The Yeovil Literary Prize

In one hour and eight minutes, the Yeovil Literary Prize Competition will close; I have entered for several years, and I have done again this year. I’ve never had any success, but I’ll keep trying!

Yeovil is a town in south Somerset which I have never properly visited, only passed through. People have lived in the area which is now the town for thousands of years since palaeolithic times; there were tribes wearing bronze torques before the Romans came, it was a thriving town when Domesday was recorded but the Black death killed half the population. By the eighteenth century it was an important glove-making industry, but two hundred years later it’s defence industry made it a target for German bombers during the war and many people were killed.

The Literary Prize has been going for twelve years, and apparently attracts entries from across the world! There are four categories, novel, short story, poetry and writing without restrictions. I entered the novel competition, submitting a synopsis and the opening chapters of a novel – which had to be less than 15,000 words altogether. The results won’t be announced until September and the judge is Victoria Hobbs a literary agent….

I shall report back in September! In the meantime, back to work on my current novel!

The management of the oven…

However skillful a cook or baker someone is these days, it really doesn’t compare with what cooks in former times, even recent former times, had to contend with. Our ovens and cookers, our microwaves, and all the equipment we have or see on TV shows allow us to be more precise, efficient and accurate, and quicker and easier than ever before.

I have no idea when J. & J. Coleman Ltd of London and Norwich issued their little ‘Book of Cornflour Recipes’ but it has a little section in the introduction on baking:

Baking – The management of the oven is the most important and most difficult thing the cook has to learn. Experience is the only way. Every oven has its characteristics (and very perverse they often seem!) because of differences, in make, fuel, position with regard to draught, etc.

It’s true that experience helps with learning to cook well, but our ovens don’t have the same extreme of difference as they did when this little booklet was published. If I went to another house and used another oven, I’m pretty sure I’d manage – and I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about draughts!

The following hints maybe useful:-

  1. Always have the oven the required temperature before using. if a coal range is used, make the fire up well and when ready to use push the damper in. If a gas oven, light it about 15 to 20 minutes before using.
  2. To test the heat of the oven. Sprinkle some flour on a baking tin and put it in the oven. if in three minutes it turns:-
  • golden brown – it is a very hot oven suitable for scones and pastry.
  • pale brown – – it is a hot oven suitable for buns and small cakes.
  • deep yellow – it is a moderate oven suitable for large fruit cakes.
  • straw colour – it is  a slow oven suitable for finishing off large cakes.

learning how to manage a fire to have it at the right temperature for cooking anything must have been very difficult, no wonder there was the comment about ‘experience is the only way. These days we can set our oven at a temperature, we don’t need to test it as they did before with flour on baking tins. And lastly in this section was a safety warning…

If you have a gas oven see there is a pipe from it to remove the fumes. When lighting the oven leave the door open for one minute to clear it of gas. See that the tin on the floor of the oven has some water in it – this will prevent the things from drying.


This boy, 2…

I mentioned this song in a post the other day when I was writing about Alan Johnson’s autobiography of the same name. It was written by John Lennon, although it is always credited to Lennon McCartney. I was a great Beatles fan and first heard it as the B-side when I bought the 7″ vinyl single ‘I want to hold your hand’. It’s sung by John, with Paul and George harmonizing with him, and to a teenager in the sixties, it was dreamy and romantic – and that is how I hear it still now!

I know vinyl is becoming more popular again – but I wonder how many people actually play their vinyls, and how many just have them as collector’s items? There is a whole vocabulary connected with them, A-side, B-side, and those magic numbers, 33, 45, 78, and I still talk about records when I mean CDs or albums.

If you want to rread my other post about This Boy, the autobiography, look here:

Spades, again

While visiting a museum in the Netherlands recently I saw this spade and it reminded me of the Spade Museum in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

This is a post I wrote about it:

One of the most moving museums heritage centres I have been to is Patterson’s Spade Mill at Templepatrick, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. I thought, before I had visited, that it would be a water-mill with the paddles shaped like spades, but no. A spade mill makes spades, obviously!

It was fascinating to see the process which goes into making a spade, but what I found really interesting was the fact that in Ireland there were literally hundreds of different spades from massive to tiny, and with all sorts of different shapes to suit the particular digging task, ditching, peat cutting, spades for stony soil, spades for clay soil, spades for sandy soil… hundreds of different spades. Those who could afford it would have a had their spade made to fit, left footed, right footed (get the reference?) and with a haft made to measure their height. My husband had a spade made for him with a handle long enough for his 6’7″ height; he had a Lurgan spade, a long thin, spade to suit the sort of soil we have in our garden.

