Monthly Archives: June 2013

Bloggers are Brilliant!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the party, brought gorgeous food and lovely gifts and were such fun to be with.  There’s less food left over than you might think, we scoffed a lot of it for supper last night and it’s surprising, the inroads 31* people can make into a 20lb ham.

A few of you had not met, so I promised to put up links to all the bloggers who came.  So here’s the guest list, starting with those who’d travelled furthest –



Mig and Barney

PixieMum and Ian

Blue Witch (or, if that link doesn’t work, try this one) and Mr BW

Mike and Ann

Indigo Roth

Sir Bruin and Liz, the Small Bear


Rog and Mrs Rine, with Lily and Holly

Roses and Lawrence

as well as most of the family, ie

our daughter, Weeza, her husband Phil and their children, Zerlina, nearly 5 and Augustus, nearly 2

our elder son Al, his wife Dilly and their children, Squiffany, 8, Pugsley, 6 3/4 and Hadrian, 2.

We acquired two more guests, in fact, another Mike and Ann, who happened to call in and were promptly given drinks and invited to stay for lunch. Luckily, the children didn’t mind sharing seats and cutlery and I didn’t have to scout around for more.

However, this is an old house and the walls are pretty elastic, so those of you who could not make it this year will be most welcome next time.

Di, Zig, Mig and Barney stayed for a couple of nights and therefore did a great deal of the work and many thanks to them, especially at the last when they remembered when to take things out of the oven on time, and afterwards when sterling duty was done at the kitchen sink.  The dishwasher was put into service six times yesterday, but there was still a lot of hand washing-up.

There were many highlights of the day and watching (and listening to) you all getting on so well was the most rewarding part.  I must especially mention Indigo, who only visited my blog for the first time a couple of weeks ago (I’d been lurking a bit longer on his) but came a long way to meet us, and Jane, who isn’t even a blogger but was willing to make friends with lots of them!  Di came all the way from Australia, via Wiltshire where she’s staying with Zig.  All the others were here last year (except Holly, a feisty little lass who explained to Ben that she may be smaller than him but she’s in charge).

The personal highlight for me – and, I suspect Weeza, who watched gleefully, was my first ever ride on a motorbike.  I was highly gratified to be able to squeeze into Liz’s jacket and relieved that I was able to swing my leg very high indeed (I’m only little) to climb on board.  It was great.  Sir B was very gentle with me and slowed right down for the bends, and I took great care to lean as far as he did and no further.  Here is the proof –

Not that you can exactly see it’s me, but I assure you it is.  And you can see that the wall is still standing and that the flower bed is doing nicely.

There are more photos to surface in the next few days, I’m sure, not that I took any but I spotted several cameras.  Here’s an example, of me opening a bottle that had defeated both Russell and Zig –

Yup.  As I explained, I’ve never met a bottle I couldn’t open.  What is quite odd is that the kitchen is way on the huh but I’m pretty well upright.  No, I can’t explain that at all.

The most memorable event for those who stayed on was the sight of Blue Witch having to remove her trousers, which were soaked in wee.  Not that she took them off in front of us, of course.  It would have been good if, being already wet, she’d kept the tortoise on her lap and not let it widdle on my carpet, but she did bear the brunt of it.  Those who witnessed the event (I was just out of the room and just heard the cry of “Don’t drop the tortoise!” [she didn’t]) said that they had no idea a tortoise of that size contained that much liquid, estimated at half a mugful.

Ben isn’t particularly well behaved, admittedly, though I thought he acquitted himself pretty well under the exciting circumstances, but it’ll be the last time a tortoise is invited to my house.  Unless it’s a blogging tortoise, of course.

*After my faux pas yesterday, I felt I had to count the vegetarians, but of course they didn’t eat the ham.  So it was 29.

Z didn’t make a list, so this will do instead

Jobs to do this morning…

Write name labels

Do food

Look helplessly at the fridge, wondering how to keep food cold and also fit in drinks

Iron dress. Or possibly reconsider what I’m going to wear

Panic and decide to fetch table from the church after all, in case I’ve miscounted guests

I think that’s about it, really. See you later, darlings.

