The dilemma…

Tomorrow is November 1st, All Souls day, and it is also the first day of the national Novel Writing Month – an on-line challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel… I have done it for the past two, or is it three, years and it has been really helpful and useful. However, this year, i just feel a bit wrung out of writing… I’m still writing every day, here and a novel I’m working on provisionally called ‘Earthquake’… But can I take on the extra work of over 1500 words a day for thirty days – I’m also going to be away for a long weekend, and going to Kent at some point for a couple of days… so it will be 50,000 in 25 days… which I reckon is 2,000 words a day…

I did have various ideas for various new stories, but I’ve had them for a while so really they are old ideas… I have the plot of a story I wrote a long time ago which I want to write completely new, updating it in all sorts of ways and completely rewriting the ending… but I don’t particularity want to do that…

Perhaps I should just open a new document tomorrow and start writing and see what happens… I haven’t actually signed up for this year…

Hmm, let’s see what November 1st brings…

November 1st is also:

  • the 305th day of the year
  • the birth day of L.S.Lowery and Edmund Blunden
  • the day Phil Silvers died, and Jacques Picard the oceanographer
  • Samhain in the Northern Hemisphere
  • and Nicholas II became the last Tsar of Russia

Chocolate cake – (rich)

My mum often wrote out recipes – on bits of paper, in the back or recipe books on the blank pages, on letter writing paper, and it is so lovely to come across her handwriting. I often mention her in connection with cooking, but it seems as if adventures and stories are mostly about my dad; they were both very clever, imaginative people, so looking back on it now I’m not quite sure why I heard more stories from my dad than from my mum – maybe she was busy making ‘Chocolate Cake – (rich)‘!!

  • ½ lb broken biscuits, crisped in a cool oven then crumbled
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 3 oz margarine
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  1. cream margarine, sugar and syrup
  2. work in the cocoa
  3. lightly stir in the biscuit crumbs and pack in a greased tin lined with greased paper
  4. top with chocolate, icing etc

Funnily enough, I don’t ever remember her making this cake, chocolate sponge cake, buns, cookies, scones and any number of things but this is a recipe which maybe she never actually got around to making!


Ghosts, huh!

It’s Halloween, and although I am not a big fan of the commercialisation of it I do think he traditions of it – the real traditions not the dressing up in expensive costumes with dreadful masks and make-up, should be remembered.

In my next novel, provisionally entitled ‘Earthquake’, the main character is investigating an incident which happened in a girls school almost ninety years ago. He has also been asked to investigate the supposed haunting of a friend’s hotel, so ghosts are on his mind. However, in this episode, he has gone to the old school building which has been left to fall to pieces, and he finds a way in to explore.

I just stood in the doorway, getting my bearings, and judging whether it was safe to go any further. There was a big hole in the floor, the floorboards rotten and an ancient carpet tumbled down into it. It smelt musty and damp and not very nice, but nothing revolting.

So, perhaps foolishly – well actually yes, foolishly, I began to explore. Way back when it was built it must have been a lovely place; not huge, the room I had just come out of seemed to have been created out of two rooms knocked through; the double doors leading onto the terrace were off set as if once in the middle of the outside wall of a nicely proportioned room and the windows were differently spaced.

Now in the large vestibule, I guess you’d call it, not a hall, I reckoned that maybe this part was unchanged, and for a moment I imagined the thirteen young girls running up the stairs to their rooms, maybe the Misses Oxfleets shouting – no calling after them to slow down and act like young ladies.

The front door from the outside had been pretty ordinary, but inside, I could tell that it wasn’t the original. There was a sound from upstairs and I stopped still… but nothing… something falling, squirrels maybe…

I edged round the hall and headed towards the back of the downstairs bit… I wasn’t going to venture upstairs, I didn’t fancy negotiating my way round the hole! The hole also meant I wouldn’t look at the other half of the building.

 There were ancient radiators, rusty and broken, a couple coming away from the walls and leaning at bizarre angles, all covered with a coating of dust, webs, and a sort of brown gunge… rust maybe or some sort of growth…

There was what had been a kitchen at the back but it looked derelict and dangerous and the ceiling had come down in one place. There were old-fashioned units and cabinets that were broken and damaged, perhaps the first evidence I’d seen of vandalism. Beside the kitchen, along a passage were more rooms, and I came across another staircase which was totally broken, no way could anyone except Spiderman get up it. There were rooms off the corridor, with modernish doors with windows in which made me think these had been classrooms. The doors were all locked and I couldn’t see in any of them. There was a disgusting toilet, which I don’t even want to mention and I came to a full stop at a locked door.

It was all very dim and a couple of times I used the light on my phone. It smelt a bit damp and a bit mouldy and a bit stale, but not disgusting. It didn’t actually seem beyond repair, but it would be mighty expensive…

I knew of tragedies that had occurred here, and I could imagine the jealousies and rivalry between the girls who were here, probably strictly supervised and together day after day and all those teenage feelings. Horrid things had happened here, possibly murder, but there were no ghosts, nor ghosts of the poor soldiers who had convalesced here.

