LOOK FORWARD TO FEBRUARY

 

 

Recently, a friend said to me how much he hated February. People often admit to this and I have never really understood why, so, without further ado, I would like to go on here to officially declare that I REALLY QUITE LIKE FEBRUARY.

After the big build-up and broo-ha-ha over Christmas and New Year, January is the month I hate the most.  Long and bleak, with far too many weeks until pay day, there is nothing to commend it, in my view.

First, we have the lingering embarrassment of the office Christmas party shenanigans to try to blot out (your colleagues will keep reminding you, though. Like, forever. You’ll have to resign).

Then there are the shops: full of dreary leftover festive tat.  Your more – er – “careful” friends will be crowing over their reduced-price bargains, to be stowed away until December rolls round again.  It never fails to irritate you.

Oh yes, and on January 1st, the shelves will be instantly filled with crème eggs and Valentine cards because, let’s face it, with such a long and dreary month to face head-on and somehow plough through, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

The garden centres are places of barren despair.  You can’t do much in the garden in any case: the lawn is more mud than grass, the borders are looking very sorry for themselves and it’s far too dank and cold to spend any useful time out there, so you press your nose against the window pane and dream of perennials to come…

So why not just embrace February? You know it makes sense. It’s the shortest month of the year, the evenings are starting to get noticeably lighter, the shops are perking up again, ditto the garden centres and you’re one month closer to Spring. Come on, what’s not to love?

If you need any further encouragement, guess which month contains the most depressing day of the year (it’s official)? That’s right: January.  I rest my case.

 

 

BOOKS

 

What are YOU reading at the moment?

 

I was in a charity shop the other day, which had a notice on the door: Please do not donate any more books. Our shelves are full! There’s a turn-up for the – er – books. Time was, I can recall them begging for them. Incidentally, I have noticed that, in any charity shop, fete, fair or jumble sale, it is the books section that is the most popular – usually with men, for some reason.

I envy the choice of books children have these days. They have so many more than we did.  An ex-boyfriend of mine, being of artistic bent, used to collect children’s books for their exquisite illustrations. (Sadly for me, he took them all when he left.)  There are now even bookshops entirely devoted to just children’s books.  Heaven!  You would never have got me out of there when I was that age. As it was, I loved my weekly visits to our local library and would use not only my ticket but my mother’s and sister’s as well (they didn’t mind).

“You can never have too many books,” I used to say, airily, to people who commented on the huge amount I had.  I firmly believed this, until the day came to move house and I was cursing them all as I spent hour after hour after hour packing them up into box after box after box…

However, having been an avid reader all my life, I do find it odd to go into some people’s homes and not see a single book anywhere. It makes me uneasy. I think you can tell an awful lot about someone from what they read, though God knows what people make of me when they see the wildly eclectic mix of titles on my shelves. Books make a home; stop it from looking too sterile. They are a decoration in their own right – some people even arrange theirs in colour groups to tone in with their décor. A bit OTT, perhaps, but at least they have some to arrange (I do hope they READ them as well)!

I have started to notice that adverts for homes for sale and photos of homes in the glossy magazines often have no books anywhere. This disturbs me. I search for them in vain.  No cookery books in the kitchen. Nothing on the coffee table in the living room, or even on the bedside table. What do they DO without books in their life?!  I just can’t imagine it.  (Perhaps they are all like someone I once knew, who couldn’t understand why I kept my favourite books to re-read again.  I asked her if she played her favourite records over and over again.  Same thing, in my book; no pun intended.)

Pictures of retirement flats, in particular, always depress me. They are usually very small (it’s a well-known trade “secret” that furniture is built especially scaled-down to fit show homes, to give the impression of more space than there actually is), with little or no outside space and no sign of the aforementioned books, nor even any favourite knick-knacks or photographs, etc. Bland and sterile and devoid of any warmth. I mean, there’s downsizing and getting rid of clutter and too many possessions (see my last blog for more about this) and then there’s going to the other extreme entirely.

Homes seem to be built so small now, the need for extra storage has never been greater. I have read about people paying out for container space for the things they can’t fit into their minute homes, and visiting their precious possessions each week. That’s sad.

I once looked at a flat in a new conversion block. The reception desk to register your interest was in the small room you walked straight into off the street.  I politely asked where the living room was.” You’re standing in it,” was the helpful response. I didn’t bother looking round the rest of it.

Anyway.  Taking a breather from dipping in and out of my current pile of books (I always have more than one book on the go; doesn’t everyone?!), I’m off out to those charity shops I mentioned earlier. When I left home for good, many years ago now, I rashly gave away most of my childhood books and have started to buy them back when I can.  I don’t think those predominantly male customers are going to be interested in Peter Pan or Mary Poppins or Worzel Gummidge… are they?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STUFF

What are the things you would find really hard to let go of in your home?  Read on to discover mine…

 

In a previous blog, I quoted a woman who, on moving house and downsizing, exclaimed in exasperation to a friend:  “Are we all too possessed by our possessions?” This chimes with something I have been thinking about for a while now.

Isn’t it funny.  We spend at least half our lives building up our belongings, only to then reach a peak at a certain age and start dwindling them back down again.  Or perhaps that’s just me…

My OH, when I once raised the subject of moving house, said in panic: “But we have too much STUFF!”  As though that would stop us from ever doing anything.  “We’ll just have to get rid of it then,” I replied airily.  Ha!  I think we’re going to need help.

