The quarry fell silent

Up above our town of Weston-super-Mare, there is an old disused quarry; originally, when the town was just a small fishing village, it was used by the local people. The Town Quarry, however became a noisy and industrialised place in the nineteenth century, when it was  worked for the stone to build the rapidly expanding Victorian seaside town. The quarry fell silent  as quarrying ceased in the 1950’s.

This was not the end however; in the 1980’s Weston Civic Society received a  grant from the local council to lease  the site and it is now a nature reserve with a working blacksmith, and art studios in the old quarry buildings. There is a great café and it’s a popular place to visit to see exhibitions, and to have a cup of coffee, cake or lunch.

quarry-29-09-13Flowersquarry-29-09-17The old quarry buildings, now the blacksmith works there

quarry-29-09-18… and old stone bucket

http://www.oldtownquarryart.co.uk/

http://www.oldtownquarry.co.uk/

Different ways of telling the story

On the writing course I’ve been doing at the American Museum in Bath, run by http://writingeventsbath.co.uk this week we were thinking about other ways of telling our stories – maybe a letter, a diary entry, an email… I have explored these different methods in my short novel for reluctant readers, ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’. Different chapters were written in different ways, newspaper reports, TV news broadcast, dialogue, tourist guide, first person and third person narrative, and diaries. In my Radwinter novels I have used old newspaper and court reports and personal accounts written as if in the nineteenth century – that was quite a challenge!

We were asked to write something on the course, and I was for a moment stumped… then some characters I’ve been playing with came into my mind… It’s an untitled novel at the moment, and maybe an actual romance – I’ve written novels with romantic elements, but never ‘a romance‘.

This is the scene I wrote some time ago:

She didn’t recognise the car parked beside hers at first… it was only when she went into the house and Clare came through with a glass of wine in her hand that she realised her daughter was home.
“Darling! How lovely to see you, you should have told me you here coming… I’ve been at book club, I would have cancelled if I’d realised.”
“That’s OK Mum,” Clare kissed her cheek. She was wearing a different perfume, lemony and light, lovely for this warm weather. “I’ve brought the car.”
Her heart sank.
“You can give it a test drive and I know you’ll love it and then we can sort everything out.”
”Test drive?”
“Yes, come on… I thought we could go out along the coast…”
“What now? I can’t go now, I’ve had best part of a bottle of wine… if you’d told me you were coming… I mean I’m thrilled you’re home, but I just didn’t realise…”
Clare put her glass down. “Well, never mind, I’ll take you out; I know you’ve been in my car before, but just to remind you…”
She had never been in Clare’s car before… but she wasn’t going to say so.
“I hope you’ve only had that one glass…”
Clare gave her a cross look which she quickly smoothed away.
“Only the one glass, Mum, and I’ve only sipped it…”
They went out to the car, Clare chatting brightly and slightly artificially… but maybe it was the wine she had drunk at the book club which made her daughter’s  seem trivial and contrived.
As they set off, it seemed that Clare was driving rather quickly, but maybe that was the drink, which made the houses they flashed by seem blurry.
“You will love how instant it is, how quick… you’ll just love driving it, Mum.”
“Clare, I haven’t changed my mind; I can’t afford to buy this car, and I can’t afford the insurance on it… I’m having to be careful with my money… I work at the Fort just to get extra. My pension isn’t huge and I won’t get my state pension for more than another ten years.”
Clare didn’t answer; she turned out of the small estate and set off along the coast road, past Opal Harbour.
“Look how responsive it is, look how it takes the corners!”
She was actually holding the arm rest because Clare seemed to be driving far too fast for the narrow road.
“Wonderful, Clare, but perhaps you should hang onto it for a while, save your money…”
“I haven’t got any money, that’s why you need to buy it so I can get the other one.”
“I’m really sorry, sweetheart…” No she wasn’t, she wasn’t sorry at all. “I’m really sorry, but you’ll have to ask your dad; he earns much more than I do, and when he does get his pension it will be more than twice what I get.”
Clare didn’t respond but turned so sharply the tyres squealed as she cut up a narrow lane which would lead to the main road from Easthope to Castair.
“See how it handles, honestly you’re going to have such fun!” Clare ignored her completely and was now driving so fast that it as dangerous.
Her daughter was like a stranger to her, and so she said nothing more until they came to a halt back on the drive.
“Come in darling, and I’ll make some coffee… have you eaten, can I make you something?” She opened the door and stood waiting for her daughter to lock the car.
“No thanks Mum; I really need you to just sort out the finances…”
“Clare! I cannot afford to buy your car! I can lend you a small amount of money, sweetheart, but I don’t want it! I don’t need it, it’s not big enough, and the insurance…”
Clare flung open the door of the car and almost dived in. She started the car and swung out of the drive and the door slammed shut as she shot off down the road, her headlights coming on as she came to the slight bend. There was the sound of a car horn, as if she had unexpectedly met someone coming towards her, and sure enough another pair of lights came slowly down the road and turned into one of the neighbour’s drives.