Love from


Sent from my iPhone

Z paints the letter red

The first guests will arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I’m afraid they will probably be allowed to help.  Including children, I think we’ll number 28 on Saturday and I’m still pondering whether to trot down to the church and fetch another table or whether we will all cuddle up, and I haven’t totted up chairs yet.  It’ll be fine… and I’m so looking forward to seeing you all.

A committee meeting at school today, where we had described how one now evaluates whether a pupil is likely to receive the exam results expected from the Key Stage 2 SATS.  It’s quite complicated.  It’s deemed that a child should make at least three stages of progress by the time of GCSEs and a good school should beat the national average, whereas an outstanding school should beat the national average at doing better than expected (so, if the pupil seems capable of it, they are encouraged to aim for four levels of progress).  It’s all data driven and I can follow it and, given time, could even explain it, but I couldn’t enter all the data into the system.  It does take a very good school to look beyond the statistics and think of the pupils as people.  Ofsted is governed by statistics first and foremost, for the time being.

A new development this year is dialogic marking (which has a hard G, though it doesn’t look as if it has).  Once a pupil writes an essay, he or she writes an evaluation of it, the teacher marks it and replies to the comments and the pupil can write back.  It’s proving very interesting and helpful and really engages the children.  Some examples were passed round and it was rather sweet that they all wrote ‘thank you’ after the teacher’s comments.  Of course, it isn’t possible to do that with every piece of work, it would take far too long, but once in a while is very rewarding.

I’ve become a director of another company.  Isn’t that absurd?  It’s a subsidiary company of the academy, so it’s just another extension of being a governor.   I never expected this sort of thing twenty-five years ago, though, when I first took on the job.  It seems that this is a year of significant anniversaries of one sort and another, but I have little regard for them.  Just another day, as far as I can see.  A party is another matter entirely.  That really is a red letter day.

By the way, Janerowena, you don’t know how to get here yet, do you?  I haven’t any contact details for you, so do send an email.


It was my mother who taught me to cook, though I can’t remember it.  I was always involved, even if it was just making salad dressing.  It was normal for me and Wink to help with preparations for a meal and to use the correct terms – not that I know now.  If you told me to cut the vegetables into Julienne strips or into allumettes – they’re very similar, the latter is matchsticks but I can’t remember the difference, assuming there is one.  However, I still know that Creçy refers to carrots, Lyonnaise to onions, Dubarry to cauliflower and so on.  And I still know my mother’s recipe for lemon syllabub (from an old English cookbook), although I adapt it to be less sweet and more alcoholic, because tastes have changed over half a century (though there is no more delicious end to a meal, and I think I’ll make it for Saturday for old time’s sake).

When there was a dinner party, the main effort was certainly towards the main course.  The starter might be oeufs en cocotte – baked eggs, that is, in little dishes.  You put something savoury in the bottom of the ramekin, then broke the egg on top and baked it.  When the white was set but the yolk still runny, you took it out of the oven (possibly, it had been baked in a bain marie) and added cream, which heated through by the time it was brought to the table.  You seasoned the cream, you may even have baked it.  I can’t remember.  I do know that the yolk must be runny, though.  The starter might be prawn cocktail or avocado vinaigrette – we were the first people in Oulton Broad to serve avocados, back in the early ’60s, my parents were ahead of the game then, being frequent visitors to London, which few of their friends were.  A more time-consuming dish was pâté, made from scratch – you had to mince the liver twice, for goodness’ sake, mix it with various things including juniper berries, put it in a terrine lined with bacon and bake it, again in a bain marie and then press it so that it would firm up enough to slice.  Simpler starters might be smoked salmon or caviare, or potted shrimps or eggs mayonnaise – the mayo was always home-made in those days of course, Hellman’s hadn’t been heard of.

If pâté was the starter then fish might be the main course.  Living next to Lowestoft, the fish was always superb.  Prime fish, such as sole, turbot or salmon (not farmed), cooked simply but perfectly to show off its quality.  Or there might be a casserole or grilled meat – my mother was a really good cook and the ingredients were top quality.  I can’t remember the specifics of food served to the family or to guests.  Before I was about 14, I’d not have eaten with the guests as I’d have been considered too young.  However, even as a child, wine was always on the table, both at lunch and dinner, and I was allowed to drink it from an early age.  No concessions to my youth of course, and it was too dry for my young taste, so I rarely touched more than a few sips.

