Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Where was I?

Where did the last ten days go?

Youngest’s birthday party and her annual god/grandparents’ birthday lunch.

The One Show featured Malmesbury but made a ridiculous meal of it and the school carol service was excellent despite a delayed start so the choir could sing for 2 seconds on the aforementioned show.

A Strictly Final supper party back to back with an evening drinks party - both thrown by friends in the village - were a treat.

Family lunch for thirteen with presents and tea, back to back with a drinks party with neighbours, was hectic but fun (yule log and gingerbread house courtesy of Eldest).

Christmas Eve brought final preparations while hosting in-laws, then the day itself:  a packed church, champagne with more neighbours, lunch cooked by Husband (except bread sauce, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding and brandy butter which I made in advance) and  Dr. Who  (in-laws took time out as they hadn't liked it last time they were here for Christmas) and lastly an evening of girly TV (Strictly, Call the Midwife and Downton in case you were in doubt).

Today there is a lull before we drive to London to see my parents and join another family lunch party, this time to celebrate Babybrother’s fiftieth birthday, and a trip to The Hobbit.

After all that I plan a very quiet new year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and thank-you for reading!

Friday, 14 December 2012

She will go to the ball!

There are eight teenagers, including Youngest, eating pizza and making a noise as I type. When invited, there was apparently a chorus of "Is there going to be a Barbie cake this year?" But of course! Luckily Eldest volunteered to ice it this year so I could enjoy cleaning....

Saturday, 8 December 2012


It has been a week of collecting Youngest from school.
A GCSE in Drama requires ‘putting on a play’ – several actually. These are sometimes scripted, sometimes devised, but always planned, dressed and performed by varying groups of students in the Drama class. In turn this means ‘homework’ needs to be done by the group, usually after school, hence Mummy’s taxi has been busy in the lead up to yet another play.
The added complication this week is the three nightly performances of the school’s Christmas Concert. Youngest is in the choir as usual, but this year also performing with the Chamber Choir (Let it Snow and The Twelve Days of Christmas) and a year 11 ensemble of about 6 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love. All great fun and of course I’m delighted she’s taking part again, but it’s 6.30 until 10pm. The gap between drama rehearsals and the concert has been challenging in terms of supper and changing, and she’s getting more tired as the week goes on.
The weekend may provide some respite but she plans to make biscuits to freeze for decorating next weekend to give to her friends as Christmas gifts… Meanwhile some major tidying needs to occur if a party for ten, to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, is to happen next Friday – not to mention the visit of her grandparents and godparents on Sunday, the day itself.

We’ll get there, we always do, but poor planning on her parents’ part always adds to the challenge of this time of year!

(The photo shows the unflooded view from the bridge.)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Welcome home

I'm rather pleased with this, completed on Thursday.

Husband has gone to fetch Eldest home from university - yes, she's finished her first term already! I haven't actually killed the fatted calf, but there is marzipan cake for tea, pizza for supper and a leg of lamb to roast tomorrow: all her favourites.

The Advent Calendar Fairy has done her work just in time and Eldest's bedroom is sorted, so now I just need to try and bring order to Youngest's spreading possessions before they all get home this afternoon. Bye!

Monday, 26 November 2012

View from a bridge

Our river is several lakes linked by fast flowing water: all very exciting so long as your house is safe and you're not trying to go anywhere! The village and his wife were all out to look.
I'm heading east to visit friends in Abbotts Ann and then Hove. I shall be away overnight and am hoping for kind weather. Husband and Youngest were making "how will we cope", "what will we eat", "who's making the sandwiches" mutterings as they left for school this morning.

Friday, 16 November 2012

It's good to talk - and walk

Last Saturday I went up to London to meet up with five other ‘girls’ from my year, my house, and other ‘old girls’, for lunch at Quaglino’s. I had met all 'my lot' in the last five years, but one of our number hadn’t seen any of the others since 1977. We had such a good time catching up and reminiscing.

Practicenurse and I met in 1969 when I went to the school (I still hate that she’d been boarding there since she was 5); GP joined us in 1970 which was also when Earlyyearsteacher came to school. Schoolfriend (and Youngest’s Godmother, owner of one of my chairs) came in 1973 and we’ve kept in close touch ever since. And Ladyflautist came in 1974. I left for sixth form in a boys’ school, the others stayed. That we went from four to eleven over a longish period, but at a formative time, seems to have resulted in very strong bonds despite years of not meeting up. We were all remarkably like ourselves, both in character and appearance. We didn’t stop talking, and I think we only managed to break up because no one was leaving alone.
I stayed with Schoolfriend overnight. We had a girly evening in front of the TV, did some useful work sorting her bedroom now the carpet’s been laid – I’m a dab hand at hanging curtains as you might expect – and took a walk in her local park before I returned home to cook a roast dinner. (No one had starved in my absence.)
This Sunday we will take a walk and a pub lunch with a gang of Husband’s Gunner friends, made at Staff College when in their early thirties – a different sort of bond, but just as strong!

