Peachy!

Before I was born my parents planted a peach tree in the garden of our flat; my dad would have sought advice from his father and his old friends who were very particular about the varieties of fruit (and other produce) which were grown. Ours was a white peach tree, but I have no idea of its variety. It rarely cropped well, and suffered from peach leaf curl, but when we were lucky the peaches were heavenly… my sister and I were spoiled! Too often these days, peaches in shops have been chilled or stored and even if they do ripen don’t seem to have much flavour. However, over the past couple of weeks I have been buying those funny, flattened peaches called doughnut peaches – they are white and absolutely delicious!!

I was reading up about peaches, and came across this recipe in a 1930’s newspaper:

Sauté of Peaches
  • Fix this textpeach ,
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼  cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoonful cloves
  • ¼ teaspoonful allspice
  • ¼r teaspoonful salt
  1. peel and halve peaches
  2. dip in flour to cover each side
  3. sauté in frying pan with butter,sprinkling with half the sugar mixed with the spices
  4. cook very slowly, and when brown turn over carefully and sprinkle with the remainder of sugar and spices
  5. when brown on both sides,  serve hot as an accompaniment to meats

Did that surprise you, to serve the sweet fruit with meat? It surprised me! I’m guessing it’s cold meat so it would be like a chutney… maybe it would be nice using quince which would have a lovely acidity… with that thought, as I don’t have a picture of a peach, I’m sharing a picture of a quince as my featured image.

Revisiting Stonehenge

A site like Stonehenge is always worth revisiting, and so, sometimes is a memory of it! This is what a wrote as part of an archaeological course I was taking:

Elly wanted to visit Stonehenge. She’d taken us to many interesting places when we’d visited her in the Netherlands, now she was visiting us we were delighted to plan a trip to Salisbury Plain, to the ancient stones.

I’d seen them before, once when visitors were still allowed to touch them, sit on them, climb them. The last time I’d visited there was a fence round them and they were huddled into the landscape, looking less than impressive.

I wanted them to look wonderful for Elly, she was so looking forward to the trip. It was a hot journey, only a couple of hours but much of it behind lorries and trucks; we arrived and the site was crowded, the carpark full, a long queue to get to the site. We didn’t mind and we stood and chatted and laughed about silly things.

I turned to look round; the land rose away from us, and on the nearby ridge was the hump of a burial mound.  Stonehenge was not an isolated structure within a lonely landscape it was in a context of ritual and ceremony and meaning that we’d never know, only guess at. The earliest found evidence of this site being of special significance is from over 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) years ago. The henge itself was just part of the whole experience, but I’d never realised or thought of this before.

Through the barrier, we collected our audio-guides and walked through the tunnel under the road, taking us to the henge itself.

The path wound round and we traipsed along with the visitors from every corner of the world… five, four, three thousand years ago other visitors would have come, a throng of people speaking different languages, wearing different garments, bearing  different tattoos and weapons, all coming to celebrate some special moment. Travellers also came from far away in ancient times, as far away as the Orkney Islands… the stones themselves, the bluestones of the inner circle had been brought by Neolithic technology from the Preseli Hills, 150 miles away.

The stones were cordoned off by a low rope strung between short, slim, non-threatening metal posts; there was no sense of being cut off from the henge, nor of the henge being aggressively contained; we were just kept at a respectful distance. The stones are on a slight rise so as we looked at them we could barely see visitors on the other side of them and there was a sense of space and openness beneath the wide sky.

We followed the path round, taking our time, I gradually became aware of the henge within the landscape; the site had been chosen not by chance, but specifically because this was where it was right. There was no random positioning, plans had been made, the site must have been measured, cleared, and maybe even levelled. A wooden circle consisting of mighty timbers was here prior to the stones, maybe as many as 6,500 trees had been cut down with flint axes. Four massive ‘station’ stones were placed well outside the circle, positioned at the corners of a perfect square; where the diagonals intersected, the ‘alter’ stone was placed.

We walked slowly, stopping to stare, and each time I turned away from the stones and looked away to the horizon, knowing that within this area there are hundreds of other contemporary sites, burials, barrows, tombs, Woodhenge… for there were other henges than just those made from stone.

Because we were apart from the stones the banks were clearly visible, showing what a huge area the site was. These vast circular ditches would have been dug with deer antlers and the shoulder blades of cattle, thousands of tons of soil shifted. It must have been a stable and fairly secure society to be able to devote the amount of labour needed for construction. I looked to the distant hills, fields full of golden grain ripening in the summer sun.

