Covering it

It’s so nearly got to the time I can be thinking about a publication date for my next book, Earthquake, that it is about now that I should begin to seriously think about a cover for it… I don’t want to give too much away, except to say that although an earthquake does feature in my new Thomas Radwinter novel, it is as much about a metaphorical earthquake as a real one.

I did once experience an earthquake – a very minor one; I was teaching in Oldham, head of department and I had a student teacher. He was a very nice lad but really he was not that good – I can’t remember why now. I took him to my office to review his lessons and he was sitting rather dispiritedly as I – as gently as I could, went through what had gone wrong. Suddenly there was a most curious sensation, as if I was on a giant jelly and being wobbled. It was an earthquake!! Good grief! as Thomas Radwinter would say.

So trying to think of an image for the cover of my book, I’m wondering about fallen masonry, tumbled bricks and blocks, maybe in a faded sort of colour, with perhaps another picture on top. This other picture would have a relevance once the book has been read – I hope.

Even when I have the images I have to think of the font, and then whether to add anything else apart from title and author…

I’ll keep you up to date!

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read any of my Thomas Radwinter novels, or any of my other e-books, here is a link:


My family story in 10 objects… number 3

Obect 3 – my mum’ (or maybe my grandma’s) Be-Ro flour cookery book

This is what I wrote about this handy little book a little while ago:

I am lucky to be able to remember far back into my childhood, my babyhood even because I can remember being in my pram at about a year old! From my first memories I can remember being in our kitchen while my mum,  cooked. She was a great baker and the Be-Ro cookery book was her Bible, along with Mrs Beeton, of course. Mum told me that her mother, my grandma Ida had had a copy of this little book, and as a child Monica had thought the little girl on the front was her.

bero 1 001

The Be-Ro girl


Monica aged 11

As soon as I started living on my own, I started cooking; I think the first thing I made was a walnut cake, I’m not sure I used a Be-Ro book, but I remembered the method exactly having watched and helped my mum so many times when I was little.

This edition is the 17th reprint, I now have the 32nd and use it so often I’m on my second copy and in need of a third! I still use Be-Ro flour, I still think it’s the best, and I wonder if either of my children will follow the tradition?

Wholesome, simple and economical, how true!!

Be-Ro was founded by Thomas Bell in 1875, in a little shop and bakery in Longhorsley in the north-east of England, just north of Newcastle in 1875.  He had tried for a long time to make a successful self-raising flour, and eventually after much experimentation he succeeded, and produced the world’s first!

Although I have written here about baking, many of my memories about my family involve producing food in the garden, cooking the food – me with my parents, my children with us, my extended family being together and eating together.  Food, – buying it as well, cooking, and eating are constant topics of conversation, whether at home or in other parts of the country or abroad. Visiting different food shops and markets, to look as well as to buy, is something we do wherever we go. Going to different restaurants and then trying to copy the dishes we have enjoyed at home, adds to the enjoyment of eating out.

I’m sure food has always been important for us going back generations, not just as nourishment and fuel for the often arduous lives of my forebears, working on the land as labourers, working in shipyards and on railways; my dad’s mother in the 1920’s would take a skewer and stick it into a bulb of garlic then thrust it into meat to flavour it – and she left school at thirteen and worked as a servant and cleaner in a convent, so she had no fancy recipe books or tradition of exotic food at home. In my dad’s family there even had to be two varieties of sausage served at breakfast, Dad and his father preferred Powters (the best) his brother, sister and mum preferred Musk’s (also pretty good)

This little book, this little old recipe book,  instructs the baker, but for my family, it represents much more.

To find out more about Be-Ro:—be-ro-flour


What you learn in the pub quiz…

I was a big fan of Bananarama… and yet tonight in the pub quiz, I forgot all I knew and it was only thanks that team ice-cream remembered that we got the answer right!!!

It was written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield, William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Edward Holland, Jr. in 1964 and it was previously a hit for the Velvelettes. If you like Bananarama, you might recognise Fun Boy Three doing the bgv – background vocals!


Unexpected generosity

Gifts are always nice, that’s why we like Christmas and birthdays and other anniversaries… but surprise and unexpected generosity is heart-warming and wonderful.

Just recently I was shown appreciation for something which I had done willingly and had really enjoyed doing. Some time ago, I’d been able to help someone in what I considered a small way and which had really been interesting and a pleasure to do. The person was most appreciative, and thanked me – I in turn thanked them because I’d been given an insight into something, and had learned a lot by working with them. I felt I had gained a friend, not just an acquaintance and looked forward to meeting them again socially.

Much to my surprise, some time after I had helped them, I was given a thank-you gift! Obviously I was delighted, but also I was very touched by the kindness and thoughtfulness.

It really made me reflect on showing appreciation; I hope I do thank people properly, but I shall be more aware of it in future, thanks to my very kind friend.

Folkestone pudding or is it Kent tart?