Friday, 9 November 2012


Just so you know I'm still here, look what I've finished!
I shall show it to it's owner next week so I hope she approves. Personally I don't like the sensation of sitting on it (it tips too far back) and it's not really my cup of tea, but I'm pleased with my work.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Recipe for success

We've been in Dorset.
It was a bit damp but a welcome break despite the lack of Eldest. We walked, pub lunched, ate fish and chips, entertained friends for the day, went to the seaside, did a spot of gardening, looked at Daniel Craig, let Husband win at Scrabble, fought over the puzzles in The Times, and enjoyed the view from the top of the ridge.
Meanwhile I've been asked to post the recipe for Prize Pumpkin. So, in the hope that it's not too late (and pumpkins might be on offer now of course), here it is:

7cm fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Seeds extracted from 8 cardamom pods, ground
1-2 fresh green chillies finely chopped
8 skinless chicken breasts cut into 1cm slices
125g butter
625-750g onions, thinly sliced
6-8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
125g button mushrooms
50g plain flour
450ml milk
1 large pumpkin (3.25- 3.50kg)
Sunflower oil
Melt ¾ of the butter in a large pan, add onions and cook over a low heat until soft. Add the ginger, cardamom, chillies and garlic then stir. Add the remaining butter and then the chicken and mushrooms once it’s melted and stir to coat. Stir in the flour then gradually add the milk and season with salt. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time until very thick. Remove from the heat.
Cut a circular hole in the top of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and all the stringy interior leaving only the firm flesh.
Spoon the chicken mixture into the pumpkin and replace the ‘lid’. Smear the outside with sunflower oil and place in a roasting tin. Place in oven at 240°C for 25-30 minutes. Now turn it down to 180°C for about 1 ¼ hours.
To serve, scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin with the chicken mixture. Serves 8.

Josceline Dimbleby tells you to move the cooked pumpkin onto a serving dish. In my experience you need to be able to serve it in whatever you cooked it in! Also, it tends to ‘leak’ pumpkin juices so don’t use anything too shallow! Any leftovers make really flavoursome soup.

Friday, 19 October 2012


I’m a bit busy, and a bit excited. We are hosting a supper party tonight, in part to welcome old friends who moved into ‘our’ village last week. So I’m cleaning the parts of the house that show and preparing the meal.

Husband has, as ever, provided the cook with a few challenges from the allotment: I am the delighted owner of five marrows, five pumpkins and several kilos of green (and a few red) tomatoes, not to mention a freezer full of beetroot, raspberries and blackberries. This is lovely of course, but it does require thought and work so as not to waste it.
Thus, tonight’s supper, featuring a smoked salmon salad starter with beetroot, a chicken casserole cooked in a pumpkin and a blackberry ice-cream with a raspberry compĂ´t should help reduce the glut.
Many moons ago, when we were first married, Husband, a confident chap, was unexpectedly reduced to nerves by the arrival as his new boss of someone who had bullied him as his superior when a young officer. I proposed a campaign! We invited the bully and his wife to supper with a gang of our most presentable friends (who were warned) and I cooked the supper of my life. The centre piece, recommended by one of said friends as what to cook when you needed to impress, was Prize Pumpkin. It is a Josceline Dimbleby recipe that is perfectly simple to make, but brings gasps of surprise from guests. It is now a staple in this house: if you come to supper when pumpkins are in season it’s what you get! I don’t suppose it was the only reason the bully turned out not to be a problem, but he was effusive in his praise on the occasion, and Husband was much relieved.

So that is exciting, but the real reason is that Eldest has given permission for us to visit her. We are to take her out to lunch on Sunday.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Getting on

Time for a spot of show and tell:

The curtains in Eldest’s room are finished and hung.

The kitchen chairs are oiled and recovered.

The next project... underway.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

50 Years Glamorous

The James Bond film franchise is fifty.

