Bygone frolics from Mrs Robb

Sue Robb was a columnist and cookery writer for a Northern Irish newspaper, but I haven’t been able to discover which; however, I have an interesting little booklet, Recipes From The Farm Kitchen, which is by her. As well as all sorts of recipes there are some old stories and insights into farming life in former times. I have no idea of knowing but I think that some of her stories must have been what her mother or even grandmother told her; ‘wasp waists, whale bone corsets and starched petticoats’ seem like something from the nineteenth century! Her remembered world is an idyll as she describes it, but I am sure life must have been very hard, the work unremitting, and sometimes very miserable for most of the agricultural workers, but here she describes a typical Saturday night:

Many a farm hand, working a seven day week, went to a dance on a Saturday night – riding an iron-framed bicycle, pushing along bumpy roads full of potholes, with only a guiding glow from a big sulphur smelling carbide lamp, the flame enclosed behind thick glass and shining out like the glow from an enlarged candle.

Carefree youth and a zest for life accepted these minor obstacles, for the girls were coy and wasp waisted, laced up in whale bone and modestly demure in starched cotton petticoats, but light of foot and bubbling with energy.

The daily toil was back breaking, but a few hours sleep snugly encased in a bulging feather tick in the kitchen settle bed, was sufficient. The air was warm from the peat embers on the hearth, and the heavy red quilts gathered firmly round the ears, kept out the draught. Then it was back to the plough and harrow.

Twas the night before NaNo…

Tomorrow, November 1st, the 30 day 50,000 word challenge begins; tomorrow is the start of the National Novel Writing Month, a competition in which the only prize is passing the target word-count within the allotted four weeks and two days.

I have completed the challenge in the last two years competitions, but this year my mind is an absolute blank… the various ideas I’ve had seem to have shrivelled and died and the odd bits of inspiration just seem odd bits… I think part of the problem is that I’m still trying to complete another story, and I’m into the last part of it, the fifth and I’m hurrying to get that finished. It’s a story I had hoped to complete in September but somehow that hasn’t happened. However that is no excuse for not have properly thought out at least a sketch of an idea for tomorrow.

BEDFORDSHIRE OCTOBER 2015 (384)What happens in this house across the water… who lives there, what do they do… it looks quite a warm orange colour, soft sandstone bricks, but supposing it’s outwardly benign appearance hides something darker? I’m not sure if I can write this sort of story though… somehow I need people to inspire me… so maybe it’s the ‘who lives there?’ I ought to think about.


What happens beneath this weird structure? Is it malign or benign? Or maybe its love, two lovers lie looking up to the blue sky above, each dreaming of their future, but maybe they have different dreams of different futures… Or maybe time shifts and they sit up and step out into somewhere different… But again, I’m not sure I could sustain a story like that; I could write something as an exam piece, but 50,00 words?

BENVARDEN 37A dark pool… what was found in the bottom of it? Why was anyone looking in it anyway? Was it an innocent discovery, a gamekeeper cleaning the pool of weeds came across whatever it was? Was something innocent thrown in and as it was being rescued something else was found? A shoe thrown in by a child maybe, a ball, a set of golf clubs in a temper by a man who’d just lost several balls – I knew of that happening! Maybe friends were swimming, maybe a family were boating, maybe a hot dog jumped in to chase a duck? Maybe it’s a pool with a legend attached and a historian, archaeologist, folklorist investigates…

I don’t think any of these scenarios work for me… but I’ll wait and see… by this time tomorrow I might be so desperate for something to write, anything to write, I take up one and run with it!

Anniversary celebration in Ireland

It was our wedding anniversary last week and dear friends took us out to lunch… in Ireland! No, not the country, but a tiny hamlet in Bedfordshire. There was a very attractive pub called the Black Horse and we parked and went in to find it equally as attractive inside.

We were shown through to a lovely table and were quickly attended to by a cheerful, friendly and smiling waitress who brought us water and menus and drinks. This was where it became difficult… such a wonderful menu I was hard-pressed to decide what to have! Should I have the moules mariniere… or the BBC cassoulet of beetroot, butter bean and chorizo, three of my most favourite ingredients? Or maybe the salade niçoise of beetroot and smoke mackerel – how yummy does that sound? Or maybe brawn?

I think we were in an extension at the back, but it all flowed through from the pub and bar area so beautifully with unusual art on the walls and many mirrors which made the area light and open and with a great feeling of space. There were tables to suit every sized party – we could have accommodated six on our table, we were adjacent to a table for two and in the window was a round table which could have comfortably accommodated eight. There were other tables, all with people sitting enjoying each other’s company and the super food, chatting and eating and spending a pleasant lunchtime.

