Friday, 26 February 2010


High time I put up a recipe – like others I don’t feel I can photograph my efforts with the family around. This is Granny’s Flapjack, although she would have melted and mixed in a saucepan and I use a microwave. It is something I remember making with her as a child; a fond memory: she was a very slapdash cook who rarely weighed things and didn't seem to mind how much mess we made. This is a very easy recipe that both my girls can now make on their own, but they too have been making it as long as they can remember.

8oz butter
6oz sugar
8tbsp golden syrup
1lb porridge oats
Melt butter and sugar together.
Stir in sugar.
Stir in oats.
Turn out mixture into 12x6.5x1 inch baking tin.
Bake for 30 minutes at gas 3/160C.
Cool for 5 minutes then cut into squares and leave to cool completely.

Note: Eldest likes this with glace cherries mixed into it, Youngest prefers it with raisins. At Christmas I like to put in half the mixture, then a layer of mincemeat, and then the balance of the mixture spread on top. We all like it straight from the tin while it’s still warm!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Matching families

We have received two lots of visitors this weekend. Both are friends met through the Army, both have ‘matching’ girls.

In the first lot, both parents work and the girls went to boarding school when they reached seven. All are content with their lot. They value the limited time they spend together which is why getting all eight of us in one place probably only happens once or twice a year. We had a family dinner party where everyone participated in the conversation and then played a version of Trivial Pursuits in teams of two. Raucous!
Mother1 and Theireldest1 had seen the Channel 4 programme Leaving Home at Eight and been as unimpressed by it as I had. The programme focussed on four military families for some reason and then did not explain why such families might pick the boarding school option, nor what the alternatives would be. And we all agreed that being in too much contact with home (one mother seemed to ring every day) is a disaster in the settling in stakes.
Our next visitors were just Mother2 and Theiryoungest2 who were in the UK from a foreign posting to spend half-term with Theireldest2. She started boarding when she reached Year 10 and started her GCSE courses. Previously, like her younger sister, she has gone to school wherever her parents have lived. Largely this has worked, though Theiryoungest2 is bored by her latest school such that her parents are wondering what to do. This family are all finding the separation difficult; they have moved even further away for this, the actual GCSE year, and the distance in both miles and time doesn’t help.
For Youngest and myself it was a treat to have our friends with us, however briefly – Husband and Eldest missed theirs.

Perhaps I should add by way of explanation that you could see something about my boarding school experience here.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Home thoughts

Half-term beckons and we are off to the smoke to stay with my parents.

There will be dark mutterings afoot regarding the large piles of paper Father cannot throw away. When asked to sort them they move, but they never get any smaller. Mother is no more interested in cleaning than her daughter, but she’d like to present a tidy front.
Father’s complete failure to do any household chores has long been a bone of contention. As a teenager I was very aware, when I was home from boarding school, of just how rebellious Mother was feeling. Married in the late 1950s, and to an Army Officer, she gave up paid work to follow the drum. By the early 70s, with her children away at school, stuck in Germany expected to help run the wives club and entertain all and sundry, she was understandably kicking against her world. Her reading material reflected the times, I remember, and I’ll confess now to some concern for their marriage (they’ve done over 50 years now). She and I muttered about men in general – my brothers were equally lax in their contribution to household chores, despite pocket money incentives and tick charts. (Not surprising really when their bossy big sister made the charts and did most of the nagging.) What a goody goody they must have thought me taking on cleaning jobs, the family ironing and, the one I actually enjoyed, helping with the cooking. I have a vivid memory of piping cooked mashed egg yoke mixed with tomato ketchup into the halved hard boiled whites to serve at a buffet supper party – we had very sophisticated tastes in 1972.
There’ll be fish pie for supper when we get home, it’s tradition. My Granny made it with fresh coley. Mother makes it with fish in parsley sauce. I use frozen cod and make my own sauce. But the result is pretty similar.

It is ironic that it is only now, as I contemplate how the time I have with my girls will come to an end of sorts when they fly the nest, that I realise how my parents might feel. Do they mind that we’ve all gone, or are they proud that they managed it… of course they might just be glad to be rid of us and be pretty grumpy because they (well, Mother) feel bound to tidy up and make fish pie.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Just different

When Husband and I went to our very first Parents’ Evening, when Eldest was all of 4, we were told by the elderly and almost retiring reception teacher (Christian name Critchell, a seriously frightening woman to parents, but who was very fond of small girls) that our daughter didn’t take criticism well. We didn’t actually climb over the desk to hit her, but I fear we clearly demonstrated where she got it from. At last week’s meeting with the secondary school teachers, where we had once more gone to talk about Eldest, but this time about her GCSE prospects, and what she should be doing for AS level, we were told that she had a wicked sense of humour, but it was very cynical. We tried not to think about where she got that. It was the only ‘criticism’ we collected.

We are regularly informed that Youngest is bossy. At primary school this was definitely a criticism and deemed to be a potential friendship problem. At secondary school they see it as a plus to be channeled into the school council or anything else that needs a reliable decision maker and ‘doer’. Youngest throws herself into almost anything with immense enthusiasm and willingness to please, but no tolerance for people who aren’t trying.
I’ve said before that parenting does not get easier, just different. I remember potty training as ghastly, but, since I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t mastered the art in the end, I did at least understand at some level that it would all be over eventually! Now the difficulties of parenthood are generally more about emotional than physical things. The guiding hand, and the parental worry, is about friends – or lack of them. About whether they are making the ‘right’ choices about subjects, and doing well enough in them, to lead to the career of choice – whatever that might be!
I know we have to let Eldest do what she wants to do, and if we ‘push’ any particular plan it is liable to backfire – she may be sensible but even she likes to get her own way and not be seen to be doing what her aged parents approve of all the time!
And I’ve no doubt that this too will pale into insignificance when we’re trying to provide useful advice about whether he’s the man of her dreams, worth giving up her career for! Perhaps life will be different then, but I doubt it. We will still be trying to decide how we should run our relationships, who’s job it is to do the washing (mine) and the ironing (his) and how best to raise children (and who should do it).
Our toughest task, I’m sure, is going to be learning to let go.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


In answer to Countrymummy’s request, and in the presence of Seville oranges, I have information about marmalade!
I’ve been making it for years, and, despite owning a handwritten copy of my grandmother’s recipe, I have had the most reliable success from an unconventional Delia recipe which you can find at Delia Online here. It takes longer in time, but not in effort. Juicing all the oranges and cutting up peel is much less hassle if you poach the oranges first, a la Delia: you can scoop out the oranges' innards with a spoon (all that pith comes away), and it is easy to slice up the skins to the thickness you like. Don’t do it in a processor, the bits end up too small. It is worth making, honest!