I headed back to the vestibule, treading carefully, and sticking close to the wall; I’d had one experience of falling into a hole with no-one knowing where I was and certainly didn’t want a repeat!

There was another noise from upstairs, I’d heard a few harmless sounds, but nothing spooky or scary, but it gave me an insight into how someone might imagine something…it was definitely giving me an angle on the hotel! Ghosts, huh!

I nearly had heart failure as a hand glided down the banister rail… a pale figure appeared from nowhere… it stared at me, a black silhouette against the light from the front door and then with a ghastly, echoing  shriek, it vanished in a cloud of smoke.

Crikey! What the hell was that! My heart rate soared and I could feel perspiration almost spurting out of my skin… what the…

I reeled back against the wall, holding onto it as if I was about to collapse, which I just about was…

Sois brave, Thomas! Some forgotten French lesson returned, sois brave! Be brave, imperative…. And I rushed towards the hole in the floor and peered down into the dark cellar below,  my heart beating as if it was going to jump out of my chest.

There was still a cloud of dust but as it cleared I could see a figure lying in a tangle of broken floor boards and other debris, a figure lying ominously silent and still.

Trying not to go the same way, I called out to them, and a moan came floating up. This was no ghost, this was some intruder like me; my heart rate began to return to normal, but I was shaking… good grief! I’d just been thinking this place was giving me an insight into hauntings etc, and bloody hell, it certainly was!

The latest from the Dolphin…

So it’s Sunday night, and as usual we tootle along to the Dolphin and are pleased to meet our friends Tim and Trevor…and as usual we talk about all sorts of things…

  • …  Sarah Guppy patented a design for piling foundations in 1811 which was crucial for the iconic bridge across the Avon Gorge; however, instead Mrs Guppy gave the plans to Brunel for free because she believed women must “not be boastful”. She was born Sarah Beach in Birmingham in 1770 and lived in Bristol after she married Samuel Guppy, of a Bristol sugar company
  • the newest restaurant in town, Bistrot Pierre
  • Tim’s holiday in St Ives
  • fireworks night and how we used to celebrate it, buying fireworks from the local shop and sort of playing with them – arranging them and deciding which should be lit first etc… I can remember the smell of the gunpowder right now!
  • how we didn’t celebrate Halloween – apart from making little lanterns from a hollowed out orange, or a torch in a paper bag
  • Bangladesh’s win over England in the cricket
  • Andy Murray’s voice
  • cats, especially our neighbours cat, the legend who is Smirnoff
  • betting shops
  • house prices – and the price of the houses we used to live in
  • pub food
  • pubs
  • bad knees, and how tripping over a jacket on the back of a chair isn’t helpful
  • the smoking lady who walks up and down our road in beautiful boots who we think works at the hospice – she is smoking a cigarette, she isn’t on fire or anything
  • the cost of having building work done
  • Cornwall
  • the price of beer
  • food in pubs
  • garage break-ins
  • etc… etc…

As usual we had a thoroughly pleasant evening!


The White Hart, the Railway and the Plough

I suppose because my family is connected to pubs, my dad and his brother and sister were brought up in the Portland Arms, Cambridge, his grandparents had the Fitzroy Arms, also in Birdcage but no longer there, and because I’m a pub person too, I am fascinated by the names of pubs. (I’m fascinated by names in general!)

I came across a list of the most popular pub names – in terms of those which are open now, in the number order of how many there are:

  • Red Lion
  • Crown
  • Royal Oak
  • White Hart
  • Railway
  • Plough
  • Swan
  • White Horse
  • New Inn
  • Ship
  • Kings Arms
  • George
  • Rose and Crown
  • Kings Head
  • Bell
  • Wheatsheaf
  • Queens Head
  • Victoria
  • Black Horse
  • Castle
  • Star

It’s clear that some of these names hark back to the sorts of names and signs used to declare allegiance, and I guess in the past, people would have been able to ‘read’ them, the Red Rose might be a Lancashire pub, the White Rose a Yorkshire one – just as an example! Some of them also have a nod towards a more rural past, like the Plough and the Wheat Sheaf, and to occupations, ploughmen, blacksmiths, tanners for example. There are a lot which commemorate royalty, sometimes particular kings and queens, sometimes just an all-purpose name like the King’s Arms. I had a look at the top 200 pub names on one list, and found that  a massive out of 246, 65 had the names of animals – real ones and imaginary such as unicorns and dragons.

Modern pubs often get given names which a lot of traditionalists find annoying or stupid, but back in the nineteenth century, maybe the same was said about the Railway Inn and the Station. There are geographical nods to our maritime heritage, to our militaristic past, and some names – even old ones are just so random, there is no telling where they came from!

I guess we will wander down to the Dolphin later…

Every window was open wide

I don’t often  do this but I am going to share a post from the Moving Dragon Writes blog which two friends and I run. This blog is to share and promote other people’s writing, and on this occasion it’s someone from one of my writing groups.