Fear not; help is out there aplenty. Decluttering is huge business. Visit any bookshop and you will see all manner of titles purporting to help you downsize your possessions. Yes, yes, we know: Work through a room at a time, and do it in bite-size stages, so it doesn’t overwhelm us. Enlist the help of a kind but firm friend, who won’t let you dither about: “I’m just tidying it all up and putting everything back for now.” “Oh, no, you’re not!” Sort things into three piles: Chuck, keep, charity shop.

What did we DO before charity shops came along?  Even our local dump is running a small shop now, and it’s full of quite decent-looking stuff which people were chucking out.  Some nearly new. That’s affluent Surrey for you. But, seriously, it’s a great idea and I hope it catches on everywhere.

Back in our grandparents’ day, and beyond, there were no dumps.  People buried their unwanted stuff in the garden, or they burned it. Hence why we’re always finding bits of broken china when we dig over our flowerbeds and, one time, a real treasure, as in the pic below: a stone foot-warmer, made around about the time our house was built.

Of course, in those days, we have to remember that most people didn’t own a fraction of the amount of stuff we all have now (I’m not talking about the very wealthy classes here). Things were made to last and people saw no reason to chop and change their décor on a whim, as we are encouraged to do now (though I did used to know a lady who had summer and winter curtains).

My mother still has the oak 1950s sideboard she and my father bought when they were first married.  And the G-Plan furniture they bought later on in the 70s. Now fetching a small fortune at mid-century modern fairs. People have latched on to this style in a major way and the industry is booming. I have the Terence Conran 1960s coffee table (complete with label) my sister and I used to leap over when we were dancing to Top Of The Pops (“Shaft” was climbing the charts at one point and proved to be particularly suitable for this, as I recall). I bet the hipsters and fashionistas would love my trendy table. But no, I’m not selling!

It’s not the potential worth of an item for me: it’s the meaning behind it. I am a terrible sentimental hoarder. I can’t bear to throw away the chipped yellow china custard boat and floral-patterned gravy boat (also chipped) which belonged to my grandmother, and which always made an appearance when we had one of her stupendous Sunday roasts, followed by an equally hefty pud or three.

Talking of being sentimental: when it came to clearing out his parents’ house, my OH took a load of china, glass, etc to the local charity shop.  He immediately regretted it, went in there the next day and bought the whole lot back.

You can see why we might be in trouble when it comes to downsizing!  However, all is not lost: recently, I have become obsessed with taking weight out of our house. I’m not sure why, or even what exactly started me off. It just seems to make sense to me. Perhaps I have reached that peak I mentioned earlier and am now starting to declutter my possessions – give or take the odd sentimental object, of course.  (One area I find very hard to declutter, however, is books – my next blog is all about my lifelong love for them.)  Whatever, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to be able to carry heavy bagsful of rubbish and sundry unwanted items to the outside bins, or the charity shop, or dump.

But look, it’s a lovely day out there.  Far too nice to be cooped up indoors, going through cupboards, so, if you’ll just excuse me, I’m going to take some more weight out of the house:  Me.  I’m off to the shops. Just browsing, honest! I promise I won’t buy anything…

 

stone bottle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE

 

In a previous blog, I wrote about my small collection of vintage cookery books and about how much I love to find handwritten recipe books at fairs. However, that’s where I draw the line in personal memorabilia.  I feel very differently about strangers’ scrapbooks, photo albums and the like.  My other half, who loves to buy photo albums and loose pictures of total strangers himself, says they are a social history. I say they are a very personal history and I don’t want people who have no connection to me looking through mine in years to come, so I have left instructions for everything personal to be burned when I am gone.

On TV programmes such as Cash In The Attic and the like, people seem prepared to get shot of family albums for what amounts to the cost of an average weekly supermarket shop – and then what? It’s gone forever! We yelled at the telly on one occasion, when the woman getting rid of one small family album said, rather feebly, ”Well, no one in the family wants it.” Not NOW, maybe but you just wait a few years’ hence, when someone wants to do the family tree and displays a natural curiosity to wonder where their curly hair, long limbs and big ears come from.  The album wasn’t huge; it would have taken up a bit of space on a bookshelf somewhere, or a box in the loft, or under the bed, or on top of the wardrobe.  Anywhere, really, other than in someone else’s home! As it is, she got an underwhelming hundred pounds for it, before auction costs were deducted.  I repeat: probably the cost of an average weekly supermarket shop.  Gone forever. Give me strength!

All that said, I made an exception at a vintage fair a while ago, when I spotted two identical albums crammed full of personal memorabilia.  So personal, it hurt me to leave them behind.  So I bought them, carted them home and stuck them on a bookshelf, always meaning to do something about them.  Now, thanks to social media, I am going to try to find someone who can identify them at the very least; if not actually claim true ownership.

I imagine they were part of a general house clearance, though it’s sad to think there might have been nobody around to do a final check on everything.  I hope that wasn’t the case. I hope there is someone out there to whom these deeply personal books are going to have a special meaning and connection.

