Swinging the lead

We went to the Dolphin tonight, for no particular reason except we thought it would be nice to socialise and drink beer in congenial surroundings. The beer was very fine tonight and as we sat chatting to each other, pat came in. Pat is a great sailor, as so many people are round here, living next to the sea as we do.

We talked about all sorts of things, Pat’s sailing adventures, navigation, the importance of ships and boats in past times, being a river or sea pilot, and somehow or other we got onto the words and phrases we have in everyday English which come from our connection to the sea. No part of our country is further than 70 miles from the sea.

We were talking about Mark Twain the author,and how his nom-de-plume was derived from the cries of pilots measuring the depth of the water they were travelling through was two fathoms deep. We got onto talking about how they ‘sounded’ the depths, by dropping a line with a lead weight at the end; it had a hollowed out bottom which was filled with wax which, when it reached the bottom would pick up a sample of the river or sea bed. This would show whether it was sand or mud and give some indication f the channel they were following and maybe the dangers they might expect.

It must have been a really boring task; the weight had to be swung forward and so when the ship passed over it an accurate measurement could be taken, how many fathoms deep the water was ( a fathom is six foot), and a sailor who really couldn’t be bothered would ‘swing the lead’ backwards and forwards without letting it drop to the sea or river bed and pretend to take a sounding.

This eventually became a phrase meaning anyone who was pretending something, to be ill, to not be up to the task, whatever,  but to avoid doing the actual job!




Lyminster, home ground

This beautiful tiny church is in the small Sussex village of Lyminster. I’m sure people must have lived in this lovely area not far from the sea, but it’s known for a fact that Alfred the Great bequeathed the village of Lullyngminster to his nephew, Osfred. Nearly 170 years later it is mentioned in Domesday, but the site of the church dates back to the time of Osfred. The actual church today is very old, nearly a thousand years old, its walls dating from about the 1040’s and its supposedly the burial-place of St Cuthflæd. It is a Grade I listed building, so it is extremely important in terms of our heritage, as well as being no doubt extremely important to the parishioners.

The peaceful old graveyard contains many memorials to people from long ago, including my great-great-great-great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, and my great-grandfather. They were all named William, and the tradition continued to my uncle who was also a William; there it ended as he had daughters not sons, but my own sons’ middle name is William.

Four Williams, photo taken about 1892

My grandfather aged about six, and the three other Williams

I don’t know if other members of the family were also buried there, certainly a great-great uncle was; so may of the gravestones were so encrusted with lichen that I couldn’t read who lay beneath. I wandered around in the sunshine, thinking what a beautiful and peaceful place it was.




Iris, iris or iris?

My favourite flowers are irises, and I had them in my wedding bouquet; there is something about the shape of the flower, and whether they are dwarves or extra tall, I really love them! I was just looking up to see when they come into flower and realised that the word ‘iris’ refers to many other things as well. Obviously I knew about the iris of an eyes, and that it is a name which was popular many years ago (my husband wasn’t keen, so our daughter is not called Iris!)

I discovered that iris can be

  • a colour – I guess it would be the classic purply blue, but there are so many different shades of purply blue it would be difficult to know exactly what shade was meant!
  • the Greek goddess of the sea and sky and a personification of a rainbow – how lovely! her parents were Thaumas and  Electra, and she had a number of sisters including the harpies.
  • a genus of praying mantis which has fourteen different species
  • towns in California and West Virginia, and a waterfall in Wyoming
  • loads of different graphic/information/IT/science systems
  • several ships including the HMS Iris and the USS Iris, also planes, boat planes and trains
  • natural history/science/astronomical things oh and computer games
  • films/TV programmes
  • singers/bands/songs/albums

So when do irises come into flower? Small or dwarf irises flower in April, the taller ones flower in May!

A good crop of apples!

P1020092Our russet apple tree is loaded with blossom this year; we had a good show last year, but the weather knocked it off and there weren’t many insects about because it was cold and miserable. This year we have had plenty of sunny days, quite warm, but very cold nights which apparently blossom likes and it’s stayed on the tree. We’ve had quite a bit of rain too, but mainly at night, so I reckon we should be in for a good crop of apples, especially as there are a lot of insects around this year, hover-flies, bees, bumblebees, all good for pollination!

So, thinking ahead, I wonder what I should do with the bounteous crop I’m expecting? A few years ago when we had more than we could eat I dried apple rings, and they were delicious and lasted really well.

Russets are my favourite kind of apple with a very distinctive rough skin and I like its texture, although some people prefer a smooth apple. They are called ‘russet’ because of their skin, russeting is its texture, and there are many different varieties. They have a wonderful perfume and an even more wonderful flavour; however if we have hundreds of them we can’t possibly munch our way through them all, even though they keep well.

I’ve found lots of recipes specifying russet apples, mostly because of their sweetness, good flavour and the texture of their skin; one I liked which was so simple was slices of russets with slices of toasted Gouda cheese, served simply with crusty bread – her was an option for onion but I wasn’t sure if apple and onion work together, maybe they do! perhaps I should try! Russets are good for eating, juice, baking, or making into cider! I wish I liked cider!

There is a lovely recipe here for a compote: http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/russet-apple-compote/#axzz3YnR1F584

  • 500g russet apples, peeled and cored (I wonder what it would be like with the peel which has such a wonderful flavour? As it is to be blended at the end maybe it would work – or maybe it wouldn’t!!)
  • 50g honey – would maple syrup work? It’s worth a try!
  • 50ml cold water
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • vanilla pod seeds (scraped) – I guess you could use a vanilla alternative such as essence or paste
  1. Heat half the butter in a pan and when bubbling add the apples, honey and vanilla
  2. Cook for a couple of minutes, add the water, turn down the heat down and simmer, cover and cook for another ten minutes, stirring if necessary
  3. Take the pan from the heat and add the remaining butter, cut into pieces, and stir gently until it has all melted
  4. Blend everything until it is really smooth and then put into really clean sterilised jars as you would for any jam or preserve
  5. It will keep in the fridge for about two weeks .

Paste sandwiches anyone?

img019Here’s an illustration from the 1935  Round-the-Clock cookery book, compiled by Mrs Wise and published ‘issued from’ The Fleetway House, Farringdon street, London. it is a strange book as the pages are so thick they are almost like cardboard, and really rough. Maybe it was cheap!

I’m not sure I would fancy paste sandwiches, but maybe we would call them paté sandwiches today. There are several recipes for paste, bloater paste, made from bloaters, hard-boiled eggs, butter and nutmeg; cheap savoury paste made with ox liver, stewing steak, fat pork and both anchovy sauce and anchovy essence; economical sandwich paste made from lentils, onion, grated cheese, curry powder, butter, dried mint and tomato ketchup… I think I’ll reserve judgement on that! There is also a recipe for sardine paste…

I’ve looked through the book and cannot find a recipe for the savoury jellies… I wonder why that is? I guess they would be made with aspic or gelatine, and there are two recipes for jellied fish, including Cornish herrings… Not to modern tastes!

The last illustration on the page is for sausage roly-poly; a mixture of beef and pork sausage meat is spread on a piece of grease-proof paper, spread with mustard, arranged with halves of hard-boiled egg and strips of cooked ham or any meat; the whole thing is rolled into a roll and then wrapped in a pudding cloth and boiled for two hours. When it comes out of the pot, the cloth should be retied tightly round it and then the whole thing pressed between two plates with a flat-iron on top. Once it is sufficiently pressed it should be glazed with a gelatine sauce… As with so many of these old recipes, was it really worth it? Would sausage and egg sandwiches not be easier and just as tasty?


Watching Time Team

Lovely sunshine meant loads of washing, and loads of washing means loads of ironing. I set up the ironing board in the sitting room and went through the channels on the TV to find something to watch. I was pleased to find that my all-time favourite programme was being repeated, Time Team.

Time team is a programme about archaeology, using a team of renowned and revered archaeologists and other experts. it is presented by Tony Robinson, now Sir Tony, who is well-known as an actor, and the premise is that the team have three days to do a ‘dig’, usually to find a particular thing, or the truth about a particular place, or at the behest of a viewer, or history club or society, who believe they have something of interest in their local. It may seem on paper to be an artificial concept ‘only three days to find out whether…’ but if it was just an open-ended challenge it would go on forever! However, because of the quality of those involved, their knowledge, their personalities, the seriousness with which they took on the challenge – and yet with friendly humour among the team, it was not only a huge, huge success, but must have inspired thousands upon thousands of people young and old to become interested in history, and what lies beneath our feet.

There were twenty series plus ‘specials’, for example week-end events, and although there were many different people involved, the main team consisted of a lead archaeologist, usually Professor Mick Aston, a couple of diggers and archaeologists including the amazing Phil Harding and his hat, a landscape investigator, a geophysicist, a surveyor and an illustrator. There were other regular diggers, who appeared week after week, series after series.

The programme was eventually cancelled which was a great shame; it had begun to change, in my opinion, as although the core team remained strong and never, ever, ever, ever  dumbed down, somehow the emphasis seemed to shift as if trying to appeal to an imaginary audience  who wouldn’t know the first thing about archaeology. In fact, I believe the viewers were enlightened and educated, enthralled and intrigued – even young children loved the show, as I know from my own family!

Watching it again as I busily ironed, I thought again how sad it was that it no longer had new series, and how grateful I was to all concerned for the twenty years of episodes I have enjoyed.


Gate guardians

At Chiddingstone Castle we noticed two dog statues, positioned either side of the big gate at the entrance to the house; they were perky and alert in a stony way, and they reminded me of other such statues place either side of an entrance to a stately home, or in a sentinel position in a big garden.

A gate guardian is usually understood to be a piece of military equipment like a big cannon placed at the entrance to a castle or barracks, or in the case of an airbase it might be an old aircraft. Janus was the Roman god of doors and gateways, and for the Chinese there were the door gods Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong.


I saw another pair of dogs when we were at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Bruton; they were on either side of what might have been an impressive farmhouse.

Bruton (25)

… and there was another beast in Devon,


…and his friend…


…and then I found this little chap in the Netherlands…