At the south side of the site was the Heel Stone, aligned with the Slaughter Stone (it turns red when wet, there is no reason to believe it was a sacrificial alter) and standing by it and looking south I could make out a faint trace of The Avenue, twelve metres wide, descending to the River Avon.

I stood for many minutes, just looking at the henge, and then with my back to it again, looking at where it sat in the landscape.

“It’s wonderful,” Elly said. “Het is geweldig, echt geweldig”

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/imported-docs/p-t/Stonehenge_plan.pdf

 

 

Mud, mud, mud…

Gus is a character who has appeared in several of my stories… so far his loneliness has not been explained, nor his sadness and depression. He has recently moved to a small village by the sea, and most days he goes walking along the beach or across the water-meadows and marshes, or a circuit along the banks of the little rhyne which flows into the river, which in turn goes into the sea.

This was ludicrous… ridiculous to be stuck in the mud… It had happened shockingly quickly. Gus’s evening wander over the water meadows and down beside river was along the same route he always took… although he occasionally reversed it and started at the boat yard and wandered round across the meadows until he hit the path beside the river.

One of the many dogs had come prancing along, over excited and friendly and for some reason Gus had stepped aside to let the creature past and his foot slipped on the sodden grass and his leg, then the rest of him had slid, carrying him still upright down to the mud where he plunged in up to his knees. He had laughed spontaneously with shock, terror, relief and a little hysteria. The suddenness of  the Chaplinesque decent, and its conclusion, trapped and unable to move in the silt and clay of the bank, set him giggling… but he bit it back… these days laughter could turn to tears in an instant.

His heart was pounding and he took a few breaths to compose himself before climbing back up the steep bank… except he couldn’t… he was held fast by the mud. He looked round for something to hold on to pull himself out but there was just the same slippery grass which had sent him down here in the first place.

This was ludicrous! Ridiculous! He was stuck in the mud and could do nothing about it. He had descended sideways so he was facing down stream and trying to lie flat to pull himself free and escape was impossible… if only he had twisted  so he could lie back and try to hitch himself out, or if he’d slipped  face downwards on the sloping bank so he was lying on his front and could drag himself…

“Help!!!” but his voice seemed to travel along the river and not up the bank. The dog’s owner must be around, there were never dogs without people.

“Help!! Help!!! Help!!!!”

All he could hear were the gulls and the rattle of the rigging of the boats in the yard.

He shouted again but there was nothing in reply. He cursed out loud… he was stuck in mud, in the dusk and the tide would be coming in and…

He shouted again… He searched his pocket for his phone… Found it… but there was no signal and somehow as he tried to find the light it spun from his hands and he actually heard it plop into the water below.

It was ironic… he had been so miserable, so utterly miserable, that at times life had seemed worthless, and not that he had considered any drastic solution to end his loneliness and despair, but now it seemed as if fate was intervening… He swore again and shouted again and swore and shouted.

There was a bark… a dog!!! Where there was a dog there was a person!!

“Help! I’m stuck in the mud! Help me!!”

“Hello? Where are you? I can’t see you!” a woman’s voice called back and she was shining a light across the river bank. She was somewhere on the path above and suddenly there was the sound of someone slithering down the slope… but not a someone, the dog…

The over-excited creature was barking and jumping at him, and he caught hold of its collar… but it was too small to pull him out.

He was blinded as a torch or phone flashed over him.

“Don’t come down here – it’s really slippery, it’s really dangerous – call 999!”

“I see you!! Wait there!!” she called… as if he could go anywhere…

He began to shake… the realisation of what had happened overcame him and he could have wept…

“I’m chucking this down to you!”

A lifebuoy came tumbling down the bank and he caught it awkwardly and then slipped it over his head… there were the sounds of more voices above another shout and then a sudden yank.

“Heave!!” shouted a man and was joined by others, and suddenly Gus was hauled out of the mud, with a terrible dragging sensation as if it was a living creature clutching on to him.

In a blur of joy and relief he was dragged up the bank and arrived on the path among a group of people… They had looped the rope round the post of the style, and between them… three of them they had heaved him to freedom.

The mud had claimed his shoes and socks and phone, but he didn’t care…

He was surrounded by the three rescuers who hugged him and cheered him and the woman kissed his cheek and they were all laughing. Someone replaced the lifebuoy and, barefoot but uncaring he walked back with them along the path. He was shaking, with relief and release, and he had his arm round the woman’s shoulder, her arm round his waist, supporting him. There was a muddle of explanation, of stories of similar happenings, of his thanks and gratitude – the whole thing was now a funny.

