Tasty, tasty!

Worpress is an inspiring place in so many different ways.

One of my favourite bloggers is http://almostrawvegan.com/ and her latest post really caught my imagination:


Yes, avocado and banana! So, guess what I had for my breakfast? It is so simple, slice the fruit, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper… voila! I added a little rock salt (Australian organic!) and I think I was rather more generous with the olive oil…. and it was delicious! I daren’t think how many calories there were in it, but I really enjoyed it with a couple of rye crackers.

I’m not sure I would have it again as a dish all to myself, but next time we have friends round for a meal I will definitely make it and serve it as a salad… I found the soft textures of the banana and avocado were too similar, so having it as a side dish with something with some bite or crunch would be lovely!

Pretty… and pretty tasty too!

Baskets 2

After I finished writing this morning about my family’s connections with basket making, we went to look at some furniture… we’re thinking of changing things around in our sitting room, and wondering whether we could afford a new settee. As usual I had my camera with me and as we went into the depths of the store I spied some modern baskets.

I couldn’t resist taking some photos… basket making is alive and well, but sadly I think the baskets I saw were made abroad from other materials such as seagrass, and not our locally grown willows.


As you may know I am for ever searching for stories about my ancestors. My great-great-grandfather Charles Penney, born between 1818 and 1821 was the son of a school teacher. Charles appears in the 1861 census and his profession is as a basket maker. This census is also interesting because there is my great-grandmother Lois, for whom I was named, as an eight year old girl.

1861 census

When I first knew this I imagined Charles in his little cottage, a basket between his knees, weaving the withies in and out to make something someone would carry to market. He probably did start like this, but baskets were much more than shopping bags in the nineteenth century. This was an age before plastic, before artificial fibres and man-made material, and baskets would have been a vital part of every home, farm, business. Some of them would have been huge for commercial purposes, and basket work would have made other items too.

I’m delighted that the willow industry after years of decline is coming back into its own, mainly due to a fashion for household baskets – you can see them in IKEA and Dunelm and every sort of household and houseware shop. My adopted county of Somerset is famous for its willows; if you are ever visiting here, as well as Bath, Glastonbury, Wells, Cheddar and Weston-super-Mare, visit this place:


Log Baskets

Somerset Willow Company, furniture, hampers,and coffins, yes coffins!

Somewhere else to visit:


Somerset Levels - Basket & Craft Centre

The Somerset Levels Basket and Craft Centre Ltd., laundry baskets, linen baskets, bike baskets,dog baskets, cat baskets,storage baskets, log baskets, matting, children’s chairs, garden baskets, and willow withies.

My favourite place to take people is this place with a little museum attached. They have a visual display, and also specialise in producing charcoal for artists. So if you have ever drawn in charcoal  willow is where the best comes from!


Visitor Centre

Based in the Somerset Levels, the heart of the willow industry, PH Coate and Son has been growing ‘Withies’ and producing wicker baskets and willow products since 1819; ‘English Willow Baskets’

My great-great- grandfather Charles continued his trade, and his son George took it up too; by 1901 George was living in Mansfield Nottingham and had a shop selling his baskets. His own son, Charles named after his grandfather, was also a basket-maker. What happened after that to the basket-making and the Penney family, I don’t know; however, by 1911 Charles junior, Lois’s cousin, was a professional musician  married with two children, Phyllis and Frederick.

This wonderful huge willow basket was on display in the town centre; I couldn’t help but think of my great-grandmother Lois as a little girl, watching her father and brother making baskets.

A silly mistake…

A silly mistake led me back to this poem which I haven’t read since I was much much younger:


Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

Sylvia Plath

Losing someone dear

Several of my books concern people who have been bereaved, and part of their story is how they come to terms with their loss and deal with all the issues which confront them. Deke in ‘Farholm’ had recently been widowed, Luka in ‘The Stalking of Luka Czekov’ had lost his beloved wife Rosa and in my next book, ‘Loving Judah’ Peter and Aislin struggle to come to terms with the loss of his son, Judah. My characters’ loss is a device to tell my story, and however sympathetic to them and however much I care for them, they aren’t real and their story is imaginary, a fiction.

Real loss is a so hard to cope with; the pain and grief are dreadful to bear. A friend of mine has recently published a book chronicling her own brave struggle to come to terms with the loss of her husband and partner of nearly fifty years.

The book is ‘Keys on a Brass Table: Living With Grief 2011-2012′ by Elizabeth Jerram


The profits from the sale of this book will go to charity,   Sarcoma UK:




This extremely fancy and very old grill, measuring about 40cm by 60cm, maybe slightly smaller, is set into a very old wall in Bridgwater, just near the River Parrett. I’ve no idea what the building might have been; the grill looks as if it was put there for ventilation rather as a secure window so maybe this was an old warehouse when it was a busy port…. or maybe I’m completely wrong!

Unusual names…

I have a fascination for unusual names as anyone who has read my novels can tell you. Unusual names do crop up  all the time, you only have to look in the birth announcement column of a newspaper to see what different names parents call their children.

I’ve just glanced at the Telegraph birth announcements and recently there has been Indigo, Edith, Orla, Hugh, Erin, Florence, Orlando, Albert, Zachary and Constance. As for unusual surnames, my surname and my married name are both quite rare too.

I came across the name Baikie recently and it seemed so unusual I couldn’t resist trying to find out its origin. I guessed it might be Eastern European or Jewish and looked back to the 1841 census to see if there were any families with that name then.

