A stuck song

I bet you will be singing this all evening now!

“An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, or stuck song syndrome, is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing. Phrases used to describe an earworm include “musical imagery repetition”, “involuntary musical imagery”, and “stuck song syndrome”.”

School dinner salad

I had school dinners when I was at secondary school, and on the whole I thought they were very good – obviously not as good as home-cooked dinner of course! We had a variety of different dishes throughout the week, and a variety of puddings and desserts to follow. I guess we did have a lot of carbs, but we were much more active, we cycled everywhere, we had games and dance several times a week, and although there were radiators, in the winter I guess the classrooms were quite chilly – no double glazing!

We did have salads from time to time, especially in the summer – a bowl of lettuce leaves, a bowl of sliced tomatoes, a bowl of sliced cucumber… have I missed anything? Oh yes, the salad cream. With that we would have sliced ham or beef or grated cheese… and did we have hard-boiled eggs? I think we did.

This was in Cambridge… a hundred or more miles away in Surrey, a lovely lady who later became my mother-in-law was a school dinner cook, and I have inherited her school dinner cook book… and lots of the things she cooked and prepared sound much more interesting… including the salads.

The salad vegetables were divided into two groups, and a salad would be made from 11 parts group A to 8 parts group B:

Group A

  • raw cabbage, prepared and shredded finely
  • raw sprouts, prepared and shredded finely
  • raw cauliflower
  • watercress – dead leaves and coarse stalks removed, washed well in salt water, shaken/strained and broken into sprigs
  • mustard and cress – stalk ends cut off, washed thoroughly
  • parsley – stalks removed, washed well in salt water, dried thoroughly, broken into sprigs or chopped finely
  • mint – discard stalks, wash leaves thoroughly, leave whole or chop
  • lettuce – outer leaves removed, washed well in salt water, drained thoroughly, torn into sheds (DO NOT CUT)

Group B

  • radishes
  • cucumber
  • tomatoes
  • apples
  • celery
  • carrot – raw or cooked
  • swede – raw or cooked
  • beetroot – raw or cooked
  • dates
  • raisins
  • peas – cooked
  • beans – cooked

It’s interesting that it mentions so firmly that lettuce should be torn not cut – it is all a myth that cutting damages or spoils lettuce… have a look here:


I can’t remember us having winter salads, but in mother-in-law’s school cookery book there is a list of vegetables for three different versions, which I wouldn’t mind. We tend to think of eating raw vegetables as a modern thing, but here we are, sixty years ago children were having them for school lunch!

Winter salad A

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • celery (or cauliflower)
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

Winter salad B

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • red apples
  • dates
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

Winter salad C

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • raisins, sultanas or dates
  • apples
  • lemon juice
  • celery (or cauliflower)
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

… and lastly, here is a recipe for salad dressing:

Salad dressing

  • margarine
  • flour
  • water
  • dried milk
  • vinegar
  • mustard powder
  • sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • yellow food colouring
  1. make a white sauce with the first four ingredients
  2. boil the vinegar and sugar together
  3. make the mustard
  4. add all the ingredients together
  5. add the food colouring to your desired shade


Family museum… the bagatelle board

Family museum… the bagatelle board

This is the next in a series of random pieces about items which I remember from the past which actually no longer exist – except in my memory. When I go on one of my tidying sprees I try to be really strict with myself; over the years I have hung onto stuff which I don’t actually use, just because of the associations with it. For example until a couple of years ago I had a cheese grater from ‘home’, my family home when I was growing up. It was exactly the same as my own cheese grater but I kept it, even though I never actually used it – it had a semi-circular back which wasn’t as convenient as the rectangular grater I have, or the box grater – where the gratings (cheese, carrots, whatever) fall into a box. So I hardened my heart to its family associations, and sent it to the charity shop – where maybe it went straight into the recycling rather than onto a shelf!

Today’s item in the family museum is an old bagatelle board… and I mean old, maybe nineteenth century. We may have had it at home, but I remember it from my grandparent’s home… maybe we inherited it when they died, but we lived in a flat and didn’t have a lot of room, so maybe, like so much, it went in the dustbin.

It seemed quite long to me as a child, maybe 3-4 foot and 2 foot wide, but maybe it was smaller and only seemed big because I was little. In case you don’t know what a bagatelle is, it’s a board with a curved end, a raised edge, nails stuck in pattern which could enclose a ball bearing, fired by a spring… the enclosures of the pins had different scores, and if your balls went in you would add up your score. It was very simple, but very absorbing. I think in an original set you would have a certain fixed number of balls – probably nine, but we just played with as many ball bearings as we had (or maybe marbles, but I remember silver ball bearings)

I guess maybe the bagatelle was a forerunner to the pinball machine, except on the board there were no levers, it was just chance with a little skill in how hard you pulled back the spring to ‘fire’ the balls. I think it might have been slightly raised at the top end, so the balls would drift down to the bottom.