The compiler is Mrs Gwen Brown, married to Douglas, with a daughter, Tessa and living at 34, Castle Road, Hythe, Kent. The books were compiled in the Sixties and Seventies and are crammed full of greetings cards received from friends, snippets about the weather, local dignitaries, cricket, India, horseracing, royalty and local news and dos, especially weddings. There are receipts for meals out and other special occasions, invitations, letters from friends and much, much more. An actress, Jane Merrow, is featured quite a bit, so whether she was a neighbour, family friend or relative, I have no idea but it might be a clue.

Mrs Brown appears to have had quite a wry sense of humour. There are some characterful line drawings of people and she clearly enjoyed cutting out headlines from newspapers to make up her own captions to letters, photographs, etc – sometimes a little bit cheeky. How could she ever have guessed that her own very personal record of her life and times would one day end up in a fair in a completely different county? Just heaped on a trestle table, along with countless other paraphernalia? For all I know, there were more scrapbooks at one time (though I could only see the two at this particular fair), as it seems to me that she had fun compiling these and, I’m certain, wouldn’t have stopped there.

It wasn’t all about fun things, though.  Her brother, John, dies and it appears that, one minute her daughter, Tessa, is getting married – and the next not.

She comes across as a kind and thoughtful person.  A lot of the letters are thank-yous for gifts received and good deeds done.  It’s a pity there are no pictures of herself or her husband and daughter amongst the pages.

There’s a wonderful phrase from a friend who is writing about her forthcoming move: “Are we all too possessed by our possessions?” I shall most likely be coming back to that subject in a future blog, as one who is laden down with things and is far too sentimentally attached to them, so I have some empathy for the poor lady, as she tries valiantly to shift a lifetime’s belongings in order to downsize.  (When I recently broached the subject of moving at some point in the near future to my OH, his first panicked utterance was: “But we have too much STUFF!”)

I have included a selection of photographs here and I’m hoping that someone, somewhere, can identify at least some of them.  Wouldn’t it be great to get these books back to their rightful owner(s)?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY YEAR OF NOT WORKING (AKA RATHER A LOT OF LUNCHES).

 

 

 

 

A year ago today, I left my much-loved magazine job of 29 years, in tears and in a state of numbness and shock. Although I know nobody is indispensable, I truly thought they were going to have to carry me out feet first.  Or, at least, allow me another few years there.  But major technology changes which were set in motion a few years before resulted in a massive restructuring of the company and huge amounts of job losses (almost a quarter of the entire company) in pretty much one fell swoop.  All in readiness for selling it on. My whole dept went, so it wasn’t a question of not being good at my job (just ask my ex-boss and my old team of regular writers), which is some small consolation, I suppose.  The real reason, of course, was to save money.  Isn’t it always?!

I didn’t even go to my own leaving do – by all accounts, a mere shadow of how these things used to be. I was also very angry and upset in the days before we left; afraid to open my mouth for fear of what would come out.  I talk about it and others in more detail in a previous post on my blog, so I won’t repeat it all here. Look under “L” for “Leaving dos” under my A-Z of magazine life.

People have likened it to a bereavement grieving period, but when will it end?  I think I’m feeling better about things, then choke up and start to cry in the middle of a conversation with someone.  I try to hide it. I know there are others with far more serious problems and worries.  I can’t always hide it, though.  A friend told me the other day he can feel the unhappiness coming off me in waves and he doesn’t know what to say to me.

In many ways, the magazine was like a family to us all and the combination of work I enjoyed doing and lovely, caring and supportive colleagues got me through any number of devastating life experiences while I was there. I miss magazine life: my colleagues, our banter, the laughs we used to have (though admittedly they were becoming few and far between in the last few years there), the insider and industry gossip, not to mention all the free books that landed on my desk every day.  A huge perk of the job for an avid reader and lifelong book lover such as myself.  I even looked forward to going into work on a Monday!  How many people can say that?  Although we worked hard to constant deadlines and challenges and were never complacent about our jobs, we were cushioned and cocooned to a certain extent and the reality of “out there” has been an unwelcome eye-opener for me.

My ex-boss told me the other day that she misses it all as well – and she was there a lot longer than me and can remember the really, really good old days, when our magazine (and other weeklies) consistently hit the million-plus mark in sales every week and the champagne was cracked open to celebrate.  She said she could walk back into the office tomorrow, sit down, switch on her computer and get straight back into the work as though she had never been away. I feel exactly the same.  Between us, we had 66 years of experience! No wonder we could pick it all up again right now. Not doing anything is a waste of our talents and expertise and it’s frustrating and upsetting to see how sloppy magazines and books are looking these days – full of errors on just about every page.  We all know why: fewer staff to treble-check every word. It’s bad enough with magazines but with books it’s far worse, as they are around forever.

I saw a friend three months after it had happened and he told me that was no time at all in which to try to get over it.  When he was made redundant, also from a job he loved, it had taken him three years before he could move on to something else. I don’t have his sort of money, though, so that just isn’t an option for me. But it is something that is on my mind every single day and it has given me many sleepless nights.  Which is quite ironic, really.  In the last few years of when I was working and it had all become so much more stressful, I had to have sleeping tablets from my doctor because I was having trouble getting more than just a few hours’ sleep every night (she told me to leave my job and I told her I couldn’t, ha ha). I had two alarms clocks on the go.  Now, I have those same tablets to help me sleep because I’m NOT working. I am still waking up at two or three am, mind racing back and forth, and having mild panic attacks (more on these later).