I do remember once, when I was too young to stay up, eyeing the cheeseboard and asking if I might eat some.  “Help yourself!” said my mother, unwisely as it turned out, as I sliced into a piece of cheese, leaving little but the rind behind.  “But you said I could help myself!” I protested, when she wailed – and she didn’t say another word.

Puddings were her weakest spot because she wasn’t interested in them and nor was my father.  We had trifle twice a year, on his birthday in July and sometime around Christmas.  Otherwise, he rarely touched them.  I’ve mentioned lemon syllabub, and we might have fruit from the garden with ice cream.  She often took a bought icecream and piped whipped cream over it.  If the icecream was coffee, a Flake bar was crumbled over it, but if it was raspberry ripple or strawberry, it would be served with fresh fruit.  Her heart wasn’t in it.

Bemusingly, nor was the preparation of the cream, and that was my job.  I was given a pint of cream, a bowl and a fork.  Yes, darlings, a fork.  No, I’ve no idea.  She had a Kenwood mixer as well as a hand-held rotating whisk.  But I had to spend at least an hour whisking the bloody cream with a damn fork.  I didn’t know there was another way, how could I?  And she only died ten years ago, yet I never asked her.  But she’d have taken it as criticism, so probably better not.  All the same, I’m sure we used the electric mixer for the syllabub, so … well, it was a long time ago.

The butter was Rose of Torridge.  I don’t think it’s still available.  It was Cornish (I think, I’m a bit hazy on geography) butter, very prettily shaped in a double scroll, and we sliced it thinly to show off the swirls.  We never used margarine, but used Anchor butter from New Zealand for cooking.  We had Channel Island (gold top) milk for drinking and ordinary silver top for cooking – skimmed was unheard of.  The top of the milk was poured off and kept for coffee.

As so often, the more I write the more I remember, so this might keep on running for a bit.

Family cooking

My sister and I can’t remember a time when we didn’t cook.  My mother did most of the cooking, though my father was a brilliant cook too.  He liked to do complicated dishes and would spend hours reading cookery books and choosing what to make.  Nothing was too much trouble when he was in the mood for it. I don’t remember, I was too young, but we used to have a few small silk napkins with Chinese lettering embroidered in red in one corner.  When my parents ran a hotel in Weymouth, there was one occasion when they decided to put on a Chinese meal (this was back in the 1950s, quite an unusual thing to do).  I suppose the cooks did much of the work under the watchful eye of my parents, but my mother had recently bought an electric sewing machine with all the gizmos – it was his choice, she’d have preferred something simpler – and he looked up the Chinese equivalent of ‘bon appetit’ (I don’t know where, but he knew everything), worked out how to use the machine and made 100 napkins.

On one occasion, we’d been to London for the day, leaving him at home and he spent the day cooking. I don’t remember the first two courses, to be honest, but the pudding has lingered in my memory for well over forty years.  He peeled and cored pears, made puff pastry, encased the pears in the pastry and baked them.  The cavity of the pears was stuffed with jam – redcurrant jelly, I think – and the pastry was cut in strips and carefully wrapped around, like a bandage.  It must have been incredibly fiddly on slippery, peeled pears but it was absolutely delicious.

He was the marmalade maker in the family.  My mother avoided bread, on the whole – way before the Atkins diet, her method of keeping her weight in check was to avoid starch (as carbohydrates were known in those days) and sugar. And since she didn’t eat marmalade, she didn’t see much point in making it.  But it was the sort of occasional great deal of effort that he thoroughly enjoyed.  He made loads and, once he’d run out of jam jars, used glasses and attractive dishes.  To add to the visual appeal, he’d thinly slice some of the oranges and put a slice or two in each jar, and add glacé cherries and whole blanched and peeled almonds for the last few minutes of cooking.

He was also the one who made fish and chips, once in a while.  Again, it wasn’t something my mother would have bothered with, she wasn’t big on potatoes (starchy, again, too fattening).  I never set foot in a chippy until I was 16 years old, after my father died.  If we wanted chips, we started by digging up the potatoes.  They were peeled, washed to remove the excess starch, cooked twice.