It’s the fasting period of Lent at the moment; I have friends who are doing it for a religious reason, and others are doing it as a useful time to eat less , or drink less alcohol, or abstain from chocolates and sweets, and I was wondering if there are any special English Lenten recipes. I can find plenty from other countries, but apart from pancakes at the beginning and Simnel cake on Mothering Sunday, I can’t find much else.

However I did come across references for Kent tart or pie and Folkestone pudding which actually seem to be pretty similar from the recipes I have seen. The pie tart or pudding seems rather rich and delicious for a period of fasting, pastry made with butter, spices eggs and sugar in the filling as well as dried fruit… maybe the originally recipes were plainer, with lard instead of butter, and just rice and milk and a few odds and ends of dried fruit.

Here is a recipe which sounds fairly simple and delicious:

  • shortcrust or enriched pastry, enough to line a pie dish (some recipes call for puff pastry, but I think that would go a bit soggy!) chilled in the fridge and then baked blind as a tart case for the  rice pudding
  • 1¾ pints  milk
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • pinch of nutmeg and vanilla essence or paste, I know it’s not traditional but I would add some ground cardamom too!
  • 10 oz pudding rice
  • 2 oz butter
  • 5 oz castor sugar
  • 7 oz raisins or currants or sultanas, soaked overnight in sweet sherry or for as long as you like but so they are plump and juicy – or if you’ve given up alcohol for Lent, soak them in tea – and I guess if you like Earl Grey that would be nice
  1. make a rice pudding with all the ingredients except the soaked fruit; heat the milk, add the flavourings and the rice, when it is soft add the butter last when the rice is cooked
  2. strain the raisins and put in the pastry case (this is what the recipe says, but I think I would stir the fruit into the rice once it was off the heat)
  3. add the rice pudding mixture and let it cool

My featured picture is of violets growing in Kent

Spring cleaning… do I have to?

As it’s the vernal equinox, and I guess the first day of spring, and as I seem to have neglected housework in favour of writing maybe I should properly think about doing a traditional spring clean. The inner child in me whines ‘do I have to?’… and yes maybe I do, because our house really is lacking a bit of love and attention. I actually don’t remember my mum having a session of spring cleaning, she just did the housework as far as I recall, but maybe she did and just didn’t make a fuss of it!

Consulting Ruth Drew’s ‘The Happy Housewife’, I find pages and pages of helpful hints and instructions… ‘with spring cleaning on the map, it is necessary to sit down with a pencil and make a proper plan of campaign. it pays hand over fist, especially if you have other things to do beside housework…‘ Well, yes, I do have other things to do!

Luckily one of the first things Ruth suggests is that you ‘don’t try to do too much in a rush,’ and suggests its spread over several weeks – would several months be ok, Ruth?

She mentions chimney sweeps and clutter, comfortable shoes and handcream and of course, a dust-preserving handkerchief tied round the head! … and then has paragraphs on specific areas of spring clean need:

  • cupboards, selves and drawers
  • paintwork, carpets and rugs, upholstery and floors
  • turning out rooms, cornices, alabaster, glass, plastic, parchment, silk, rayon, nylon, paper buckram
  • general points including lampshades and lamps
  • curtains – brocades and damasks, chintz – both permanently and non-permanently glazed, cottons, Holland blinds, muslin and lace, net, rayon, terylene, velvet, washable velveteens and chenilles and similar


Yesterday we visited the National Trust property of Knighthayes in Devon, and although we have visited many times before, this was the first time we managed to catch magnolias in their glory. There are several magnolia trees in our village, smallish, between five and fifteen foot high, maybe some a little bigger, and I love their glorious display, the soft, velvety flowers, the pure colours, which are so striking against the leafless dark wood of the tree.

The magnolias at Knighthayes were extraordinary; as well as the smaller varieties we knew there were huge, wonderful trees with enormous plate-sized flowers, petals bigger than my hand and of fabulous colour. The day wasn’t brilliant, the weather wasn’t perfect, but the blossoms were.

Most of the trees we see now are hybrids, but these ancient trees have been on this plant for millions upon millions of years, before there were even bees – originally they were pollinated by beetles, which accounts for their massive and distinctive flowers. Fossilised magnolias have been found which are older than twenty million years, and related plants are even older, going back to nearly one hundred million years ago!

I’ve learned a new phrase,  ‘disjunct distribution’, which means  a distribution ”that has two or more groups that are related but widely separated from each other geographically’ so magnolias can be found naturally mainly in east and southeast Asia, but also in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, and  South America.

Their name was first given to them in 1703, in Martinique, where Charles Plumier named the trees he found after the famous botanist Pierre Magnol. as with most natural things, the tree has other uses than being spectacularly attractive, Chinese and Japanese medicine, as timber, the leaves as food wrapping, and the flowers are state symbols for Mississippi and Louisiana, and the national flower of North Korea.

As you might imagine there are many artistic connections, the films ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Steel magnolias’, and songs by The Grateful Dead and JJ Cale. However, perhaps the most famous, moving and tragic song which mentions magnolias is Billie Holidays ‘Strange Fruit’ which mentions the scent of magnolias – the trees from which many lynchings took place…