Our Housemistress took all the boarders in my girls’ school to the cinema to see Diamonds Are Forever on Saturday 29th August 1972. I still wonder if she knew what she was taking us to – a spinster of uncertain age, she taught my mother Chemistry in ancient times. I enjoyed the unusual outing as much as the film, but it wasn’t the breakthrough for Bond in my life.

That happened the following summer. Father was based in Germany. In those days there was no BFPS telly so the military cinemas were a vital source of entertainment. That memorable summer we had a week of James Bond, a different movie every night, and I started working my way through my father’s collection of the novels by Ian Fleming. Movies are always better on a big screen, and Bond’s action packed, larger than life offerings more so. And I devoured the novels. I was fourteen. I did not consider whether the male/female roles were appropriate or fair, I just enjoyed the thrill.

I’ve seen most of the films at the cinema (I missed a couple of Pierce Brosnan’s outings when Eldest was tiny and Husband away on tour), and all of them many times on the TV. I’ve read 10 of Fleming’s 14 novels and short story collections. I’ve even read a biography!

Having been a fan, I was excited to read the Charlie Higson books about a teenage schoolboy James. Youngest hasn’t tried them, Eldest didn’t like the deaths of characters close to James and only read the first couple. I thought them just like a mini version of the films and guess I’d recommend them as a way into the Fleming stories - which are of their period (the first one came out in 1953).

I’m looking forward to a trip to the pictures to look at Daniel Craig. The girls may have watched Quantum of Solace with their hands over their eyes, but they want to come too.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Her bags were packed, she was ready to go.

The college house she’s in is old, the room modest, but there was a very bijou basin and a feature fireplace (if blocked off by a desk). There’s a large kitchen in the basement with an aged electric oven, so she may yet fulfill her plan to bake. The college laundry is also in her house’s basement: convenient. The scout was friendly.

The Principal gave the parents a reassuring lecture despite reminding us that our children are adults and it is with them that the college will deal, not us - though he did promise they’d be encouraged to talk to us!

Saying goodbye in her room she was a little tearful. We decided not to prolong our departure. I texted to let her know we were home and got a reply, so all is not lost. However she would not commit to when we might be allowed to visit again…

Monday, 24 September 2012

Blanket box

One blanket box completed, one set of curtains hung though not hemmed and six chairs given two coats of clear oil. Progress!

This week's task: to stay calm while helping Eldest to decide what to take to university.

Monday, 17 September 2012


Eldest and I painted her room in July. When we moved in she was 10 and I did a jolly yellow with patchwork curtains. As she’s grown her room has needed more and different furniture (extra bookshelves, not a high bed with a desk under it, and so on) and it was time to update the look. We’ve ordered a tiny sofa from Laura Ashley (her birthday present) to replace the single bed ‘sofa’ that was taking up too much floor space. She bought herself a blanket box which she has painted and I am now to recover the top. And make new curtains of course. Fabric is purchased: the pile awaits.

I have a blanket box of my own waiting to be recovered. And our kitchen chairs have been stripped of aged varnish after 35 years in my ownership (ex-Army quarter furniture bought for my student flat). They need oiling and the seats covering with newly purchased PVC. I’m a bit busy!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Wash day blues

I have failed in my motherly duties!

Eldest bakes like a professional most of the time although she rarely cooks savoury food; but she can follow a recipe: she’ll be fine. And it’s catered accommodation anyway. She’ll not starve.
Last week we purchased a collapsing laundry bin. She is going to accumulate her own washing from now and have a go at sorting and laundering for herself. Apparently this will be “more fun” than doing the families laundry… I feel guilty that she doesn’t know the first thing about sorting, choosing the right programme, pegging out on the line or programming the tumble dryer; but more so that she thinks this might be fun.
I am a passionate sorter and a user of all the varied programmes on my washing machine. I get an immense satisfaction from smoothing and folding clean clothes. (Regular readers may remember that I do not iron.) But: fun?
We’ll see.

The photo is of Eldest's 18th birthday cake, by special request because "It's not fair, I never had a pink castle."

Monday, 3 September 2012


Youngest had her first go at GCSEs in May. She took the first modules in the three sciences and the actual GCSEs in English Language and Spanish. She was somewhat surprised to achieve As in the Sciences (which she hates) but content with a B and an A respectively in the other two. Had she failed I expect we would have been encouraging her to repeat the exams, but she got what was predicted by her school, as did her big sister. But what of the current controversy?