You can see, perhaps, why I believe I’m lazy.  Possibly I’m not, but it’s all comparative.

You’d think that my mother would have welcomed his cooking, but she had her reservations.  He left the clearing up to her and was a messy cook.  She used to say that he wasn’t happy if there was a single utensil or pan left unused.  And he wouldn’t have enjoyed the obligation of everyday cooking, a meal that he prepared was always an event.

I think this post is going to be at least a three-parter.  But I may be distracted for the rest of the week and have to come back to it.

The Young Persons’ Day

We had a picnic at Dunwich – slight misunderstanding in that half of us headed for the heath and the others for the village, so phoned and agreed to eat separately and meet at Snape.  Between getting out of the car and arriving at the concert hall, I managed to lose our tickets, so had to go to the box office and get them reprinted.  Since that’s the second time I’ve turned up ticketless, I was glad it was a different person on duty today.

The hall was full of families, most of the children being quite small.  Squiffany, at eight, was one of the older ones.  As the orchestra tuned up, I said to Weeza that I’d rarely felt quite so middle class, with all these keen parents and grandparents wanting to introduce their tots to the orchestra.  However, I was way out.  The conductor gave a warm welcome and introduction and they played their first, unscheduled, piece which was a short extract from the Prince of the Pagodas (a Britten ballet, which I have to admit I don’t know at all).  And then he said that the children in the front dozen or so rows couldn’t see all the instruments and were at a disadvantage, and invited them onto the stage – all the tickets were the same price, it was down to speed of ordering.  Squiffany and Pugsley hung back, but Zerlina wanted to go and made her mother take her, whereupon Gus wanted to follow and I had to trail along too.  Once on the stage, she went and sat down on the floor among the first violins (small children were dotted all over the place) but he stood, looking a bit uncertain and I hovered too by the wall, in case I had to fetch him.

The piece started with Tallis’s theme (sorry, I should have said, it was Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) and I thought Gus was going to be all right, and then suddenly he wailed.  I grabbed him and swept him away, as the conductor wryly, but with complete good humour, observed that we obviously had a critic who knew how the piece should be played.  A burst of laughter from the audience, and I took a seat that had been vacated by a child on the stage for the performance, which was a delight.  Zerlina was interested but composed throughout, but when the castanets were played she became animated, waving her hands in imitation of the action.  And looking at all these small children, perfectly behaved in the midst of the Hallé Orchestra, all engaged in the music and enjoying their moment in the spotlight of musical culture, that was the most middle class, in the nicest possible way, that I could imagine.

Later, since the weather was iffy, we went for a drink at the pub down the road, taking over their dining room for an hour or so while we chatted, and then went our separate ways.  And Dilly thinks she and the children will be able to come to the party for a while after all, as the other event they’re going to isn’t  until the evening.  So that’s excellent.

One more thing – Mike and Ann spotted this shrub in their local churchyard and need help in identifying it.  Can anyone tell us what it is?

Midsummer fire

Back to the blog party – still not sure of final numbers as it seems less likely that Al & co can come and Eddie Two-Sox and his son Sam don’t know yet.  Otherwise, we’ve got …

Mig and Barney

PixieMum and Ian

Blue Witch and Mr BW

Mike and Ann

Sir Bruin and Liz

Rog and Mrs Rine

Roses and Lawrence


Weeza, Phil, Zerlina and Augustus

Russell & Zoë …
which will make 23 at least.  I’ll cater for 30, which means I’ll probably have enough food for at least 40.  Ro is deeply distressed to be missing the occasion, partly because he enjoys meeting you so much and also because he always goes away with enough leftover food to feed him and Dora for days.  And since I’m planning to cook a whole ham, amongst other things of course, there will be plenty of leftovers.

Taking Blue Witch’s advice, I’ve decided on cold food after all.  So if the weather suddenly turns freezing again (I arrived home to find a fire burning in the grate – “I was chilly, so why not?”) I might spend Saturday morning making soup to warm us up.  On the other hand, it may be marvellous weather.  I’ve lost my nerve and am not checking the long-range forecast yet.  Anyway, Dilly is kindly coming to lend a hand with the last-minute things on Saturday morning while Squiffany is at gymnastics, so everything will be supremely organised and I’ll have nothing to do once you’re here.  In theory.  