I am getting to dread seeing people I haven’t seen for a while.  They seem so surprised I haven’t found anything yet. I find myself repeating the same phrases over and over: “No, there’s nothing out there for me atm. Yes, I am on Linkedin.  Yes, I go online to look. No, nothing suitable at all.  No, I don’t know what I want to do next. I loved my job. I want to keep the skills I worked so hard to get and maintain. It’s happening all over the publishing world. There are fewer and fewer jobs out there. Freelance, you say?  But freelance what, exactly?!  What I did was very specialised. I think I’ve had my career.  I will probably have to do more than one thing to make the same amount of money. No, I’m not sending my CV out into the ether. I know what happens to those. Besides which, they have to be tailored to each job.  Please don’t ask me again. I can see the irritation and boredom in your face. Now, shall we change the subject?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have become slightly obsessive about people having jobs. By which I mean, when someone was complaining on Facebook about the forthcoming renovations on Buck House, and that the Queen herself should put her hand in her pocket, not the taxpayer, I chipped in with: “Yes, I know but just think of the JOBS all that work will be creating!”  Again, when my partner was recently questioning the point of Love Island and shaking his head over its rather incredible popularity, I could only say: “Yes, I agree with you but think of the JOBS that one programme must generate, never mind all the others!”

For myself, I try hard not to feel a complete failure but I know the waters are closing over my head.  I feel I’m too young to retire, can’t afford to anyway, yet probably too old to start a new career.  I feel inhibited, stuck, paralysed. Unable to move on and think about what I want to do next.  I’ve been told to focus on what I do want to do, rather than what I don’t but, truth is, I just don’t know what that is!

THE GOOD

I have caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in ages and even made a few new ones.  I am lunching.  A lot.  I joke about it.  A lot.  I’m becoming quite the expert at it and have discovered many lovely new places to try.  I’m happy to travel again, now I don’t have to,  and have been going up to town on the train most weeks.  It’s bliss, not travelling in the rush hour.  I can be a tourist and visit all those places I always said I would have to take time off work to do properly.  However, I am not best pleased with myself for managing to get lost so many times.  I have lived up here for most of my life, for goodness’ sake!  I have also discovered some lovely pockets of proper old London and am pleased to see there are still plenty of those left. What the developers have done to our beautiful riverside is nothing short of criminal, though, in my view.

Finding unexpected allies and new friends within the group of writers I used to receive stories from has been a huge bonus. Driving to my house from many miles away to see me and go out for lunch (of course!), or meeting up in town, ditto.  Sending me their books and stories to look at because I said I was missing them so much. Sending kind and supportive emails. It’s been a revelation and I am hugely grateful to all of them. You know who you are!

Catching up with my reading pile, which I always joked would only happen when I retired. To fill the void of not getting all the latest releases into the office every week (I know, we were definitely spoiled), I found myself buying loads of new books and ordering lots from the internet, at first, so that every week there were exciting parcels dropping through my letterbox. I’ve slowed down a bit now, though, to enable me to catch up. I still love fiction, of course, but I find that I am more drawn to reading non-fiction books at the moment: memoirs, biographies, collected essays, that type of thing. I have discovered a secondhand bookshop in central London where they sell a lovely mix of old and brand-new, just-published books at really low prices.  Also, there are shelves of advanced proof copy books there. These would come into the office on a regular basis and I feel a little pang of remembrance each time I search through them.

One of my writer friends has been a brilliant support, encouraging me to join the monthly group for freelance writers she co-runs in central London, and bullying me into giving a talk there last year. On top of that, this year, she asked me to speak on a panel at the literary festival she runs in the town where she lives.  After the panel session, we all had one-to-ones with writers discussing their stories and I really enjoyed doing this. Being a festival virgin, I was nervous as hell at first but would love to do it again – if anybody is listening!

I have to admit that I had always shied away from giving talks, speaking at workshops, etc, and was thankfuI I didn’t have to do any of it as part of my job.  My boss ran our workshops and gave talks to writing groups and the like and I was very happy to let her get on with it, much preferring to stay well within my comfort zone and the relative safety of my desk.

Now, however, I have been well and truly pushed out of that zone in so many interesting ways and would be very happy to do more along these lines. And by the way, if anybody wants an experienced judge for story-writing competitions, you know who to ask!

When working, I was always too busy or too tired (all those horribly early starts and sleepless nights) and too laden down with books and manuscripts to even contemplate attending book launches and talks and the like at the end of a long, long day. Ironically, since being out of work, I have been to several of these, from casual, relaxed pub lunches to very smart evening dos in swanky private clubs.

I have also critiqued a few writers’ stories for them for free, to keep my hand in. It felt great to be doing that again and to feel useful.  It has been suggested I do this officially and start charging for it but, knowing how little the writers earn from their short stories, what would I charge them to make it worth my while? Just one story can take a good few hours to do properly. I’m not going to make a decent living out of it, I know.

I have offered to help a friend with his first book (for free, again).  A bit daunting but all good practise – I hope!

I have written a few blogs for a writers’ website, which I really enjoyed doing and, finally, started blogging myself.  I love writing and the first thing I did with my redundancy money was buy a computer set-up at home, which instantly made me feel so much better. I was and am connected to the world again!

THE BAD

The obvious one – no money coming in.  For the first time in almost 40 years of working full-time, money isn’t automatically landing in my bank account every month and it’s very, very scary. More sleepless nights!

The lack of identity. I call myself a journalist and I suppose I can add writer and blogger to that as well. But I feel a bit of a fraud for doing so as I don’t feel I’ve properly earned it yet.  I was so proud of what I did and of the industry I worked in for nearly 40 years. I had a role. Now, I’m at home a lot more than I was, obviously, but that doesn’t make me a housewife. So who and what am I?

THE UGLY

Those days when I don’t have anything in particular to do or anyone to see.  I have no plan or purpose. My confidence is at rock bottom and I have to force myself to leave the house or go mad. It’s called cabin fever and, as cabins go, it’s not that bad, but I don’t want to spend all my time in it. Some friends of mine don’t understand why I have to go out every day but we’re all different. Besides, they are both retired and have each other’s company.  My partner is still working (thank goodness!) but this means I am on my own all day and often all evening as well and there’s only so much I can stand of my own company.  I refuse to go down the road of watching daytime TV, which others do to pass the time. That would be the beginning of the end for me but, as I say, each to their own.

On her retirement, a friend’s mother told her, “Get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to go up the road for a newspaper and a pint of milk.  Talk to people.  Find a friendly cafe for a coffee or sandwich.  Just. Get. Out.” Wise words I have tried to adhere to but some days it’s a lot easier to do than others.

I have learned to plan my days far ahead, so that I have something to look forward to.  I am lucky to have good friends to see and do nice things with and I am grateful for their company and am enjoying catching up with so many of them. Ten, or even five years ago it would have been a different story but we are all getting older and several of my friends have now fully retired and others, like me, have left one job and are searching for another, with plenty of spare time in between.  I have now devised a Plan B list, as well, for those days when I have no choice but to do things on my own and not be such a wimp about it. It all helps and it stops me from panicking so much.

However, I have always been prone to mild panic attacks and seem to be getting more of these now, often building up to near-hysteria over the slightest, smallest thing – though usually in the privacy of my own home.  Ask any of my friends and I think they would describe me as a bubbly, loud, lively person, who likes to chat, dance, sing, play, muck about, have a good laugh and make others laugh with me.  People have always said I’m good company.  This is just a blip. Normal service will be resumed very soon and, in the meantime, please do feel free to contact me if you fancy meeting up for lunch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOKING THE BOOKS – CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

Own up now: Who remembers the JY prog on the radio?  Jimmy Young programme? If I said to you: ”What’s the recipe today, Jim?” in a funny, chipmunk-type voice, would you join in, humour me, or cart me off to the funny farm?  The voice belonged to “Raymondo” JY’s sidekick and the daily recipe slot was incredibly popular. I pounced on the four books, which date from the late sixties to the early seventies, when I saw them at a local book fair a few years ago.

The books include such recipes as: Special TV Supper – a thrilling novelty back then; not so unusual now, of course.  In fact, it would possibly be more Special if everyone sat up at the table for a change.  Special Dining Table Supper doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it, though?  Jean’s Stuffed Tomatoes sounds worth a try.  Though if all does not go to plan, they will forever after be referred to (darkly) as Jean’s Get-Stuffed Tomatoes. There’s Dora’s Pudding.  And Sandra’s Chicken Pie. Not to be outdone, Audrey’s sneaked in with her fancy pate. Clare and Mo’s Onion Special sounds – er – very sociable, I’m sure. Hang on, budge up, ladies.  Here’s Lorraine with her intriguingly-titled Tuna Lorraine.  Bless them all.

Here are some others that caught my eye:

Friday Surprise was – you guessed it – fish. Not much of a surprise, then.

Sausage a la Mode was perhaps on the menu at a key-swapping party? (I once knew someone who claimed she and her husband hadn’t twigged what was going on, picked up their own keys and went home.  So she says.)

Bank Holiday Pie.  May contain wood shavings, blobs of glue and the occasional widget, left over from Dad’s abortive attempt to conquer some DIY over the long weekend. Mum is already lining up a team of local tradespeople to put right the mayhem he has managed to create in just three short days.

I misread Children’s Pie as Children Pie and my mind boggled briefly.  But don’t worry; no children were harmed in the making of this recipe. Instead, you could choose between ham or spam as one of the main ingredients.  Ah, spam! I loved it then and still do.

Grimsby Flan and Kipper Cakes jostled alongside Cheese d’Artois and Chicken a la Bon Jim (creep) at a time when we were starting to dip our toes into the crystal waters of the Med for our annual holidays and nervously experimenting in the kitchen, too.  The working classes, at any rate.  Posh people had most likely been doing it for years. You can keep the brandied blue dip, though. That’s a step too far for me.

Working Mums’ Shepherd’s Pie involves chucking tins of veg and steak into a serving dish with potatoes, crossing your fingers and hoping nobody will be able to tell the difference (bet they all did, though).