I took this scene and imagine the mother writing an upset letter to Clare her daughter:

She wrote a letter, an actual letter on paper that she would never send. She’d learned her lesson on that one – in the dying days of her marriage she’d written to Gerry in her full fury, an email full of invective and vitriol… as soon as she’d pressed ‘send’ she’d regretted it and it was only because somehow she’d made a mistake with his address that it came back undelivered – and she had deleted it straight away.
So she wrote an actual letter, with a pen, on paper to Clare.
Hi darling, it was lovely to see you but I was very anxious that we parted on such bad terms and you drove off so upset – I was worried you might have an accident.
Darling, you are the most beautiful young woman, you have your father’s dark hair and your grandma’s perfect eyebrows and eyes –
She refrained from making any comment about Gerry or his mother –
– but when you get angry, as you did with me this evening, those eyebrows come down in a furious line, and your blue eyes blaze with rage – and quite honestly darling, it makes you look ugly –
– and here she descended into a torrent of words –
– your nostrils flare and your nose goes red, and tonight all I could see was your pretty mouth distorted with venom –
– 
she scribbled the last lines out, the eyes, the nose, the mouth.
You were such a beautiful baby, people would stop and admire you in your pram, and you grew up into being a stunningly beautiful woman, head-turningly beautiful – and it breaks my heart when you get so angry with me because I can’t, actually, truly can’t, give you what you want.

I’m not sure i will ever finish this story… meanwhile, if you want to look at stories I have finished, here is a link to my e-books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

This particualr story was inspired by the music of Jonas Carping, whose picture i have used for my featured image. Here is a link to his page and his music:

http://jonascarping.com/

 

Biscuits

The world is full of biscuits these days, there are even shops which just sell biscuits – ok, so actually they call them cookies, but in essence they are biscuits. My mum was a great cook and baker, and there was always something in the cake tins which she had made – and not just cake also scones and buns, but apart from Viennese whirls and melting moments (which we called cookies) there were no biscuits. We did have packet biscuits sometimes at home, not often it’s true, but we might have jammy dodgers, or custard creams or even occasionally chocolate Bourbons. perhaps home biscuit-making wasn’t popular, maybe there weren’t the recipes available, maybe for some reason she just didn’t make them.

A recipe I’m sure would have been popular in our house is for walnut and date biscuits; dates were an ingredient we always had at home – they were sold in solid blocks of compressed fruit ( we also had boxes of single plump dates, but that was only at Christmas time) The blocks of date were cut or shaved and the fruit used in puddings, cakes and desserts – and also, when we visited my aunty who was on a very limited income and lived a bedsit – date rolls! Date rolls were small bridge rolls, split, buttered and filled with slivers of dried dates.

The main variety of nut when I was a child was the peanut, and they were sold either in their shells, or in their red skins, or roasted and salted. Other shelled nuts were used throughout the year in baking, mainly walnuts and almonds, but also occasionally Brazils and hazelnuts. At Christmas there would be nets of fresh nuts, what a treat – although my grandfather who had spent some time in Manaus,  always said Brazil nuts weren’t fresh because the nuts didn’t come down the Amazon until the end of January.

Her is the recipe:

Walnut and date biscuits:

  • 180 g flour
  • 180 g butter
  • 350 g castor sugar
  • 225 g chopped walnuts ( plus some whole ones for decoration)
  • 1 egg
  • 350 g chopped dates (I like them in fairly big pieces)
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp bicarb dissolved in boiling water (I  just use self-raising flour as I don’t like that bicarb tang)
  1. cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  2. mix in the egg and vanilla
  3. mix in the rest of the ingredients and you will have quite a sticky mixture
  4. drop spoonfuls onto a greased and line baking tray, flattening slightly (I use a fork)
  5. decorate with the walnut halves and bake at 180° C, 350°F, gas mark 4 for about 12 mins until golden brown

My featured image is of my grandpa who lived in Manaus for a while; I’m sure he would love these biscuits – with string black tea!

English with a Difference

One of my favourite cookery books is ‘English with a Difference’ by Steven Wheeler, first published in 1988. It a seasonal recipe book, taking the cook through the seasons with dishes which use the best produce of the time of year. Each chapter has an introduction with a lovely photo and a paragraph or two about what’s available in the shops and in the garden. September, he quite rightly says is a month of endings and beginnings – the end of summer and the beginning of the drift into autumn. He mentions the traditional harvest festivals – do churches and school still have them? And he goes on to list the wonderful fruits coming into season, the common apples and pears, and the more unusual, greengages and damsons. He also talks about the fruit vegetables, meaning of course such things as tomatoes, aubergines and marrows. vegetables, shellfish, fishy fish and game, all are appearing in the shops and markets.