Some children, who may have got Cs had they taken the English exam in January have scored Ds in June. Ofqual is saying that their investigations show that the papers were marked too generously in January and that anyone who’s unhappy can resit (possibly at no charge) in November… If the ‘new’ standard stays I’m not at all sure that I can see how this would help: presumably, even if the pupil is available to retake, they would be taking somewhat of a punt on doing better this time around? I don’t like the modular format of exams; it seems to me it lays itself open to this sort of problem. I suspect that the education world, who are shouting loudly about legal action, may find they’ve played into the hands of Michael Gove who believes that our exam system is all wrong and needs a complete overhaul.

I did OK in my O levels but poorly in my As so I hope you will allow me to say that, whatever a person’s results, they were awarded a grade that reflected where they stood in their year group (clearly I was in a very bright year…). The current view that passing time should show our schoolchildren improving misunderstands what the old system demonstrated. It was never about actual achievement but about relative achievement: it showed who the brightest students were in each year group. I’m not advocating that that was right, but we do need to know what these exams are actually for!

As a footnote you may be informed by a little incident when I told a small group that Eldest had a place at Oxford if she could get two A*s in Maths… One of the ladies present explained that since she went to a State school there wouldn’t be a problem as they pick the easiest exam boards with the simplest modules.

I was very restrained!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Roman Holiday

We are just back from five nights in Rome – Youngest’s idea, and no one came up with a better suggestion. We visited all the things you’re supposed to see.

I am staggered by just how much Roman ruin there is and how big their buildings were. Vatican City was another enormous set of buildings with much ornamentation on show – and opportunities for money making in every direction.
It is true that Italian drivers, at least of cars, shouldn’t be allowed on the road: our taxi driver from the airport first tried to rip us off by demanding a larger fee than the price advertised and then drove at 100km/hr while talking on his mobile phone, changing gear and hand such that he regularly had no hand on the steering wheel. We agreed we’d not get in another taxi and returned to the airport by train – even more expensive but it felt safe!

It is also true that Italian food tastes even better in Italy: we ate bruschetta, pizza, pasta, and tiramisu (including tiramisu ice-cream) washed down with Italian beer or wine most nights. Our evening meals were relaxed and fun, if on the pricey side, but buying drinks was extortionate! Iced water in bottles was readily available and much needed in the heat, and we were able to top up bottles at the many drinking fountains around the city, but if you wanted to buy a coffee or a Coke we’re talking 5Euro each at best.

We stayed in a hotel near the Trevi Fountain so we have many photos of it at different times of the day and night. We went early on our departure day in hopes of finding fewer people: there were, but the fountain wasn’t on because it was being cleaned and all the tourists’ money being collected from the pool!

Having viewed the Coliseum, the Palatine Hill, the Forum, the Vatican, four museums, the Spanish Steps, lots of fountains, ridden on the metro and the buses, marched all over Rome and braved the high temperatures, we took a ride up into the hills to visit the Villa D’Este and its garden in Tivoli on our last day. It was delightfully cool and we loved the place. Very few flowers this late in the season, but it was lush and green and had every imaginable water feature. My high point!

Thursday, 16 August 2012


I’M STILL HERE! It’s just taken rather longer than I expected for Husband to set up the wireless network again after it crashed – yes, I do understand that our internet connection doesn’t NEED to be wireless, but it does if all your photos and files aren’t on the only computer with a connection. Hey ho, I’m back now and looking forward to catching up on what you’ve all been up to.

But, today, the only important thing going on in this house is a celebration: Eldest got three A* in Maths, Further Maths and French for her A levels and has thus secured a place at Oxford to read Maths.

I am smiling from ear to ear!

Thursday, 26 April 2012


I don’t seem to have written much of late. Part of me thinks this is a good thing as, I’ll confess, faced with a lengthy post, I am liable to skim unless it’s gripping/well written/funny; and I can’t be the only one. So unless I’ve been inspired by something specific this is more like a diary of events… and I don’t really do events, just daily life in my corner of the world. This too may be a good thing: there is something comforting about reading about life going on as usual when the news is almost always grim: disaster not success, death not birth. But I suspect blogging should have more of a point.

I should be showcasing my stuff for sales – writing/cooking/craft – or hoping to get noticed – a book deal for my brilliant idea a la Julie and Julia – or something witty and erudite to save the world. Ha!