My mother was a great party giver and often decorated the house too – she had a great sense of occasion and nothing was too much trouble.  I can’t hope to match that, mainly because I have a much greater sense of self-preservation than she ever did.  She’d work until she dropped rather than compromise.  When I get tired, I consider the jobs still on the list and see what won’t be missed if it isn’t done.  In fact, I put a few down that I know in advance can be left out.  
It always amazes me, how much food was put on the table in those days.  I’m afraid I’ve written about this before, so if you’ve known me for at least six years or if you’ve had the dedication to read this blog from the start (Janerowena, I salute you again) then you’ll know I’m repeating myself, but breakfast alone was enough to make a main meal nowadays.  I serve kedgeree for supper, but in those days it was a breakfast dish, and the same goes for kippers, which were always served in pairs.  Sausages were sometimes served later in the day, but were generally breakfast food, and of course eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread (fried bread!  Who eats fried bread now?  Haven’t seen it for years, except as croûtons), fried potatoes and so on were all standards in various combinations.  My mother had tall egg cups which were double-ended, the bottom end much larger than the top, so you could put your second egg to keep warm in the base.  Or you could have boiled duck egg, I suppose, to fit, but we never did.  It was believed, probably with good reason, that duck egg should always be thoroughly cooked or there would be a risk of food poisoning, because they were laid near water that might not be clean.  And in the week between Christmas and the New Year, we had cold ham carved off the bone or fried ham and eggs. 
A lot of people ate much more than we did, mind you.  We never started with cereal, though there was toast on the table.  I can’t remember whether my parents drank tea or coffee for breakfast, funnily enough – maybe it was whichever they felt like, I seem to have no strong feelings either way.  Tea was always drunk black in any case and was Earl Grey.  

Jane’s kitchen

I’ve told you about the house where I grew up, but I don’t think I said anything about the kitchen.  When we first moved there, the kitchen was a smallish room just inside the back door, but that was a makeshift affair, and I can’t say I remember much about its set-up.  In 1960 or 1961, my parents forewent a holiday to install the kitchen they really wanted in the bigger room next door.

The layout was very practical.  My mother stood mixing an imaginary cake, stirring imaginary pots, washing-up make-believe pans.  The intention was to be as ergonomically efficient as possible, yet allowing for more than one person to work, and to reckon on a lot of cooking taking place.

So, the cooking arrangements.  There was an eye-level oven, because that was far more back-friendly than crouching down to the cooker.  It incorporated a grill of course, but that was never used because it wasn’t very convenient (awkward to look at, couldn’t use grill and oven together, it wasn’t hot enough) and another eye-level grill was put under the air extractor.  She never reckoned that four hot plates were enough, so eight were put in a purpose-built alcove, along with the grill, and an extractor fan was installed too.

Opposite them, she had a peninsula unit fitted (this was unheard-of then, she was way ahead of the times) with a sink and a work surface and cupboards underneath.  The sink included a waste disposal unit, which we used a lot and loved but I’m not sure why.  Surely a small bucket under the sink where the peelings could have been chucked to go on the compost heap would have worked just as well, and all our teaspoons wouldn’t have ended up mangled because they’d fallen down unnoticed.  It was awfully dangerous actually, there was a rubber cover but nothing to stop you putting your hand down while it was running.  None of us ever did, obv.  Anyway, into the work surface was incorporated the motor of a liquidiser – it had a cover to protect it from water, but was really convenient, you just got the liquidiser and twisted it on, nothing to plug in.  There was a socket next to it, into which you could plug the Kenwood mixer.  The peninsula and the housing of the cooker opposite was made of brick, another innovation.  No-one had ever imagined such a thing in our neck of the woods, fifty years ago.

The cupboards held pots and pans, baking tins and so on, but there was another room next door for glass and china, so cooking and eating utensils were separate.  There were two dressers in the room, a dark oak Welsh dresser which held various china cooking dishes, and the white dresser, which was a piece of built-in (at the time the house was built in 1913, I daresay) furniture which held food – packets and tins and so on, and in the drawers were herbs and spices.  In its centre was a hatchway through to the dining room.

