How could I forget Joan Armatrading???

So it was quiz night at the pub… we did quite well but unfortunately we didn’t win either of the rounds. The questions were fair, tricky but not obscure, tantalisingly just too deep in our memory banks. There was a question about which singer had sung a couple of songs… I could even here them in my head but could I remember the singer… her name kept escaping me… Chrissie Hynde? No, a black singer, Tracy Chapman… maybe… but not 100% sure… so we went with Tracy Chapman… How annoyed I was when the answer was revealed… Joan Armatrading!!! how could I forget her!!!

Isn’t she just utterly fabulous? Wow!!! She is amazing!!!


Chocolate afghans and cracknel…

Afternoon tea week is over for another year, but that doesn’t mean there is no afternoon tea! I was thinking about my imaginary cake stand replete with cake, scones, sandwiches and pastries… but I didn’t think about biscuits! might biscuits not be nice with a cup of tea? And supposing you didn’t fancy a cake as you were too full of the other goodies, might you not like a nice crisp biscuit?

I consulted one of my favourite stand-by cookery books… although I always have to divide the recipe by twenty-five – yes, twenty-five as it is a school dinner cook book and all recipes are for one hundred children!

So how about chocolate afghans:

Chocolate afghans

  • 8 oz butter
  • 6 oz sugar
  • 8 oz flour
  • 4 oz cornflakes
  • ¼ baking powder
  • 2 oz cocoa
  • 2 ½oz dried milk powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • vanilla essence
  1. cream butter and sugar until soft and pale
  2. stir in all the other ingredients
  3. spread on a square baking tin and bake in a moderate oven for 25-30 mins
  4. cut into fingers while still warm and leave in the tin until they are cool before turning out

… and chocolate cracknel

Chocolate cracknel

  • 1 lb golden syrup
  • 6 oz dried milk
  • 6 oz puffed wheat
  • 1½ oz cocoa
  • 7 oz butter
  • vanilla essence
  1. melt the butter and syrup in a double saucepan, bain marie, or bowl over hot water
  2. add cocoa and milk and leave over heat for 20-30 mins
  3. remove from the heat and add the vanilla and puffed wheat, mix well
  4. pour into tin and cut into slices while still warm
  5. cool in tray before serving (eat on the day it is made)



So You Want To Write!!

I have some exciting news… but you may already know it…

I have another blog which I co-write with two friends, the Moving Dragon Writes, and yesterday I made the announcement there that I have published a new book!!!! if you regularly meet me here, you may well have read parts of it when I shared different chapters some time ago. It’s called ‘So You Want To Write‘ and as you can imagine it’s some hints which I hope will be helpful to people just beginning to think about writing creatively.

In my last teaching job I was working with young people aged fifteen and sixteen who, in their last year of statutory education were not in school for various reasons; these students were for the most part totally disengaged – clever, literate, interesting – and yet totally turned off education at the very time it was most important for them to do well. Our tiny team of teachers (three of us and two wonderful LSAs) did all we could to re-engage them so they could pass enough exams to give them post-sixteen opportunities in further education, training or work.

I wrote a series of what ended up as chapters on creative writing, and it’s these which I have polished up (although they did not need much changing) amended and added to, to produce ‘So You Want To Write’. This is not just for children – it’s for anyone!

It’s only short, it’s a handbook really and you can find chapters on:

  • Inspiration
  • Your readers
  • Narrator
  • Introduction, opening or beginning
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Names
  • Plot
  • Language… and Style
  • Research…  and Observation
  • Endings

Here is a link to it…

PS This is self-published, and although I and others have edited and re-edited it and proof read it, sometimes naughty gremlins insert typos, muddle up the punctuation, tweak the grammar – if you find any errors, please do tell me!!

A buckin’ wooden tramp and a dirty British coaster

Burt Franklin Jennes and John Masefield were contemporaries, the American poet was born about 1876, Masefield in 1878

Sea Traders

Droppin’ down to Rio on a buckin’ wooden tramp;
Takin’ water for’r’d till her rotten planks were damp;
Pitchin’ like a bronco from the time we left the Keys;
Listin’ like a kettle when she took the quarter seas;
Loaded to the gunnels, making four knots an hour;
Steadied with her stays’l, but swaying like a flower;
Half a crew o’ Cubans, an’ a pair o’ Swedish mates;
That’s the way we traded from Fuego to the States.

Callin’ at Jamaica for a scuttle-butt o’ rum;
Lazin’ at fiestas till we spent our shippin’ sum;
Stricken with the fever, from the islands where it grew;
Fightin’ for our rations in a lazy, drunken crew;
Reelin’ round the Indies, makin’ port or makin’ sail;
Beatin’ up to windward in a Carribean gale;
Dippin’ down to Rio, Buenos Aires or the Straits —
That’s the way we traded from Fuego to the States.

Burt Franklin Jennes


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield

More about Gus

Several years ago I started writing about a man called Gus who lived in a village very like our village here where I live.  Gus lives on his own, and seems not to have a job; he’s lonely and sad and misses his ex-wife, more for her company than because he still has feelings for her. He doesn’t seem to work and spends a lot of his time walking, down by the water meadows, on the beach, round the boatyard, round the village, and he often ends up in the pub. I have no idea what I intended to happen in this story or where it was going or what I had planned to happen.