Meantime you’ll have to put up with a photo of something in flower in my garden/a piece of furniture/a cake, and a brief note to tell you I’m still alive.
I am!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Some completions

We have at last added the topsoil to our garden works and seeded the lawn and put in the stake for the washing line. Since it's done almost nothing but rain since we finished (a bit of sunshine and hail) we are hoping the grass will sprout soon.
In other news, I have finished my little nursing chair at last:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Can't stop: visitors

You see: it was worth coming to the fete meeting... Still, the fact of there only being five of us, and one of them able to resist a slice of chocolateness, means that there was cake for tea with our visitors without the need for further effort.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Escape to the country

In contrast to last week’s pictures of The Smoke here is Dorset countryside in all its spring glory!

We visited a couple of lovely gardens, walked at an RSPB reserve, went to the pictures to see the latest Aardman animation, ate supper out, ate fish and chips in, ate tea and cake out, pottered round the local town’s shops, read and listened to Radio 4 even more than usual (no telly), did a jigsaw, walked up the hill, went to bed early and got up late. Bliss!

Friday, 30 March 2012

End of term


Spanishgirl has been and gone. She was easy to have but I felt the absence of Spanish in the family: perhaps our lack was her gain as she spoke much more English than our earlier French visitors. Youngest was put under strain: Spanishgirl lives in Madrid and Youngest found it difficult to explain our country slow lane life! But our trip to London went down well with everybody - yes, even  the art heathens among us loved the trip to see the Hockney exhibition! - and a hanging out and paddling in the river evening with a little gang of girls was deemed the 'most fun'. They had to make more flapjack and she took home the recipe.

I have made a cushion for the Church Fete raffle (I was instructed to make red white and blue but in a Kath Kidson style).

And I have made progress with the new chair (but not with the old ones). 

It's the end of term and we are off to Dorset tomorrow for an even quieter bit of country life.

Friday, 23 March 2012

No need to translate flapjack!

When little French girls came to stay I developed an e-mailing habit with Maman, based on my O level French, long before they arrived. If the girls didn’t understand I fished out ancient vocab and we managed. At midnight yesterday we greeted Youngest’s Spanish exchange girl. My Spanish is minimal, of the hola/gracia variety. I am hoping her English will be good enough for us to manage the week. I have had no contact with Madre…

We do know she was very pleased to discover flapjack which you may remember Youngest took as a gift to her hosts. Spanishgirl had hot chocolate and flapjack on arrival and has had the same for breakfast – and taken some to school for snack. She left with Eldest to catch the bus; some careful organization has resulted in a clash of the Spanish exchange with the Work Experience week so Youngest is not at school to be followed today.

This week has been all about my taxi. Youngest has had to be in Chippenham for work from 9 to 4.30. She is loving working in the Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre where she’s been tasked with writing a timeline for our village for their website. I did look at the bus, but it takes an hour and she'd be leaving at 7.30... so that means two round trips a day for me. And then I do the ballet run three nights a week for Eldest.

We will go again tomorrow to catch the train to London to show off the capital and visit the Hockney exhibition. I’m hoping Husband might drive.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Being a Happy Mother

I may not be doing well at keeping an interesting and informative commentary on the life of this hausfrau, but I have had a busy week:

I have turned 10 sad, pilled cushion covers into 5 revamped ones for  Friendwithmatchinggirls for a small fee.

I have cleaned and tidied the bits of the house that show for a fete meeting on Friday and a supper party last night; making apple and walnut muffins for one and liver parfait, beetroot and orange soup, chocolate, chilli and walnut braised beef and an iced raspberry soufflé in a chocolate case for the other.

I have bought fabric for my new upholstery project, finished stripping back the chair so I could mend the springs and started the refurbishing task.

Oh, and I’ve promised the chair to Oldschoolfriend for the cost of the components. She has just embarked on a major upgrade of her house and is feeling down at the enormity of the disturbance to her home which is such that it makes relaxing at the end of the day impossible.

Today I have received cards from my girls and rather different rewards for being their mother: Youngest gave me two bars of chocolate that she’s rather hoping I’ll share and deigned to provide quality time by helping me to clean and tidy (her mess from) the room in which her Spanish Exchange student will be sleeping come Thursday. Eldest, on the other hand, has taken over the kitchen today. We were given eggy bread with fried apples followed by ginger and pear muffins for brunch; are shortly to be called to treacle soda bread and honey for tea and are to be treated this evening to a three course supper that she has been planning all week!

Thursday, 8 March 2012


 So far so so on the loose cover.
 So nearly finished on the nursing chair.
And I'm off to upholstery class to sort out this modern M&S chair which my neighbours were stopped from taking to the tip. So it's mine if I want it. Not sure, but thought it would be good practice and couldn't accept that it was rubbish!