I suggested that the group might like to take a poem and use it as inspiration; they could write a poem, write about the poem, write something just triggered by the poem. I’ve mentioned that I used Wordsworth’s poem, ‘Resolution and Independence’ for my inspiration, and another member of the group also chose Wordsworth, his ‘Ode: on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’.

I’m sure wr all remember teachers who were really significant in our lives – who weren’t just great teachers but who had an extra something which was really life-changing. I think of Mr and Mrs Varley and all my teachers at Milton Road School in Cambridge, and I think of Mrs Johnson and Miss Guyatt from when I was at the Cambridgeshire High School For Girls in Cambridge. Truly inspirational.

Here, Ann Bancroft shares her recollections:

Good afternoon, Mrs Dee

Every window was open wide but it made little difference. The air outside seemed even hotter than the air in the classroom. It was the end of Friday afternoon and the stifling heat made the poetry lesson ahead seem even less tolerable. I was in a class of fifteen year old girls studying for ‘o’ levels. None of us really liked poetry.

The English teacher arrived on time as she always did. She was the oldest member of staff or so it seemed to us. It feels disrespectful, even all these years on, to call her ordinary, but with almost grey hair, with little awareness of the fashions of the day, there was nothing that made her stand out in a crowd. She came in carrying her shopping bag. It was how she transported, from class to class, the books she needed for her lessons.

We all stood as she entered, a mark of respect that was routine in those days. ‘Good afternoon, class. ’Good afternoon, Mrs Dee’ we chanted in reply.

‘We will continue reading the next part of ‘Intimations on Immortality’. Open your poetry books at the right page.’ At least it was Wordsworth, the one poet I felt I could connect with. He seemed to use language I was able to understand.

Mrs Dee began reading. She always read first. We would discuss our thoughts on what we had heard, and then read the passage several times more, for further discussion. Out homework would probably be to learn by heart what we had been studying. She was very keen on learning by heart. We knew all the major speeches from the Shakespeare plays we studied – To be or not to be, The Quality of Mercy, Once more unto the breach and numerous poems. She always checked our homework so there was no escape.

She used no gimmicks in her teaching. She did nothing to try to impress us. She just taught and we listened. I cannot remember her ever having any trouble with us. She never had to call us to order, yet we were not the easiest class. It was suggested that our behaviour had helped our French teacher decide to go to Uganda as a missionary!

Suddenly I heard the words ‘Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home’. At that moment she lost me. The picture created in my mind, the beauty and joy that filled my thoughts took me to a place where the heat and discomfort of the classroom no longer existed. I have no memory of how I managed my homework that day. No doubt one of the other girls would have told me what I needed to do.

The last time I saw Mrs Dee was my last English lesson in school. The ‘o’ level results were in for the staff to see, but not yet published for our eyes. She stood and looked at us, and then she said ‘I am so proud of you all. You have worked so hard. Your results are amazing.  I am very angry because all that you will be told is that you have passed. I dare not tell you your marks, so I have asked that an asterisk be put by each of your names when the list of results is published’. It was the first time I had seen her so emotional. She heaped praise on us all as if she had had nothing to do with our results.

Over the years ‘Trailing clouds of glory…’ often comes into my thoughts and brings again the feelings it did the first time. With it come memories of Mrs Dee, that ‘ordinary’ woman who taught from somewhere deep inside herself and inspired us and enriched our lives beyond measure.

©Ann Bancroft 2016

Here is the passage Ann shared with us:

Trailing clouds of glory

(from ‘Ode: on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’)

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

William Wordsworth

Here is a link to our Moving Dragon blog – if you would like to share any of your work, please get in touch!

Vintage marmalade

I came across a jar of marmalade which we made in 2014; dark, sticky, bitter and perfect for breakfast. To me marmalade is different from an orange jam by its bitterness, that is why Seville oranges are used – or so I always understood!

I came across this interesting little piece, pondering on this very question…

There is no very clear understanding as to where jams end and marmalades begin.
One authority lays it down that marmalades are made of citrus fruit, another that jams are made of crushed fruit and marmalades from sliced or stripped fruits or small berries. But in the former case what of quince, green tomato and fresh fig marmalade, and in the latter, what of currant or pear jam.
It is all very confusing. My own personal definition is that jam is sweet and marmalade bitter – the kind of thing which does not cloy the palate and can be eaten for breakfast. Citrus fruit is bitter when cooked in any case and the various other fruit preserves which are termed marmalade – quince, green tomato, pineapple etc., all develop a refreshing tang by reason of treatment. And most marmalade is a thick mash rather than fruit suspended in jelly.

I have to say I disagree with Ethelind Fearon who wrote this; I think only citrus fruit can make marmalade, and anything else is a jam or conserve. I certainly disagree that ‘most marmalade is a thick mash‘, our marmalade certainly is not! our marmalade is as she then goes on to say ‘fruit suspended in jelly‘ – and a crystal clear jelly too!