Emergency Party Flan is a bit of a misnomer. Are they referring to the party or the flan as being an emergency?  Imagine the scenario: The Brown family, all collapsed on the sofa after a hard day at work and school, energies low, nothing on the telly except a layer of dust. Whatever will get them out of their mutual torpor?  Of course!  An emergency party! Quick, ring the neighbours! Get everyone over! Yes, NOW. Turn the telly off, whack Simon and Garfunkel on the stereo, dim the lights, stick a cheese and onion flan in the oven and dig out that bottle of Asti Spumante from the back of the larder.

Economical Christmas Pudding sounds a bit deflating and cheerless and missing the point somewhat.

I don’t much like the sound of Half-Pay Pudding, either but what with all those strikes, I’m not too surprised.

Swedish Soufflé, on the other hand, sounds just the thing for perking Dad up. That, and Pan’s People on TOTP… Oh and look out, there’s a new soufflé on the block: Swiss Soufflé! Ooh la la. I smell trouble.  Time for a Savoury Sizzler, perhaps?

Frozen Crunch Flan must have been a wow with those more dentally challenged.  “Christ, Moira!  I told you not to do this one again! There goes another molar.”

Tahiti Tarts. I’m saying nothing, but I’ve had my suspicions about that man from number 47.  He moved in three months ago and hasn’t opened his curtains since.

Giggle Cake. The sender doesn’t explain why it’s called this, so we will all just have to guess. You go first.

End-Of-Week Supper.  Another cheerless-sounding effort.  I’m guessing it means concocting something from what’s left in the fridge on a Friday.  Funny how the entire family always seems to be out…

Chutney In The Raw. Ooh!  Those seventies housewives!  Hubby gets home, hot and tired after a long day flicking paperclips at his colleagues and finding excuses to get his mini-skirted secretary to fetch things from the topmost shelves in his office, only to discover wifey has gone all Continental (again) and is sitting at the dining table scoffing cheese and pickle sandwiches in the nuddy.  He wonders if he can feign a headache as, sighing heavily, he puts his briefcase down, loosens his tie and cufflinks and prepares to join her…

Quick Apricot Dumplings, Quick Apple Pudding and Quick Bread Pudding.  What’s the big rush, people?! Watch out for the Quick Liver And Bacon Lunch and the Hasty Pudding, though, or you’ll be on the Rennies all afternoon.

On the other hand, there’s Quick Spicy Pudding. Quick AND spicy!  They know just what we want, those saucy housewives of Great Britain.

As for that Canadian Tart From Scotland –  we’ve all heard of her, haven’t we?  No better than she should be (sniff). No man is safe when she hits town. It’s the accent, you see.  Drives them wild. They can’t resist something a bit more exotic. Well, that and the hot pants. They’ll be trying the Steak And Tomato Quickie next. It could lead to a right old Autumn Scramble. But it’s all Apple Pie In The Sky to me, love.

Mind you, the Scots Dumpling and Spanish Tart between them could give the other one a run for her money. I told you – the accents drive them wild.

She’s got him in a right old Savoury Whirl and he’s in for a Meat Roll if he’s very lucky and there’s an “R” in the month…

Everlasting Caramel Pudding – just what we want, though give it six months and we’ll all be heartily sick of it.

Emma’s Lunch For One: a sad mélange comprising one medium potato, I small carrot, I small leek and one egg. Forget it. The hamster can have all that. As if eating alone doesn’t make you depressed enough!

Duncan’s Date Loaf.  Perhaps he should get together with Emma and put her out of her misery.

Bakeless Biscuits sound like my kind of thing.  Why wait for them to be cooked when you can scoff them immediately?!

Quickie Date and Walnut Cake. (Ideal for working mums to make, apparently. They’ll be thrilled.) “Look, Mum, it says here it’s ideal for you to make, so get your coat off and get on with it.”

Yum Yum Cake – aren’t they all?

Bachelor’s Buttons. And how to undo them.  Quickly, of course…

Wonder Bites. It’s a wonder you’ll have any teeth left, perhaps?

Chilean Apple Cake.  Now that’s just showing off.

Botter Moppin.  A Dutch recipe, apparently. It sounds like a term of endearment, or possibly mild insult, to me: “You’re behaving like a right botter moppin, you are!”

Friday Special.  Mum’s out and it’s Dad’s turn to cook.  Fish and chips it is, then.  Hide the wrappers and there’s extra pocket money in it if you don’t let on.

Winter Quickies. You don’t even have to take all your clothes off.  “BISCUITS, you say?! Ah.”

Never Fail Gingerbread. Oh, the pressure!!

Thursday Mince. ”MUUM!!  It’s Wednesday today!!”

Nurse, the screens! She’s been on the Nutty Biscuits again.

Glad’s Special. Of course she is.  We all are!

Matrimonial Cake.  Tread verrrry carefully with this one.

Chocolate Doo-Dads: don’t go there.

Canadian Chocolate Wacki Cake: don’t go there, either. Or maybe we’ll go together. Well, if you can’t beat them…

Lightning Cake – even speedier than Quickie cake? Wow. Bring it on! The clock starts NOW.

Vicarage Cake. Sounds a bit prim. More tea, Vicar?

Paradise Cake, though: isn’t that what it’s all about, Vicar? Discuss.