My grandparents, when I knew them, lived in a big house called Newton View in the village of Harston, just south of Cambridge. I remember the rooms being large with high ceilings, and very yellowy light, no doubt low-wattage bulbs! There were many children’s things in the old house which I suspect might have come from my great-grandparents, things my grandpa played with as a child; there were strange books with violent rhymes which these days we would think unsuitable for little children – children with fingers and noses cut off with scissors, children being burned by candles and open fires…

I’m sure this picture was in one of the books – or one very similar…

No doubt all these things went into the rubbish when my grandparents died, but I do remember playing with the bagatelle board at our own home, so maybe that did come home with us… it was old, and no doubt would be worth something now, it was handmade from good wood and had been well looked after…

Where it went I don’t know, but at least it still exists here in the family museum!


Ir’s Sunday night…

It’s Sunday night, and unlike the previous three nights when we have thought about drifting down to the Dolphin for a jar or two and been trapped by rain, rain, rain, tonight it was not raining – in fact there was even a sliver of moon in the sky. So hopeful of meeting the two T’s, or ‘the girls’ we set off down to our local.

The pub was fairly empty tonight, but the two T’s, Trev and Tim, were ensconced in their usual corner, so with a couple of pints of fine Otter beer, we joined them. When we arrived they were talking about painting and decorating; we exchanged news – we had been to a family wedding last week and the beer festival today, we had bowls club news from Trev, and painting and decorating news from Tim.

We were drinking mighty fine pints of Otter, as was Trev, Tim was on our local cider, Thatcher’s Gold. I really wish I liked cider; local product, organically grown, giving employment to local people, a traditional product… what’s not to like… well… it’s just not to my taste. I don’t like any cider… there is something about the smell, as well as the taste, as well as the after effects… We had a bit of a discussion about it, and we reported back to the 2 T’s about the cider on offer at the beer festival (this is Somerset, traditional home of cider, as well as the home of some brilliant beers!)

As usual we had a really interesting evening… we talked about Legionnaire’s Disease (a friend is in intensive care with it) – Tim in his professional life had to deal with its prevention so is very knowledgeable; we talked about coach holidays and going to see the WW1 battlefields; we talked about civic works in our town, the power of the local college, the town, our village… and our last discussion was on the corrupt practices in British industry in the 1970’s…

Time was called, we hugged, said goodnight, and tottered off to our homes… what a pleasure it is to be able to walk home down the middle of the road!

This is our way home… no cars, no traffic!


Dr Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert

I do not really like mixed drinks or cocktails, I prefer beer, or wine, or whisky/whiskey. However, it used to be that at Christmas, occasionally, not always, my dad and I would have a pink gin, and for that reason we always had a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Later I had a Christmas cake recipe which called for the addition of these bitters, and it really enhanced the flavour of the cake… in fact, I must look it up and maybe make it again for this Christmas.

But what is Angostura Bitters… I actually didn’t know until just now when I was looking through my old recipe book collection -or should I say my collection of old recipe books, and came across a very small book 3″ x 5″ so literally a small book, Professional Mixing Guide. I have no idea where I got it from, it may have belonged to my father-in-law, but I have never really looked at it before because I don’t like mixed drinks! However, I was just randomly looking through my books and began to read what was in this tiny volume.

The front page:

The Accredited List of Recognised and Accepted Standard Formulas for Mixed Drinks
Angostura Bitters
(Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Sons) Ltd.
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, B.W.I.

I don’t know when it was originally published, my little book was in 1951, but the earliest I have come across was 1942, but of course it may have been older than that. On the inside page there is a very sensible motto, not just for bar workers, but people in general: trifles make for perfection – and perfection is no trifle… Nothing to do with the cream, sponge, jelly and custard dessert of course!

In the days when this was written, the person behind the bar was always a man, and there is an address: To the Man Behind the Bar… This compact little book does not presume to tell you how to mix a drink. You, professional barman, know the art of mixing, know its every angle. But it is intended to remind you that the part you play is the most important, the most influential of all in the industry.”

It then gives the barman a little pep talk, boosting his confidence no doubt! The next section on hints and helps – proficiency, courtesy, appearance – (another good motto I would have thought) and include paragraphs on:

  • use good ingredients only
  • the length of time to stir a drink
  • using the correct glassware
  • glassware should be more than clean
  • cocktail glasses
  • Collins glasses
  • beer pipes
  • carbonated water
  • set-ups (pre-made drinks)
  • frosting
  • and Angostura Bitters as ‘one of the most effective helps for the morning-after jitters‘ and ‘as a reconditioner for an abused stomach’

I am onto page seven, and I still haven’t answered my original question, what is Angostura bitters? Well, the answer is, it is a secret! It is  a botanically infused alcoholic mixture, made of water, ethanol, gentian, herbs and spices, originally created as a tonic by Dr Siergert in the 1820’s, and named after the town in Venezuela – it does not contain angostura bark which is used as a medicinal preparation in other things including other bitters. Angostura bitters soon became a favourite added to alcoholic drinks… and so it still does today!

The Norfolk Zeppelin raids

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, and in this one, Thomas investigates the ancestry of his wife Kylie. Her father is Tobagan and her mother English, and to begin with he looks at the English side of her family and discovers that her grandmother as a little girl was living near Great Yarmouth during the first World War and was caught up in a bombing raid by German Zeppelins… Zeppelins, part of the German Imperial Navy (not the air-force as I had thought)  L3 an L4 to be precise.

On January 19th 1915  L3 and L4 had left Fuhlsbüttel near Hamburg in Germany to attack military and industrial targets on Humberside – the original target had been the Thames estuary but bad weather prevailed. These massive airships could fly for thirty hours, carrying bombs and incendiary devices. You might think that their first target would have been London; however the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II would not give permission for the capital to be bombed for fear of harming his cousins, the royal family of Britain, nor on the historic buildings of the country. He wasn’t very keen on bombing Britain at all, but eventually relented and allowed for strategic attacks to take place, the first being on Humberside in the January of 1915.

I mentioned above that my fictional character, Kylie’s grandmother, was living near Great Yarmouth in 1915, so my imaginary world comes into contact with real, actual history. The two zeppelins, L3 and L4 were driven south  from their original plan because of bad weather, and changed their targets to the coast of Norfolk. They flew over the coast of East Anglia in the dark, north of Great Yarmouth –  L3 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz, turned south-east towards Great Yarmouth and  L4 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund,  heading in the opposite direction,  north-west towards Kings Lynn. How did the pilots navigate to their targets? They dropped incendiary bombs to light their way.

L3 bombed Great Yarmouth killing and injuring the first British civilians ever to have died in this way. Now in the twenty-first century we are so used to the idea of air attacks, our news is full of the dreadful bombings and air-raids happening in other tragic countries. It must have been an unbeleivable horror and shock in 1915 to have this attack coming seemingly from nowhere, hundreds of miles from the war zone. Zeppelin L4  continued its route along the coast,bombing places I knew so well as a child, visiting them on ‘trips to the seaside’, Brancaster, Sheringham,  Heacham, Snettisham, until it reached Kings Lynn. L4 was  downed a month later by bad weather, a lighning strike setting the mighty beast ablaze.

I had to research all this, just as my character Thomas Radwinter does; people ask me if I plan my stories… well, no, I may have a general idea, but as the story evolves new things occur, sometimes thoughts arise from nowhere and I pursue them – like the zeppelin raids!  I had originally set this part of the story in Brighton, 1880-1911, but for various reasons had to change it. For some reason the historical action moved to Norfolk, and while I was researching I came across the zeppelin raids!

I know each writer has their own particular way of working, and what is perfect for someone is hopeless for another – and when I’m teaching about writing, I share the different ways people can approach their craft, but in the end it is what works and is successful for them… and for me (and Thomas Radwinter) my rather random way works very well!



The end of July – and all I can hear is splashing, dripping and splattering

It’s nearly August and the rain has been coming down non-stop for the last six hours. I’m sitting here on a summer’s night, and all I can hear is splashing, dripping and splattering – the splattering means the gutter is overflowing with the quantity of water coming off the roof…

So here is a nice warming meal to think about… perfect for this wintry weather, and it is cooked in a Nottingham jar – I don’t think they still make them, they are a nineteenth century version of a slow-cooker…

Ox-tail Soup (1896)

  • An ox-tail
  • 2 oz dripping
  • an onion
  • a bunch of herbs
  • l oz flour
  • pepper and salt
  • a tablespoonful of ketchup
  • two quarts of water
  1. cut the tail through every joint, chop the largest.through length-ways
  2. mix the flour, pepper, and salt on a plate, roll each joint in this
  3. and fry in the dripping to a nice brown
  4. peel the onion, cut in rings, and fry also
  5. put all the ingredients into a large Nottingham jar with a lid
  6. pour over the water, and let it stew in the oven four hours
  7. before serving skim off all fat that may have risen to tho surface
  8. lay the meat in a tureen
  9. and strain the soup over

If not convenient to stew in the oven, use a saucepan with tightly fitting lid, but the former method will be found the best when practicable