There was a family living in Milbourn Place, Tynemouth, Northumberland, thirty-two year old Susan Baikie and her children, Ann, 17,  Susanna, 13, James, 9, and William, 6, and little John, 4. There was no husband mentioned, maybe he was a sailor away at sea, maybe Susan was a widow. She, as Susanna Welch, probably married Peter Baikie in Wallsend, Northumberland in 1822, but I can find no trace of him later, or his death. However, in 1841 and from then on, Susanna was alone.

In Whitby, which is on the same coast was an elderly couple sixty year old Isaac and Hannah; he had been born in Scotland, she in Yorkshire and they married in 1810 when she was a Miss Potts. Could they have been Susan’s parents-in-law? Maybe. The last two Baikies on the census were James and Susannah living on Francis Street, Sculcoates; he was aged fifty-five and born in Scotland, she was another Yorkshire woman aged fifty. Because of the coincidence of the names, Susan has children with the same names as the Sculcoates Baikies I think they are better candidates as her parents-in-law. Maybe James and Isaac were brothers? There is one last Baikie in the 1941 census, old James born in 1766 and living in Ware, Hertfordshire probably as a labourer on Mardocks Farm.

In the 1851 census the eleven Baikies mentioned ten years previously have shrunk to seven individuals. Old James is still there  now living in Kensington, London with the same family as he had lived with on Mardocks Farm. Other servants are there with him, the same names s were at Ware; James is described as a purser R.N. (Royal Navy) so maybe he wasn’t a labourer on the farm after all, maybe he was a sort of major-domo?.

The Orkneys (wiki)

Also on the 1851 census Isaac and Hannah still live in Whitby and now it is mentioned that he was born in the Orkney Islands. Susan, now with her full name of Susannah still lives without a husband and with her son John still at home with her; she earns their keep as a green grocer. As for her other children I’m not sure; there is a James Baikie in a private army in Chatham Kent, but he was born in Caithness (famous now for its beautiful crystal) he is twenty-one, slightly older than Susanna’s son would have been… but on the other hand, people were not so sure of their dates of birth in those days, and maybe he had pretended to be older in order to sign up. Also serving his country is William B Baikie in Alverstoke, Hampshire, an assistants surgeon in the Navy. He was born in Scotland and qualified in Edinburgh.

Susan/Susanna is still head of her  household in 1861; she lives with her son John who is now a ropemaker, and his little daughter, Susanna aged ten. Also in Northumberland in the little village of Belford is another Baikie family from Scotland, Donald and Margaret; he is a gas manufacturer (how times are changing in the mid-nineteenth century) and they live with their children, Jane, Willamina and James McKay. There is no sign of James Baikie from Caithness, but someone who may be his brother is John, a Leading Seaman in the Royal Navy. The last two Baikies in this census are Robert and William, two young lads working as ships’ carpenters and boarding with Mrs Christie in Sunderland.

Who knows where all the Baikies went in 1871; none of the previous people appear and only four new names crop up. Elizabeth Baikie, born in Cornwall is visiting London with her newborn baby William. She may have married William Robertson Baikie the year before in Swansea; if so her maiden name was beer… as a Cornish lass, she would have known the little town of Beer in that county…. is that where her name derives from?  In Sunderland, Eleanor Baikie is living on her own at the time of the census with her three-year old daughter Isabella… could Isabella’s daddy have been either of the ships carpenters, Robert or William?

1881 – there is an explosion of Baikies! Thirty-four of them, sixteen from Scotland – several from the Orkneys, seven from Northumberland… and the rest from various other places the length and breadth of these islands. Of those we have met before in previous censuses we can see old Donald and Margaret still going strong; he’s still a gas man and they live with their daughter-in-law Barbara and her four sons, the eldest of whom is a slater. Elizabeth Baikie is again visiting, this time in Wales and this time with her husband W.R. who is a master mariner born in Stromness on the Orkneys. Eleanor is still living on her own with her daughter Isabella, but now the girl has a sister, Mary Ann, and we know their daddy was another  master mariner.

Stromness Harbour on Orkney (wiki)

In 1891 the clan Baikie is growing; there are fifty of them. There is still the strong Scottish  presence, 21 of them were born in Scotland, many in the Orkneys. There are eight Baikies born in Sunderland still mentioned. Cornish Elizabeth and her husband William are now living in Cardiff.

in 1901 there are thirty-nine Baikies… maybe some have moved back to Scotland, maybe some of the older ones,  have died. Elizabeth and William still live in Wales, he is no longer a master mariner but a carpenter, which is why I think he may be one of the boys from Sunderland who boarded with Mrs Christie. Fifteen of these twentieth century Baikies were born in Scotland, but only five in the North-East.

My story ends with the 1911 census; the Scottish connection is fading only ten of the fifty odd were born in Scotland, the Orkneys or Shetland, sixteen from the North-East – although we know that most of them had Scottish ancestors. William and Elizabeth are still living in Wales,now living off William’s mariners’ pension.

I love this historical detective work; I have found a picture of a couple of men, probably from the Orkney Islands, moving to Yorkshire and marrying young women there. More people from the Scottish Islands and Highlands move south to Northumberland and Yorkshire, families and single men. They mostly cling to the coast, working in professions to do with the sea, mariners, persers, naval surgeons, ships’ carpenters, rope-makers. The families move to the south of England and some go to the south coast, many remain in the London area. Doris Baikie even ended up in Godstone, Surrey,  where my husband has connections.

The family themselves would have many stories to tell that I can only imagine, for I don’t know any of them… although the grandmother of a much-loved and inspirational history teacher of mine was a Baikie.

Oh, and William B. Baikie, the naval surgeon? His picture is at the top of this post, but look at what he achieved in his life:–



William Baikie’s books are available on Amazon