I shared the first part of the story four years ago – here:

Today I came across more stories about Gus… he’s still wandering about, lonely and alone but I still have no idea where the story is going! here is the next part:

Trudging across the water meadows and looking down the land was shadowed ad dark. The tufty grasses, the large-leaved plantains, the sea grasses were a dark mass beneath Gus’s feet. When he stopped and looked up, the sky was still light, a strange purple grey with a slight tinge of pink. The last rays of a hidden sun caught the hill and gave it a light outline as if drawn in chalk. Looking west to the sun set, the sea was dark, the sun a brilliant globe of vermilion, the sky lost in a pale wash of indeterminate colour.

 It was somehow thrilling, but Gus was not thrilled. He turned his back on it and continued his tramp across the meadow which now seemed on the dark side of disk. A dog running past him made him jump; he was so lost in thought, had thought for a while that he was the only person still alive in the whole of the universe, that seeing this flash of black and white as the collie ran past him quite made him jump. He stopped and watched as it ran on, nosing among the scrubs of bushes and maritime plants.

He sort of wished it would come back and nose at him so he could pat and pet it, rub its ears have the sort of innocuous conversation one could have with a passing dog. But it sniffed around the suddenly darted off, straight as an arrow. He stood staring after it. Maybe he should get a dog. Maybe he would become so involved in its care and taking it for walks that he would forget about himself, forget about the web of misery which ensnared him and seemed unbreakable.

Last night some dog walkers had greeted him, conversed in cheery tones, he had vaguely and belatedly recognised them as people from the pub. If he’d had a dog maybe they would have stayed chatting…

“Good evening!” He literally jumped, startled by the voice which had arrived from nowhere. He had thought himself alone, but here was a figure striding past him, greeting him cheerfully.

“Good evening!” he called to the figure’s back, a small man or a woman he could not tell. “Lovely evening isn’t it?” He was desperate for converse, desperate to detain the stranger.

“Wonderful, lovely!” it was a woman with a low pleasant voice.

The dog raced back and twined round her legs so she had to stop and Gus was able to catch up. But then he could think of nothing to say.

 “We’ve been lucky with the weather recently, haven’t we?” she asked with a warm, friendly voice. “It’s been beautiful… my neighbour has been hoping for rain but I’m sorry that I just love the sunny days we have been having.”

He had come up beside her but could not make out her face, whether she was old r young, attractive or ordinary. She was bent over the dog pulling something from its fur. He wanted to stop to converse but that would be too creepy, out here in the dusky meadows, the light now dying from the sky.

He strode past her. He clambered over the style and started along the path; there was a man standing in the middle of the track ahead of him, silhouetted against the sky. He was looking down towards Gus and seemed large and threatening, etiolated, extended legs, a short thick spider’s body, a tiny head. He was quite spooky but Gus clumped up the path towards him and the man stood aside for him to pass and responded in a pleasant voice to Gus’s ‘good evening.’

The path dipped down to another style and Gus wanted to look back to see if the man was staring after him, he had a sense of someone watching him, staring at him. He clambered rather awkwardly over the style and looked back along the path but it was empty, no-one at all on the pale smudge of the track. There was no spider-like man, no collie dog, and no slim woman with a low pleasant voice. Gus paused, straddling the style, curious, and for a moment wondering whether he should walk back along the path to see where dog, woman, man were.

He looked up at the sky and the stars were brilliant and he stayed for a while picking out the few constellations that he knew, but even after he climbed down from the style and reached the beach road, there was no sign of the people and creature he had seen. Should he walk back, casually as if he was just doing a walk of a certain distance, to this point and turn back? But no… and he did not know why but he felt uneasy all the same.

He walked along beside the rhyne, it was too dark tonight to see whether there were any ducks or not but he peered over the wall anyway. He walked on and did not meet the dog-walkers of the previous evening.

He crossed the road to the pub and there was a quiz beginning.

“Are you in the quiz?” a man asked. He had a pint pot with biros standing up like soldiers and a load of change in the bottom.

“I’m on my own,” Gus said.

“I say, would you like to join us, we’ve been let down by our team, an elderly lady with a halo of white frizzy hair called him.

Agnes Bertha Marshall

I love old cookery books… not necessarily antique or really old,  but the sort of books which ordinary families might have to hand in their kitchens. Second-hand bookshops, charity shops, jumble sales, these are the places where all sorts of treasures can be found. They are usually not worth much, usually well-thumbed and maybe spotted and stained from use in the kitchen, sometimes the pages are loose, and sometimes there are jottings in the margins and beside recipes from previous owners… I get so excited when I find these!

Recently we were in Arundel and in a wonderful bookshop there (several floors of an ancient building, crammed with books on every subject – and beautifully arranged so it was easy to see what was there!) and I found  ‘Mrs A. B. Marshall’s Cookery Book’.  What a treasure! I had never heard of Mrs A. B. – Agnes Bertha as I have since discovered, but here was her book, full of wonderful engraved illustrations by an anonymous artist.

I haven’t properly looked through it, but I did just look up Mrs Marshall, and it seems as if she was a celebrity in her day. She was born in 1855 and her particular forte was ice-cream! I have found recipes for ice-cream in other nineteenth century books, but she has a whole section in this book I have. She wrote four books altogether,

  •  Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices (1885
  • Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (1888)
  • Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1891)
  • Fancy Ices (1894)

… and she also opened a cookery school, Marshall School of Cookery in Mortimer Street in 1883, published a weekly magazine, The Table, from 1886 and old cooking supplies and equipment. She was a real fore-runner of the celebrity cooks and chefs we have these days!

Tragically she died at the age of forty-nine; after falling from a horse in 1904, she died the following year, never having recovered from her injuries. Mr Marshall, her husband took over the business, but it seems that without Agnes, the enterprise could no longer succeed. sadly, unlike Eliza Acton or Mrs Beeton, no-on remembers Agnes Bertha Marshall.