I got to thinking about Ireland’s history and the spade; the men and women who used these humble tools were experts. They had stamina, strength and skill; they could work for hours in appalling conditions, often ill-fed and sometimes starving. When the horrific years of the Famine came to Ireland and people emigrated in millions many took with them the only skill they had, digging.

It’s thanks to these strong brave men that Britain has its canal system; many of the ‘navigators’ who dug the navigations – the canals, were Irish. Men who dug out tunnels for canals, railways and roads sometimes gave their lives  to increase the prosperity of Britain before and during and after the Industrial Revolution. The underground system in London (and new York and other American cities) and then the motorways in 1960’s Britain… Irish men skilled with their shovels, strong and uncomplaining of the conditions in which they worked and the prejudice they encountered…

I’m not a great poet, but I wrote this poem:


Would I love my family so much
That I would leave them
And go out into the world
With the only thing I had
My only skill
A spade
To dig?

357 different spades,
One for every different sort of work.
Would I take my spade and go
To where I was reviled
to do the lowest sort of work.
How to confuse an Irishman:
Give him three spades and tell him
To take his pick.
“No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.”
Would I do that?


Cowboys were the thing when I was a child; we didn’t have a TV but we sometimes watched ‘The Lone Ranger’ at a friend’s, or ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’, and every year I got a Roy Rogers’ annual for either birthday or Christmas.  Our games were often playing cowboys and we would gallop round on our imaginary horses, maybe it was Trigger, or Silver, or Scout if I was being Tonto when we were playing Lone Ranger!

One of my aunty’s was very keen on riding and horses, and so my cousins were too; my mum had no interest in it whatsoever, but by saving up my paper-round money I was able to go with a friend to a local stable and for about six  weeks we went riding. The lady whose stable it was, didn’t teach us, we just sat on the horses and trekked round the countryside, a whole gaggle of girls, the lady, and me and my friend who sat like sacks of potatoes.

The next time I went riding was much later; I was about twenty, working in the summer holidays in a hotel, and a gang of us waiters and waitresses went out together and did things; one of the things we did on this occasion was to hire some horses and go through some woods… well, what a terrifying experience! I didn’t fall off but racing among the trees with every sticky out branch wanting to knock me off my steed, I was lucky to remain in the saddle.

The last couple of times I was on a horse was when I was teaching; I worked with young people who were disengaged from school and education, and we were trying to re-engage them in school in the last year of their statutory education. It was all about building relationships, and we did lots of things out of the classroom, team building exercises for example. On two occasions we went riding… and strangely enough, on these two occasions, I was fine… not only was I not in danger of falling off, I was actually able to cope with the giant beast which I was riding. The second of these experiences was with a horse called, Harry, who was very naughty, determined to tip me into any ditches we went by, or to go into the woodland and eat leaves, or to plunge into brambles… but I was firm with Harry, I hadn’t been teaching difficult kids for years and years without learning to show who was boss, and on this occasion, Harry, I was boss.

The horse in my featured image, by the way, belongs to our friends, and I have no intention of riding him, but am quite happy to stand and admire what a fine fellow he is!


Evaporated milk

Quite often as children we would have a simple dessert of stewed fruit and evaporated milk; it was always evaporated, never condensed milk – I didn’t come across that until I was an adult. We didn’t have a fridge, let alone a freezer, so tinned dehydrated milk was a useful stand-by and it also made a change from custard with desserts.

I was thinking of evaporated milk after a conversation about ‘fluff’… a jelly made with less water and then just as it was on the point of setting, evaporated milk, Carnation in our house, was whipped in. Tinned fruit could e added for extra yum, usually it was either mandarin oranges or strawberries.

I came across this little recipe leaflet, from Carnation:

Most women know that it’s fun to try new recipes – but sometimes everyone knows that a tried-and-trusted family favourite always wins in popularity.
It’s when you can add a ‘touch of luxury’ to those everyday dishes, that you’re giving your family the meals they’ll love coming home to.
Housewives who take pride in dishes they serve, say that cooking with Carnation, is like cooking with cream! Carnation blends with every ingredient and adds its own richness to them all. Do try it in these economical recipes. You’ll be delighted with the creamy, full flavoured improvement.

The family favourites which are mentioned are creamed rice pudding, baked custard pie, Carnation jelly (sounds like fluff to me!) brown and white blancmange, bread and butter pudding, and lemon pudding, and suggestions of adding it to creamed potatoes, white sauce and soup… hmmm, not sure of that!