Economical Family Fruit Cake.  Just omit the fruit, eggs, flour, butter and sugar.  Don’t bother.  Have a nice dry cracker instead.  On the other hand, there’s always Toss-In Fruit Cake, for celebrating with when Dad, after way too many years, umpteen attempts and near-bankruptcy finally wins the Spot The Ball competition.

Pauline’s Party Cheesecake.  The party definitely always starts when Pauline brings out her cheesecake. She should get together with the Brown family and their Emergency Party Flan. It’ll be a blast!

Brain Biscuits – er, no thank you, I think I’ll pass. After all that lot, I’m on a diet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOKING THE BOOKS – CHAPTER THREE

 

 

I am a complete sucker for notebooks of handwritten recipes, usually to be found at vintage fairs. There’s something very comforting, yet very poignant, about them. In one I have, there’s a page headed: Bottling fruit.  Underneath, on just one line, it reads: Gooseberries 4lbs, 6 jars.  Clearly, it proved to be too much for the poor soul. She must have wept into her pinny when she realised she had only the four jars.

Mock Banana has lines scored through the recipe.  I’m not surprised.  The mock banana turns out to be parsnips!  I’ll pass on that one, thanks all the same.

Cough Mixture even gets a look-in in this little notebook. Handy, for when you are choking on those pesky parsnips.

Chocolate Fingers has, in brackets after the title: To try. How brave of her.

Friends are acknowledged throughout.  We have Glennie to thank for the Christmas cake recipe and Cissie for her chutney. A slightly waspish note at the end from the writer reads: Be sure to stir often, especially towards the end, as it burns easily.  Oh, Cissie!  You didn’t tell her that bit, did you? I bet your ears were burning, too.

Cornish Pasties.  No, no, NO!!!! You’ve missed out the swede!!  No self-respecting pasty can call itself Cornish without swede!! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. That’s you well and truly drummed out of Cornwall, you great ignorant grockle, you. They’ll never allow you back in.

There are two recipes for Fish Pie, one with Television in brackets after. Well, if it’s on the telly it must be all right, right?

Here we have no less than four very similar recipes for Lemon Cheese, all supplied by different people.  Now that is brave!

Imagine the scenario:  Friend number one comes round for tea. Lemon Cheese is on the menu.

Friend eyes contents of jar suspiciously. ”Did you use MY recipe?”

Cook becomes flustered and drops the kettle.  “Er – I expect so, dear. It’s really very good…” she adds lamely.

The jar crashes down on the formica worktop.  The cat flees the room for the sanctuary of behind the sofa. ”This doesn’t look AT ALL the same colour as when I do MINE. HOW many eggs did you use?!”

A deathly silence falls and all that can be heard is quiet sobbing into a pinny.

To be continued…

After Ginger Biscuits, it says Very good. That’s a relief.  But what’s this?  A few pages on –Oatmeal Ginger Biscuits don’t get a Very good.  The addition of oatmeal was clearly a step too far.

Here’s Cissie again; she’s been given another chance with her Raspberry Jam and there’s a Very good after (no waspish notes this time). Take that, Oatmeal Ginger Biscuits!

Ivie’s All-Round Pudding, containing bread, flour, suet, sugar and spices ensures that you, too, will be round by the time you’ve had a slice or four. And what’s this I spy? Lemon Curd has crept in beneath the pudding recipe.  As if those four previous recipes for Lemon Cheese weren’t enough?!  She’s got some pluck, this one, I’ll say that for her. But for goodness’ sake, woman, step away from the lemons!!

Marie gets quite a few mentions, what with her Shortbread, Currant Buns, Strawberry Jam, Sandwich Cake and the rather grandly titled Marie’s Pudding. Popular girl.

Salmon Mould has ingredients listed but no method.  Merely: Steam for 1 1/2 hours and serve with parsley sauce.  Every unconfident cook’s nightmare!  Just what are we supposed to DO?!?!  And who said anything about parsley sauce?  How much parsley? How much sauce?!

Here’s a recipe for Fried Onions in Batter.  Ah, the good old days!  Cholesterol is such an ugly word.

A few empty pages signify a lull in proceedings. Did the writer go away? Did she have to replace her worn-out cooker at this point? Did she have a bit of a turn after The Great Lemon Cheese Incident? We’ll never know but look, here she is, back again with a new pinny and firing on all cylinders with Pat’s Ginger Cake and Peg’s Choc Cake. Phew. Thank goodness for true friends, eh?

Moving on now, here’s an altogether much better organised notebook, with special chapters already in place.  Omelets (sic) is, rather strangely, lumped together with the Puddings and Sweets section but we’ll forgive them that, as they are so clearly on the ball otherwise.  They’re getting a bit above themselves with Entrees, though.

This writer goes into a lot more detail. No upsetting anyone with the omission of methods, or falling out with friends over lemon cheese.  There are even a couple of biscuit recipes that have been costed out. If I could only read her handwriting here, I could tell you what they are but anyway, one makes three dozen and costs 50 pence, the other four dozen and a mere 30 pence.  Bargain!  It’s almost like an Eleven-Plus exam question:  If you take three dozen biscuits costing 50 pence and four dozen biscuits costing 30 pence, how many extra inches does that add to your waistline?

Friends’ recipes are creeping in: there’s good old Daphne, with her Apricot Tea Bread and Apple and Walnut Tea Bread.  Bit of a limited repertoire, has Daphne, but she’s a terribly good sport.  Always rustling up one or other of her tea breads for the church fete. Even if they’re always the last two left on the stall and the vicar ends up feeding them to the budgie.

What’s this?  Curried Rice Salad has edged into the cakes and biscuits section. Disaster!  It’s thrown the whole system out of kilter and, shortly after this glaring error, we note that all-too-familiar lull of a few blank pages where Cook takes a deep breath, has a lie-down for a couple of days then, refreshed, returns to the fray.

Further on, however, and it’s descending into chaos again, with Salmon Burgers and Raspberry Soufflé side by side. The thermostat has gone wonky.  Man the hobs!  Send out for reinforcements! This could turn ugly. Savoury Cheese fights with Orange and Lemon Chequer Cake (take that!) and Date Flapjacks battle it out with Salad Dressing to keep (why, what else are you going to do with it? Give it away? ”Oh, gawd, here she comes, pretend we’re not in, she’s brought her Godawful salad dressing with her again and we never finished the last bottle”).

Brown Pudding. Act One, Scene One:  Wife (for it is usually she) shuffles into the dining room and carefully, shakily, places the pudding dish on the table.

Grumpy husband (for they invariably are) peers at the contents suspiciously.  “I thought you said you were doing us a nice white pudding for afters? One of your lemon surprise specials?”

Wife pins bright, desperate smile to her flushed, worn features. “Well, I was, dear, and it has got lemon in it, and orange, too, but then there was this ever such good bit on the Archers and I stopped for a minute to listen properly -“ holds a hand up – “only a minute, mind, and when I looked again, it had turned -“ whispers -“ brown.” Stifling a sob, she shuffles over to the G-Plan sideboard to fetch the pudding bowls and spoons.

There’s a more than a hint of brown in grumpy husband’s face as he tuts, shakes his head, sighs heavily and manfully digs in.

To be continued…

The recipe for Mincemeat is from the J Y Prog – coincidentally, because that is the subject of my next and final chapter. I know, I can hardly wait, either!

Old English Flummery. (Surely it should be Olde Englishe?) Flummery.  What a delightful word that is.  So – Olde Englishe. “She be a right flummery, that one. No better than she should be.”  (I digress. Blame Poldark.)  The recipe sounds delicious but far too fiddly for me, so we’ll move swiftly on, leaving our O E F to her own devices (lock up your menfolk).

Uncle Mac’s Pudding. Good old Uncle Mac. What would we do without him and his trusty pudding? More of him later…

Raspberry Surprise. You’ve guessed it – no raspberries.

Iced Apricot Souffle, we are reliably informed, will serve 8 – or 12, with the addition of Orange and Grape Compote.  Well, that’s your five a day sorted, no sweat. Especially if you plough through the Melon Cocktail on the next page as well.

But what’s this? Pears with Chocolate Mousse? Sacrilege! Spoils the mousse.  Let’s not overdo it.  There’s more than enough fruit here as it is.

Hello – someone else’s handwriting has crept onto the page, with a recipe for Parkins (sic).  “Quick!  She’s gone out to get more eggs. Scribble it down – she’ll never notice… Here she comes – act casual (whistles nonchalantly).”

Chocolate Bake Stork sounds intriguing. ”I have some news for you, children. Mummy’s in one of her stork phases again. I’ve told her to go and have a nice lie-down.”

There are several recipes for Christmas Cake.  (It’s The Great Lemon Cheese Incident all over again, but who will win The Battle Of The Christmas Cakes?)

Here we are, we’ve arrived at the very end of the book, to a page headed: Xmas 1975.

This is one organised cook.  Mind you, with that amount of guests to cater for, she has to be. For Xmas (sic) Day, she has 16 + Sally coming and on Boxing Day there are two more (Sally is still hanging on in there, you’ll be pleased to note.  Even Uncle Mac’s Pudding hasn’t fazed her). The ingredients are mind-boggling: 30lb turkey with 7 hours! in brackets after, 6 cut loaves, 3 uncut, Milk – 12 pts and 6 pts, 1 pt double and 1 pint single cream – some over but useful.  First night. First night! Wow. I’m impressed.

Then we have three different types of stuffing: Double (double??) sausage, veal and chestnut.  Three trifles has plenty in brackets afterwards, bless her. I should think so too.  Greedy lot.

Cakes:  Chocolate Layer, Battenburg, Cherry and Walnut has the wonderful expression Hanging fire! in brackets after.  Is this another type of cake, or is it the chief cook and bottle washer letting rip on the page; something she wouldn’t dare do to her guests’ faces?

But look, what’s this? Xmas Day 1977 and there’s no Sally. Xmas Day 16, Boxing Day 14. Xmas 1976 is not mentioned, either. What happened?!  Was there a break in proceedings when they were packed off to a health farm to recover from all those trifles?  Did Sally, overcome by Uncle Mac’s manly suet pudding, run off with him to make lots more little puddings together?  Has Xmas 1976 become The Year That No-one Dare Mention? Were those words Hanging fire! of more significance than we were first led to believe? Will we ever know any of the answers to these questions? Stick the kettle on, love and give us some more of that lovely brown pudding. I’ll take this over the Archers any day…