Our drinks had arrived and my fellow diners had decided, two fish and triple cooked chips (I hope the waiter realised we were teasing when I told them my cousin said they had been cooked once in the factory, reheated yesterday and cooked again today!!) and one fillet of sea bass and spicy mango salsa… In the end I made a decision:

BEDFORDSHIRE OCTOBER 2015 (358)… the sharing platter as a main, humous (flavoured with orange not lemon – a genius idea) piccalilli which surely was home-made, a melt-in-your-mouth divine mushroom flan, spicy soup (celery I think) as smooth as velvet and perfectly seasoned, warm chicken strips with a light tomatoey salsa-y sort of dressing, an onion bhaji, olives and bread which had been flashed on a griddle…

I made the right choice, it was delicious! It was a great way to celebrate our anniversary, and huge compliments to the chef and the friendly and efficient waiting staff.

Here is a link… check out the menu and you’ll see what I mean!

Another story waiting to be written…

Out for a country walk and we found a trail which took us along beside a river. Now this waterway was just a river but we could see evidence that it had formally been used to provide water for various mills, and that it would have been used in a variety of ways whereas now it is just for our leisure.

There was a particular part where a mill must have been and on its site was a factory – nothing to do with water, it was just there on the area where a different sort of industry must have taken place. We followed the footpath which crossed the river, and there, at the edge of a field, was an old house, now abandoned and empty. it was very typical of the area, and typical of village houses i remember from my childhood, made of a local brick which when I was young I hated, a creamy sallow grey. As an adult now I thin the bricks are rather attractive, but I didn’t like them at all as a child, I felt rather unsettled by houses of that colour.


If this particular house had been occupied with children’s toys in the garden, washing on the line, and shrubs and plants settling themselves down for autumn, I might have passed by with barely a glance. But there it stood abandoned; the windows were dark and empty and round the back were rickety extensions, sheds and greenhouses, all falling to bits.

The house just asked to be written about… I’m not sure what I will write or even when I will write, but as it is the National Novel Writing Month coming up on Sunday – November 1st, then maybe it could be an inspiration for me!

What a surprise!

Going away for a few days with friends, we knew we’d have a lovely time, good company and shared interests and an interesting and characterful cottage to stay in… but we were a little dubious about the location… Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire is next to Cambridgeshire, my home county and as children we’d been to various places, and passed through more in our neighbouring county. My mum had lived there as a child and had fond memories of a rural idyll but that was back in the 1920’s and thirties.

We arrived in the dark, but what a surprise when we went out for a walk the next day! good gracious, what an absolutely beautiful county! What a gem! We were constantly exclaiming over the beautiful countryside, the charming villages, and when we went to Biggleswade with such an unprepossessing name we discovered a truly charming and very friendly town.

BEDFORDSHIRE OCTOBER 2015 (261)Looking across at the Mansion House, on the Old Warden Estate

It is quite a small county, the 41st smallest out of 48 English counties, and also with the 36th smallest population. It’s county town is Bedford, which was originally a Danish settlement, but there are of course, many other towns – as well as Biggleswade, there is Luton, Sandy, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard, and obviously many more! Originally known for being a wool town, there are many industries there, including a corrugated cardboard factory that we passed on one of our lovely country walks!

If anyone suggests you go to Bedfordshire for a visit or a holiday do so!We are looking forward to going back and exploring some more!

BEDFORDSHIRE OCTOBER 2015 (382)A lovely riverside walk, beside the Ivel… we almost saw an otter… I just caught site of his tail!
…the otter’s tail.. but that’s another story!

Creativity people

I came across a very interesting article which I shared with my creative writers; I teach two groups under the U3A umbrella… the University of the Third Age. U3A is a great organisation  for people who are not it has to be said in the first flush of youth. Classes and groups are taught by people who have some knowledge or expertise for free, just for the enjoyment of sharing the knowledge or expertise!

So here are some aspects of creative people which I shared with my group of creative writers, partly to pat them on the back, but also to get them to appreciate their own talents and abilities.

  1. They take risks.
  2. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
  3. They follow their true passions.
  4. They get out of their own heads.
  5. They lose track of the time.
  6. They surround themselves with beauty.
  7. They connect the dots.
  8. They constantly shake things up.
  9. They make time for mindfulness.

Here is the link to the very interesting article from which  these ideas came; Carolyn Gregoire writes here it is: