Looking back at New Year’s Eves

I started writing here in 2012, and in a way it has become almost like a diary as I write about things I have done – as well as other things too. So as 2016 draws to a close, here is how I ended my blog on December 31st over the last four years:

2012 –

  • January – my birthday, a special birthday for my cousin Diana, and I start the Dharma Foundation Course, February – a trip to Iceland, I miss the Northern Lights, and St.Valentine’s Day! March – the family holiday in Kettlewell, Yorkshire, I start my blog and publish my first novel, ‘Farholm’, April – my sister Andy’s birthday, May – family get together in memory of Aunty Beryl, but also thinking of her sisters Audrey  and my mum, Monica, June – The Jai Ho on Jubilee day where the Sabres play live! I publish my second book ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’, July –  an abundance of raspberries… but that is about all our garden produces this wet year, August – getting together with my buddy Wendy and husband, Mac on Box Hill, Surrey, also my daughter’s 18th birthday, September – my daughter’s dream comes true, she starts University in Ulster! October – my best friend Andrew’s birthday, and this is the year he publishes his first book! My 21st wedding anniversary, November – my son’s birthday! Publication of my third novel, ‘Loving Judah’, December – happy birthday to my darling husband, and happy Christmas everyone!

2013 –

  • looking back over the previous three months, and things I’d done in October November, December – A visit to London to see the ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ exhibition at the British Museum… Brew Dog – unfortunately I was driving so I only sampled sips… Dungeness is a strange but magical place… This is my third year of teaching English conversation, and it’s just as much fun… a fabulous exhibition in Salford Museum and Art Gallery by Sarah Greaves… the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham… The annual family party with my four cousins… a visit to Radwinter, the name that inspired my new novel!
  • Last cream tea of 2013 at Derrick’s Tea Rooms Cheddar

  • 2013 seems to have been very busy, lots and lots of music, wonderful times with friends, lots of sunshine, family, lots of writing, visits to new places, meeting new people, pubs and beer, undertaking new enterprises… writing, pubs, new places/enterprises/people, music, friends, sunshine, family

2014 –

  • I just had to…

2015 –

  • In a reflective mood I wrote this:”I was speaking to a friend and she said something which really resonated with me… not in a personal sense, thank goodness, but in a creative way. She was talking about a family she knew and how difficult it had been for them over the holiday period, and as I listened to what she was telling me, I thought how very fortunate we are, my husband and I still together and in love after twenty-five years, with two children who have come home to share the holiday with us because they like as well as love us.

    The family my friend was talking about have not been so lucky. The couple have both been married before, the husband has four children by his first wife; two of the children are no longer with their own partners so their own children have only one parent living with them. The wife has two children who are not speaking to each other, and with whom there are other complications revolving round their own children.

    My friend said, it is like a family picture, which once it is broken can never be properly put together again, there are always pieces missing, and some of the pieces which are still there are damaged…

    I thought that was such a vivid way of describing families where things have gone wrong… Whatever the reasons behind things not working, there is always sadness and hurt… I really hope that the family my friend knows has a better future, and that their problems and difficulties are resolved as best they can…”

 

Shortbread

We were lucky enough to be given some shortbread for Christmas – everyone likes shortbread, don’t they? It’s so easy to make I don’t know why I don’t make it myself for Christmas… but then I would have to eat it and I’d eat too much and then I’d have the losing weight challenge… Maybe I’ll make some for next Christmas and either give it as presents or be restrained in eating it myself.

I was reading Philip Harben’s little book, ‘Traditional Dishes of Britain’ and in his chapter on shortbread he mentions ‘a certain Scottish poet, name of R. Burns‘ who once referred to his native country as ‘The Land O’ Cakes’… well obviously I know to which poet he is referring, and I had heard the expression land O’Cakes because there was a pub in Manchester named that; I never knew where the name came from until now! Sadly I won’t be able to visit it, drink a pint and revel in the knowledge because it is now a Brazilian restaurant.

Hear, Land o’ Cakes, and brither Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to Johnie Groat’s;—

On the late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations by Robert Burns

Back to shortbread… according to Mr Harben, Scotland’s famous shortbread is actually much older than Robert Burns, and goes back to Roman times when a marriage custom involved breaking a wheaten bread over the head of the bride: ‘Since it was not the intention actually o stun the girl, which might have caused irritating delay, it was reasonable enough of the ancients to devise some type of cake which could be calculated to shatter at a touch. This was the genesis of ‘shortbread’, a very fragile confection.’

He goes on to explain the name: ‘in culinary parlance the word short in connection with flour paste implies that it contains fat – the greater the amount of fat the ‘shorter’ it is said to be, and fat is sometimes referred to as shortening.’ The recipe Mr Harben gives is very short which he explains – ‘for the purpose of this book it was important to choose the very finest recipe‘. He also explains that as shortbread contains no water it only binds together with the gluten in the flour, hence it is very brittle.

The  thing which makes good shortbread great is the quality of the ingredients, particularly the butter. As you may know I am a great fan of various baking programmes, and one of the bakers, Paul Hollywood, always uses his hands to mix things – way before his time, before he was even born, Philip Harben recommends the same, experts, He tells us, ‘do it with the bare hand – a tool that is hard to beat for this and many like operations

here is his recipe – so simple, and no doubt so good (I will let you know if i try it next Christmas):

  • 12 oz plain four (or 11 oz plain wheat flour, 1 oz rice flour served together
  • ½ lb butter
  • 5 oz castor sugar
  1. beat the butter and sugar together until ‘they are well and truly ‘creamed’ and there is a perceptible lightening in colour… and the whole thing really does look like cream
  2. add half the flour and continue to beat until the mixture is ‘really light and fluffy
  3. add the remaining flour and now knead it until all blended in
  4. pack it into a shallow tin or mould
  5. mark the shortbread by pinching the edge between thumb and forefinger, ‘and prick (“docker”) it all over with a fork’
  6. bake to a pale biscuit colour – Mr Harben is a little imprecise, but suggests 30 mins in a moderate oven – but adjust according to thickness. However, another recipe I have found with the same quantities of ingredients gives  190°C, 375°F, gas mark 5 for 15-20 mins

Here is a link to some information about the pub

http://pubs-of-manchester.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/land-o-cakes-great-ancoats-street.html

Thursday night… and unusually it may be pub night…

For no particular reason we decided to go to the pub, even though we usually never go on a Thursday! Friday – maybe/usually, Saturday – occasionally, Sunday – yes, nearly every Sunday, Tuesday – yes, it’s quiz night so of course we go!

It was very cold and foggy as we strolled the couple of hundred yards to the Dolphin. The bar we usually go in, sort of called the lounge, was full of a party of people all having a good time. I don’t know if they had eaten here, if they had it would have been  a damn fine meal! They were all happy, jolly, chatty and having a lovely time. We went through into what we call the cross benches – the bar between the lounge and the public – a little joke because ‘the cross benches’ because in the House of Lords, members who are not aligned to any particular party take their places.

I had beer tonight – occasionally I have wine, but tonight was definitely an Otter beer night, and mighty fine it was too. We chatted about various things, then when I went up to get another round I had a brief conversation with our friend Terry, or El Tel, Sir Circumference, Mr W, about Christmas before returning to my seat with beer. A couple who had been seated at the bar were leaving; we didn’t know them, but as it is in good pubs we had a brief conversation. He had been a printer and illustrator; he’d illustrated/printed a book about Frank Sinatra, but when he’s shown it to whoever had commissioned it, their wife destroyed it, along with all the art work!

Terry came and joined us and we chatted about driving, driving big lorries, tachographs, Christmas, Minehead… the usual sort of pub talk. Time was rung and it was time for us to depart; we wandered back home, down the middle of the village street, pondering on how lucky we are to live where we live!

Earthquakes…

My next Radwinter novel which should be published in late spring early summer 2017, is called ‘Earthquake’; it won’t spoil anything to tell you that the main character Thomas Radwinter has been commissioned to find out about the deaths of two young girls, Marjory and Florence, in 1931 – yes, almost ninety years ago. Thomas has a diary written by Cynthia, a friend of the girls and has come across a reference to earthquakes which seems to have some relevance to the deaths. Thomas begins to investigate earthquakes in 1931:

Oh well… back to Marjorie and Florence, they’re not going anywhere… we were thirteen in the summer the earthquake came and we were eleven  What on earth did it mean?

The earthquake must have been metaphorical, the deaths of two girls, little Marjorie, and Florence… Florence Baxter was fourteen when she died, in the ghastly accident with the window. I had a shiver of memory… I had remembered this when I was researching my family history – John and I had been locked in a room by Sylvia, it was really hot and there were flies in the room which I didn’t like. John tried to open the window, one of those sash windows like the one which had killed Florence and it had fallen on his hand. I had screamed and screamed Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ but of course she didn’t come. John cried silently but didn’t say a word, I tried to comfort him… he would have been about eleven, I would have been about four…

I don’t believe in God, but thank God our children will never suffer as we did…

So… the earthquake… two deaths of their friends, that must have been pretty much like an earthquake in the lives of these children. So 1931… what else happened in 1931?

I looked through the events Wikipedia outlined for 1931…

  • in January, I was informed, the National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act is formed to work for the repeal of prohibition in the United States… prohibition… that was when alcohol was illegal. I know it’s still illegal for people under twenty-one to drink or even go into a bar that serves alcohol, my brother Pauls’ sons had a problem when they went over to visit their mother; I remember Django aged eighteen complaining that American kids can buy guns but they can’t buy a beer! Oh well, I guess each country is different…
  • Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron, Albert Einstein worked with Edwin Hubble – he of the Hubble telescope I guess. Did he invent it? I have a vague memory that it was named after him and I wander off to look it up, and yes, the Hubble telescope is named after him… he died in 1953…
  • In 1931 Elly Beinhorn began her flight to Africa. I have no idea who she is, but she crashed on the way home and was rescued by Tuareg tribesmen
  • Gandhi
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Earthquake! There’s an earthquake in February in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand!

The earthquake destroyed Napier and Hastings and killing 256 people… Were any of the thirteen girls orphaned by the earthquake? Can I find out who died?

  • Joseph Stalin
  • New Delhi
  • the first Dracula film is released!
  • Oswald Mosley… he was a fascist, wasn’t he? He founded the New Party but was that when he became anti-Semitic, was he racist against other people, against Chinese people? I have no idea…
  • Good grief on March 3rd The Star-Spangled Banner is adopted as the United States’ National anthem…
  • Oh good old Mr. Spock – Leonard Nimoyis born in 1931! Is he still alive?
  • Arnold Bennett– not sure I’ve ever heard of him, he was a writer apparently and he died of typhoid after  drinking local water in Paris to prove it was safe… well, silly him…
  • Another earthquake!

 In Nicaragua, this time, tragically it kills two thousand people… Was Nicaragua part of the British Empire, were any of the girls parents there? There certainly seems a lot of earthquake activity going on in 1931… but maybe it goes on all the time and isn’t mentioned much on the news…

  • Severino Digiovanni was executed in Argentina for being an anarchist… never heard of him but what a name…
  • Porsche is founded… I’ve heard of Porsche, obviously…
  • And another earthquake in the Dogger Bank but no-one injured…
  • Empire State Building…
  • The magnificently named Wiley Post and Harold Gatty become the first people to  complete a round the world flight in a single-engine plane… at least they didn’t crash and have to be rescued by Tuareg…
  • And in November the Panama Canal was closed for a couple of weeks because it was damaged by earthquakes
  • Haile Selassie…
  • And on August 10th a massive earthquake Xinjiang province… 10,000 die… good grief
  • And also in China, the Yangtze River floods and 4,000,000, that’s four million people drown…

Did the girls somehow find out that their real families had died in the earthquake or had drowned… or were safe? Oh goodness… maybe as many as four million Chinese people died…

1931 was a real year for earthquakes, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama Canal, and China… but has this anything to do with the comment Cynthia makes? I must find out more about earthquakes, but of course this might be a complete and utter red herring…

If you want to read my other Radwinter books, genealogical and family mysteries, here are the links:

Book 1: Radwinter – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483003646&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

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Book 2: Magick – https://www.amazon.co.uk/MAGICK-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00OHV4MR0/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1483003646&sr=8-5&keywords=lois+elsden

Cover Magick

Book 3: Raddy and Syl – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1483003646&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

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Book 4: Earthquake – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Hope-Radwinter-Book-4-ebook/dp/B01AKU9XMK/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1483003646&sr=8-4&keywords=lois+elsden

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A boon to the servantless housewife

It is really hard for us now in our society to imagine a  time when even people on very modest incomes and in very ordinary circumstances had servants; when my mother was a child her family were actually quite poor, and grandpa only had work every so often, but even so, they had a maid, a local village girl who worked mainly in the kitchen but also did other household chores. Maybe with four young children it was difficult to cope for grandma, but we just can’t imagine it now – to have servants, with all that implies in the way they were treated and thought of. These days people might have cleaners or nannies, but most ordinary people wouldn’t think of themselves as superior or above people who were paid to help in the house.

I’m sure the war changed the situation greatly but even after the war, in 1951, Philip and Katherine Harben published a book called ‘Entertaining at Home’ and a critic described it as ‘A boon to the servantless housewife‘. This is how the book is described –

‘Entertaining at Home’ is addressed to the host and hostess who do their own cooking for themselves and their guests. The authors believe that good dinners can be cooked without strain on the host or hostess who should be able to sit down happily with their guests and enjoy their own meal – without having to worry and rush out behind the scenes to put things right! hence the main feature of this book consists of a series of recipes for complete meals, each one worked out to the last technical detail, which the host or hostess (however inexperienced can cook and enjoy And there is ample choice between simple meals and festive meals.

Four calling birds

As the fourth day of Christmas this the day that the true love gave four calling birds… or were they colley birds or collie birds which may have been blackbirds, or canary birds, or maybe collared doves? Who now knows? Apparently it is bunkum that the gifts have some Christian connotations, starting with True Love being God (no mention of what the partridge or the pear tree might signify) and going through old and new testament, faith hope and charity to the four – gospels or evangelists of course, to the twelve drummers drumming being the apostles creed.

It’s probably just a jolly Christmas song, first noted in the eighteenth century but probably older, and the word colley is connected to coal, therefore black, therefore black birds!

 

http://mentalfloss.com/article/32015/12-things-you-might-not-know-about-twelve-days-christmas

http://enterprise.shef.ac.uk/2011/12/colly-birds

Thin and blue and linear

Two series of The Thin Blue Line each of seven episodes ran between 13 November 1995 and 23 December 1996; it was written by  Ben Elton, and starred Rowan Atkinsonn James Dreyfus, Mina Anwar, Rudolph Walker, David Haig and Mark Addy among others, as well as guests such as Ben Elton himself, Stephen Fry, Melvyn Hayes, Trevor Peacock and Alexander Armstrong.

We loved it, and tonight, with bowls of popcorn, we’re going to settle down to watch the DVD