It must have been very expensive, the oven was imported and everything was very modern, though housed in a traditional style (she was ahead of the trend there too) and all the latest gadgets were included, including a timer for the oven.  Sad to say, the first time it was used it was a disaster.  The thermostat didn’t kick in, the oven overheated and we came home to a ruined oven and a kitchen filled with smoke.  The company had to pay for the kitchen to be cleaned and redecorated, down to the carpet.

Lino wasn’t good enough for my mother, of course,  There was a pink fitted carpet except in front of the hob, where there were quarry tiles, and the room was wallpapered.  If you’ve been here, you’ll know that the only rooms in the house with wallpaper are the kitchen, bathroom and cloakroom – the least impractical ones, you’d think.  Pfft.  I like it that way, as she did.  Though she did have wallpaper in other rooms too in those days.

This wasn’t what I set out to tell you about, I’m just setting the scene.  I’ll save the rest for another day.

Music lesson

Really enjoyable music lesson this afternoon.  The class has several lively boys in it, who aren’t that easy to keep in hand – it’s all right when they’re under the teacher’s eye, but when they go off into small groups to do practical work, their focus can wander.  Now, I like rascals and get on pretty well with young lads  – they’re no pushover, but they’re young enough to rather appreciate being helped, maybe even slightly mothered – no way for a teacher to teach, but I’m not one.  I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago with one boy who said, with an air of slight surprise, that he’d really enjoyed the lesson and if you work hard you get a lot out of it.  And today again, I spent some time coaching him and he did really well.  His partner (they were working in pairs) took a bit more effort, but he mastered the work too.  Then I went on to a couple of girls, then another boy, took a few minutes to listen to and praise yet another boy, who can never resist acting to an audience but had been put on his own and did very well – it was nothing spectacular, but the lesson went well, they were praised by the teacher and I felt I’d helped.  I’m always patient and good humoured, very ready to praise but extremely persistent and insist on it being done right.

I’ve been thinking about domesticity, particularly in view of Blue Witch’s comments.  I agree that both parties in a marriage should be able to cook – and housekeep, pay bills and so on – but I’m not sure that it’s the wife’s fault if she doesn’t teach her husband – it may be that he simply doesn’t want to learn.  One tends to have a general division of labour and, even if they start doing things together it’s likely that, as time goes by, the one with greater aptitude takes over.  Although I know a number of young women who aren’t good at cooking and say in explanation that, because their mother was a good cook, they never learnt.  This seems odd to me.  It was because my parents were good cooks that they wanted to teach me, and I think this was general at the time.  It was absolutely normal for me and my sister to be given jobs in preparation for meals, even if it was just podding peas.

When my children were young, I did most of the day-to-day housework, but once every few weeks I decided the whole house needed a good clean and made a list.  This was produced on a Saturday morning and everyone was expected to devote two hours to cleaning.  Each person chose a job, did it, ticked it off and picked another one until time was up.

Ro always chose to clean the bathroom and loos, even as a small boy.  In later years I asked him about that and he said that no one else ever did and he thought it would be fair to me, who normally did the job.  Al always took on the kitchen and spent the entire two hours scrubbing it meticulously.  Their father normally cleared up the mess he’d made, which took quite a while, but was also good at polishing wood floors.  Weeza did general cleaning, sitting room, bedrooms and so on, and I did what no one else chose.

Then the cooking – my children have always been good cooks.  One summer – I’m sure I’ve blogged this before, sorry – I decreed that, for the school holidays, we’d have a five-day rota and each of us take it in turn to cook.  Ro was only about five at the time but he took his turn, with a bit of help (though scrambled egg on toast was well within his capabilities and perfectly acceptable, with vegetables or a salad) and it was a really pleasant change for me, even though I did the shopping and helped out where required and it wasn’t much less work.  Ro now does most of the cooking at home, by the way.  Everyone else did very well – the older two were in their early teens so well able to manage and the Sage probably chose to barbecue steaks and sausages, which went down well.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be babysitting Gus and we’ll meet up with Dilly and Hay.  We’re hoping for fine weather, but will go to Norwich Castle if it’s wet.