bracelet are made from fancy agate, kyanite and Patikan wood flower beads.  Rachael asked me to use those particular blues and chocolate browns so that the jewellery would complement an outfit she has.  It took me a couple of tries to get the design right, but I am happy with the end result.

Monday 17 October 2011

Our latest inhabitant

Let me introduce our latest guest who decided to make his presence known last week (a really busy week due to us having a new boiler fitted with all the mess and disruption these things cause).  We know that he had been coming in at night, finishing off Ginny and Gonga's food and sleeping on the table and that this had been going on for quite some time.  However, he had always run away from us.  Last week, he ventured up to the back step and then came in for some food.  Since then, he has been in most of the time!

He has a skin problem and suffers from constant itching, so is licking his fur a lot and consequently has not all that much fur on the lower half of his body.  We took him to the vet and were told it was probably a reaction to fleas (nice) and he was given a jab to hopefully counteract the itching.  Even the vet was impressed with him, saying he was a 'nice little cat', about two years old, he had obviously belonged to someone as he had been neutered, and that we have been judged by the cat as 'coming up to the mark' for providing food, warmth, affection and general care. We have called him Scruffy, because he is, and it seems to suit him.  The vet said that cats must talk amongst themselves when they are outside, word has got around about our house and that this is why we seem to keep attracting them!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Autumnal Image (and result of the Bishop Competition)

This image really epitomises the feeling of autumn to me.  My colleague Rachael and I were just going for a well deserved cuppa (well, black coffee in her case and hot chocolate in mine) after setting up Bishop Bob's display, when I was stopped in my tracks by this beautiful cobweb covered in raindrops, hanging over a cotoneaster bush (I think).  Luckily, I had my camera with me, and here is the result.

(Unfortunately, Bishop Bob didn't win the Bishop competition, but he has become our office mascot, so has a life after the competition.  The winning entry was Bishop Desmond Tutu.  Apparently, ours would have won the award for "Pure Artistry", had there been such an award!)