They reached the car park and the lack of shoes began to impinge… well, he would limp home, have a bath… but no, his new friends would walk with him, make sure he didn’t have any more dangerous adventures… the road led past the rhyne, they couldn’t risk him falling in!

As they reached the pub where he would turn to head home he suddenly couldn’t bear the thought.

“I’d like to buy you fine people a drink!” he exclaimed and the two men cheered.

“Don’t you think you should go home and have a bath and get warm?” the woman asked and with a shock he realised he still had his arm round her shoulder, was still leaning on her as he tottered along.

“He can get warm by the fire! He can steam gently and buy us beer all night long!” it was the younger of the two men, taller and with longer than fashionable blond hair – that much Gus could see in the orangey streetlight.

“That sounds like a plan!” he shouted, suddenly excited, and the dog barked in agreement!

“Pub, pub, pub, pub!” sang the blond man and they crossed the road together.

© Lois Elsden 2017

You can find my e-books here, and her recently published paperbacks ‘So You Want To Write‘ and ‘Radwinter‘:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C141&crid=39GW02WRLWW81

Nobody’s fool…

I shared a clip from a Danny Kaye film a little while ago, wondering if I would find it as funny as I did when I was little. I may not have laughed as much, but I certainly enjoyed it…. I enjoyed it so much I am sharing another excerpt from the same film ‘The Court Jester’. Danny Kaye was born to Ukrainian/Jewish parents in 1911, and was named David Daniel Kaminsky; he starred in so many popular films, including The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Inspector General, and  Hans Christian Andersen . Famous – world famous for his singing and acting, maybe his greatest legacy was his charitable work, much of which was for UNICEF.

Here he is as the court jester…

By the way, my featured image is from Efteling in the Netherlands

For sale!

In the novel which I am writing at the moment (although I have had a non-productive few days, real life interfering with imaginary lives!) my main character Thomas is trying to buy a new house for his eve-expanding family. I have the perfect house in mind for them, with everything they need, but he has also gone to view other places with his wife. When I write about houses and homes, I usually have a very clear idea in mind of what the property is like inside and out… usually loosely based on somewhere real I have lived, stayed or visited which I vaguely remember. However sometimes I see a house and it inspires me to write about it. Sometimes I make up the details, but if it is for sale I look up the real particulars of the property. Once I have that, then I can play about with it, add rooms, extend rooms, knock through, put in or take out windows and doors, add secret staircases or passageways (stories in my childhood were full of these and they intrigue me!)

Here are the detail of a house I saw for sale:

Key Features –

  • Mixed Use Period End of Terrace Property
  • Renovation Required
  • Courtyard Garden and Garage
  • First Floor Living Accommodation

Description – a mixed-use, end of terrace period property, with a courtyard garden and garage, requiring modernisation and improvement The accommodation is arranged over two floors, comprising:

  • ground floor – retail area, kitchen and rear hall
  • first floor – the landing provides access to a sitting room, kitchen, two bedrooms and bathroom with separate  lavatory.
  • outside – courtyard rear garden, store-room and garage.

Details

  • Retail Area – divided into three areas; a counter, various cold cabinets and shelving; a single glazed window to the front, part single glazed door to the side. Door to the kitchen
  • Kitchen –  base units with worktops over a single sink, drainer and mixer tap; part tiled walls; space and plumbing for washing machine; a gas hob over a built-in oven;  double glazed window to the side. Door to the entrance hall
  • Entrance – timber door to the rear.; door to stairs to first floor
  • Landing  – door to the sitting room. Door and steps down to the bathroom
  • Bathroom – fitted with a panelled bath; pedestal wash hand basin; part tiled walls; door to the airing cupboard; an obscured single glazed sash window to the side. Multi-paned glazed door to the lavatory
  • Lavatory – fitted with low-level lavatory; obscured single glazed sash window to the rear.
  • Sitting Room – 13′ 0” x 9′ 7” (3.96m x 2.92m) Door to built-in storage cupboard. Double glazed window to side. Door to the lavatory
  • Inner Hall – wall mounted RCDs ( residual current devices); double glazed window to the side. Doors to bedroom 2 and the kitchen
  • Kitchen – wall and base units; roll edge worktops; inset stainless steel circular sink with a drainer and mixer tap; inset electric hob over a built-in double oven; loft access;  a double glazed window to the side. Door to bedroom 1
  • Bedroom 1 – timber mantle over a gas fire with tiled hearth and surround; dual aspect room with double glazed windows to the front and side
  • Bedroom 2 – blanked fireplace; built-in storage cupboard to one side of the chimney breast

Outside –

  • courtyard with external store and side access into garage; garage attached to next door, with twin timber doors to front

Isn’t it just ready to be written about?

The house in my featured image is a completely different place – an abandoned property in Bristol!

Here is a link to my stories about Thomas, my e-books and my recently published paperbacks:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C135&crid=3R31HWOJM4KHR

Melon, feta, walnuts

I know I have written about this before, but it deserves a repeat because the salad made from melon, feta, walnuts and three other things was such a success when I served it on Friday to cousins who were staying for the weekend, that we made some more on Saturday, and on Sunday… yes, and on Monday. Oh, and when the quiz team came round fora meal last night, we made it then too!

I first ate this delicious pretty thing when we went to visit a friend, years and years ago. She made this simple salad with watermelon… and I thought, ‘oh dear, I really don’t like watermelon; I like cantaloupe, charentais, honeydew… but watermelon… no  thanks…‘  I didn’t say this to my friend, but sat down to table to enjoy her company and make the best of the salad… and wow! I loved it!! it looked so pretty, red melon, white cheese, brown walnuts, and tasted superb!

I’ve made it many times since, and have added a few things to the basics, the most recent was kalonji (nigella) inspired by a recipe I saw from Maryam. So here is my version:

  • cubes of watermelon (take out seeds if you don’t like them, I think they look pretty and add a nice crunch0
  • cubes of feta cheese
  • walnut halves
  • a small amount of onion – chopped or sliced which ever you prefer (if chopping don’t do it too finely so it becomes minced)
  • olive oil
  • kalonji
  • black ground pepper
  • herbs of your choice – I use basil (in my featured image I see I used salad cress)

Here is a link to Maryam’s recipe :

http://www.thepersianfusion.com/watermelon-salad-with-feta-walnut-nigella-seeds/

The patent office

Here is a story I think is so funny, written by my very talented friend, Richard:

Fnurl

Martin had found the address, down a draughty lane between tall blackened brick buildings. The door was not obtrusive. It was set back from the lane. It was half hidden depending on the time of day and surfeit or lack of sunshine. It had retreated slightly into the deep frame that surrounded the door so it was lit only by the summer sun around mad dog and Englishman time.

A beam of sunlight shafted down into the depths of the canyon as the day dragged on until the middle and the sun rose in the sky until the angles grew congruent enough to allow the sun beam through, down past the polluting chimneys, onto the Welsh slates that had been ripped from a hillside in far Snowdonia. It slowly crept down the dirty, sooty brickwork, counting out the minutes in brick time until it reached the lumpy dirty tarmac where leaves and old newspapers had eddied into clumps waiting to be swept and dispatched to the town tip. The sun beam tip fingered down the bricks until it ran out of bricks and a rare event occurred. The sun illuminated part of the door, first it brightened the base and then it slowly crept up until if found a sparkle, a bright brass plate. The plate was small but lovingly polished each morning until the script was almost illegible, suffering from the same inferiority as the person it alluded.

Martin tried the handle and pushed the door. It didn’t give way, it was locked, no visitors were expected today. Martin banged on the door, first politely, tapping lightly with his knuckles and then using his fist with increasing abandon as no one answered his summons.

‘Excuse me,’ said a quiet voice behind him. ‘Are you looking for me?’

Martin turned . A young woman stood behind him. She was short, just up to his shoulder. She wore a dark green knitted jumper over a brown tweedy looking skirt. She had on a pair of back shoes. They looked like the sensible shoes worn by on duty nurses. Her ginger hair was pulled back ferociously and secured by an elastic band in a severe Croydon facelift. She was bouncing a set of keys impatiently.

‘Yes, if you are Jemima Doodlegregg,’ he said. ‘ I have an appointment at 12.’

‘That’s me,’ she said, shoving Martin to one side as she unlocked the door. ‘ You must be Martin Flounderberry, strange name isn’t it?’ Martin thought of an array of kettles talking about black pots. She pushed it open and walking in after giving the brass plate it’s daily affectionate polish with a cloth she rummaged from her over-large handbag, like greeting a dog after a short separation.

This drew Martin’s attention to the engraving on the brass plate, “Jemima Doodlegregg, Patent Agent” the Italic Helvetia script announced to the world.

‘Come on in, sorry to be late,  would you like a cup of tea, do you take sugar?’ she rattled off.

‘No problem, yes please, err yes.’ Martin tried to answer the volley of questions in the right order.

Jemima opened a cupboard door leading off the hallway. ‘Sit yourself down here while I get the tea.’

Martin sat and looked around the office. It was small with a minimum of furniture. There was a small, cheap, fairly new desk, anchored to the floor by contiguous towers of files. There was a small two drawer filing cabinet by the side of the desk that doubled as a tea table according to the story told by the rings embossed on it’s top. There were two kitchen type chairs, one behind the desk and one in front. That was the complete inventory of the office, no pictures on the walls, no family photos on the desk and no curtains dressing the grimy window that looked down on the alley and across to the blackened bricks. Unsurprisingly it was dark in the office so Martin dared to turn on the light provided by a single 13W low energy bulb directly over the desk.

‘Make yourself at home, why don’t you. Wasting my electricity like that,’ she said, flipping the gloom back on as she passed the light switch and placed the two cups carefully on their landing circles on the top of the filing cabinet. She squeezed carefully through the gap on the other side of the desk that was, thankfully, filing cabinet free. She sat in her chair behind the desk, grabbed he mug from the filing cabinet and peered at Martin through a gap between the towers of files and said. ‘Well, here we both are, what can I do for you?’

Martin thought firstly that he would be sarcastic and say that he was here for the small talk but thought it would probably be wasted so he launched straight into his story.

‘I want to patent a word,’ he said.

‘No, you can’t, said Jemima.

‘Why not? queried Martin. ‘You don’t even know what word it is yet.’

‘Doesn’t matter, once a word has been used and given meaning then it is in the public domain and so cannot be granted the protection of a patent.’ she sounded as if she was quoting from the Patent Agents Handbook.

‘But this word may have been used but it has been given no meaning.’

‘Every word has a meaning,’ she said authoritatively. ‘If one is found that doesn’t have meaning then the finder can take a liberal arts degree to find meaning where there is none – and there is none.’

‘What if I could prove that this one hasn’t?’

‘It is nearly impossible to prove a negative,’ she riposted.

‘If I showed you that it wasn’t on the search engines. not in the OED, not in Merriams and not in Wikipedia, would you start to believe me?’

‘Well, yes but the problem is that when you first search for it in say, Google. you are then adding the information that the word exists and so it is now embedded in  their data base. If you then search for it now, you will find it.’ This is what is called a Googlesquatch.’

‘Yes, but you will find there is no definition provided for the word so you see that I can prove that it has no meaning.’

‘What is the use of a word without meaning?’

‘It will only have a temporary meaning as long as I, the patent holder, will deem it to have one and that meaning will be decided by me.’ It is what is technically known as a meta etymology.’

‘I don’t understand any of that.’

‘Well, err, think of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland. He said “When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”. It’s sort of the same as that. You could also think of it in a similar way to the meta fictional panel game on Radio 4 – Mornington Crescent. It will also follow the same rules as the rest of the English language so it will also exist in other forms.’

‘Such as?’

‘It can exist as a noun, gerund, adverb, adjective. It can be used in any of the tenses. It can be used in any POV and its form can be changed to meet the need of the context.’

‘OK,’ said Jemima, worn down by the Enfnurlinisation. ’I’ll start the patent pending papers. Has the word been in use before?’

‘Yes, there was once an advertising campaign – in the 50’s I think. It was used on bill boards all over the country. There was a little man in the centre saying in a speech bubble, “what does Fnurl mean?” There were ten other men in a circle surrounding him, pointing to him and saying, “he fnurled.” There was no meaning inferred though. How long before I can start using the word with full patented protection,’ asked Martin.

‘About two years I should think,’ she replied.

‘Fnurl,’ retorted Martin. ‘Oops, sorry for swearing.’

‘I didn’t realise you did,’ said Jemima forgivingly.

Martin finished his tea and made his way out. He couldn’t wait for the feeling of fnurlistion as he left the building through the brown door. The sun had long stopped shining on it, even the polished plate looked a little brassed off.

He trudged down the alley on his way home to take tea. He was desperately trying to think of another useful word to invent, Perhaps “aspungion?”. Had that already been done? He would do a quick search on Google as soon as he got home. He didn’t want to risk being discovered searching for the word on his mobile, here on the street.

© Richard Kefford    2017                                                                             Eorðdraca

This and Richard’s other Kindle books are on Amazon – Here

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/fnurl/