His recipes are interesting, different, but not so extraordinary that you have to go out and buy weird condiments or spices, or peculiar types of pasta or grain. For example, his September starters include fifteen minute chicken and parsley soup, a salad of smoked eel with crisp English pears, and Colchester oysters with black pepper and Stilton. Other recipes include tomatoes, herbs, figs and a combination of iced melon and wild blackberries – doesn’t that sound nice? He promotes regional produce – Devonshire mussels and Brixham squid, and hedgerow harvest, crab apples, field mushrooms, blackberries. And because it’s the harvest time of year, he has a section on pickles, jams and jellies.

The book is no longer published, but you can find it on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Difference-Seasonal-Cookery-Book/dp/0712621504/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475184914&sr=8-1&keywords=steven+wheeler+%22english+with+a+difference%22

The Rivals

I have read, studied and seen the comedy, the Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan several times, so when our reading group decided to go and see the latest performance at Bristol Old Vic I was quite excited. When we were studying it at school we actually performed the play, or parts of it, and i seem to remember that I was Lily or Julia… but it’s a long time ago! It’s ages since I’d been to the theatre to see anything at all, and yet when I was young I loved going, so the combination of going to see a play I liked with friends I liked was just perfect.

… and I have to say I was disappointed… My friends really enjoyed it, so maybe it was just me… the audience were laughing and applauding, so maybe it was just me…

I thought the set was great, and original, I thought the costumes were good too, but somehow the performances just failed to make me laugh, and in fact I might even have uttered some groans. In my opinion (not that of my friends or the rest of the audience) there was too much running around, reminiscent to me of the old Whitehall farces. There was too much female screaming, Lydia Languish and Mrs Malaprop  shrieked and laughed hysterically, pulled faces, fell on the floor, spoke in strange exaggerated accents… It seemed more like a pantomime – there was little subtly and it just became tedious – for me. The male characters shouted and stamped and gurned at the audience, and yet seemed pale in comparison to the over the top Miss Languish and Mrs Malaprop. To enjoy the predicament the characters find themselves in, there has to be some empathy, some liking for them… and I just didn’t have much. When characters are ridiculous, they have to be played straight in order to be funny; a whole cast of caricatures becomes tedious. There were the same visual jokes in this performance, the same  gags repeated over and over – as I mentioned, the falling on the floor… it didn’t seem funny the first time, and even less funny when it was repeated.

In the interval there was a fire alarm and we all trooped outside, and there were the actors, standing waiting to return to the stage. Luckily it was a false alarm and we all trooped back in for the second half. Whether the actors had got a little chilly outside, or whether this half is always like this, but it seemed cooler and calmer, and I did begin to engage with what was going on. One actress stood out for me and that was Jessica Hardwick as Julia and I’ll be interested to see her performing in the future.

I seem in a minority in my opinions, however, and the revues have nearly all been good, so well done the cast, and I’m sorry I was left cold!

My name is Shsh Shshsher…

I know I have only just published my latest e-book, Lucky Portbraddon, but already I’m thinking about and working on my next Radwinter story… just to give you a little taste… Thomas Radwinter is working at home when he gets an unexpected phone call:

I was concentrating completely on the ins and outs of some legal papers for a client and didn’t register my phone was ringing. I answered it rather more loudly than I meant to and there was silence then the sound of laboured breathing…

Good grief, don’t say I’ve got a heavy-breather… Hello? I said rather firmly and sternly ready to finish the call and block the number.

“Good morning… is that Mr. Radwinter….” And the voice, man or woman I couldn’t tell, faded away, then started again. “My name is Shsh Shshsher…”

“I’m sorry, you are?”

“Shsh Shshsher… A friend at the golf club suggested you might be able to help me…”

When I was working as a proper solicitor in a practice in Strand, where Kylie also worked, I had a dear old gentleman who always asked for me to assist in his matters and business, usually changing his will which was a bit of a hobby of his. When our firm amalgamated with another and moved their head office to Castair, Kylie and I were effectively given the sack; however my kindly old gentleman insisted that I continue to handle his affairs and more than that, recommended me to a lot of his friends at the golf club. The golf club gang, as I call them, are my best clients, and are nearly all nice people and also quite wealthy.

As well as the usual conveyancing, enduring powers of attorney, wills and even a couple of divorces, they have asked me to help them on several intriguing ‘cases’ as I mentioned above, with the flowers on the grave, the Moroccan and the Tibetan Lama.

“I will try my best Mr. Shshsher…” I couldn’t ask him again for his name, having tried to work it out three times. “Perhaps we could arrange a time where we could meet, or maybe I could call on you… what sort of business do you wish to conduct?”

There was another yawning pause before Mr. Shshsher replied that he would have to discuss that with me… he wasn’t sure I could help, he wasn’t sure anyone could help, but his friends had recommended me highly…

He gave me his address, a place I didn’t know over on the other side of Strand, and we agreed I should call the next day at eleven.

The old gentleman proves to have a most unusual mystery for Thomas to solve…

In the meanwhile, here is a link to Lucky Portraddon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475138730&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden