Soap making

I’ve been thinking recently and writing about the number of products we have at home and think nothing about at all – if we run out we simply remember to buy some next time we go to the shop. Not only can we just go out and buy them, but we have choice! Size, price, quantity, colour, scent, flavour… whatever. I appreciate we are very lucky and most fortunate compared to others today. In the past many things could not just be bought but had to be made – even things such as… soap! Now we can have hard soap, liquid soap, soap in all manner of dispensers and packaging and soap for different uses too.

A hundred and fifty years ago, in Australia, here may have been soap available in stores in towns and cities, but many people did not have easy access to such ‘luxuries’ and would have had to make their own.

Here is a recipe for soap… It would have made a large quantity, and I daresay because it doesn’t seem a pleasant thing to have made that was an advantage – to make it only every so often! Maybe this would be a recipe a store-keeper or his wife would have used, or maybe a group of neighbours would have come together. However, as it used ‘strained grease’ (I’m guessing animal fat left over from cooking) I have to wonder how that smelt after a few months! Whoever wrote the recipe had never actually trialled it ‘the following is said to be a good recipe‘… The lye referred to is an alkaline solution used for washing in the past…

Soap making -The following is said to be a good recipe :- Six pounds washing soda, 6lbs. strained grease, 3½lb. new stone lime, 3lb. borax, four gallons soft water. Put soda, lime, and water into a large kettle, boil till all is dissolved, stand to settle ; when quite clear pour the clear lye into a clean vessel, throwing away the lime sediment; wash out the kettle, put back the clear lye, adding grease and borax; boil until the mixture becomes soapy, or about two hours (if boiling fast), then pour into shallow pans or boxes until next day, when it can be cut into square pieces and put away until dry. For soft soap, when boiled pour into a tub or barrel, and stir it slowly about six or eight quarts of water; it will become a white jelly.

I have to say when we were in Australia last year there were some wonderful soaps available and I brought home a lot as gifts of Blue Rocks Soap for friends and family! Here is what I wrote about them:

Writing about your family history (v) … where were they? And what did they do there?

Another aspect of telling a story is place and location. Maybe you know the places where your ancestors lived – maybe you still live in the same location. If they came from far away, even if you haven’t ever visited, with the internet it’s easy to find pictures and maps, and old pictures and maps too of what it was like when Great-Aunt Jane or a red-headed blacksmith ancestor lived there.  You can go on street view and follow their footsteps from home to where they worked, from their little village to the local town where your farming ancestor might have taken his animals to market.

As for the plot or narrative of your story, you have the outline of someone’s life, fill in the gaps – find pictures or visit the church where they were baptised or married, look up contemporary newspapers and directories to see what happened in those years and who the neighbours and tradespeople were your family might have had dealing with.

Use what you know, and what you can find out, but use your imagination to! Your story can start with a maybe… ‘maybe one bright spring morning Jane looked in the mirror and saw herself as a beautiful bride… today was the day she was to marry her beloved Arthur…’

Another way of making your stories accessible to others is to write the story of your investigation. What were the stories you heard as a child of great-aunt Jane? How did you find her in the records, did she go missing and you couldn’t trace her? Did she travel to somewhere you weren’t expecting? Did she have a first husband you didn’t know about, or children who lived with someone else… how did you track them down, what was the paper-trail? What were the stumbling blocks – how many Jane’s with the same name and birth date did you come across? How did you identify which one was yours? How many and what blind alleys did you go down? Which other interesting ancestors did you unexpectedly come across? The story of your journey through the records can be fascinating.

I have written a series of novels about someone searching for his family history; his non-literal journey follows their actual travels, from the Ukraine to Harwich, to Surrey, to my imaginary town of Easthope. His genealogical research gives him the tools to investigate other things, and people begin to commission him to solve their little mysteries, the woman who vanished from her car at the traffic lights, the mysterious but influential Moroccan an old lady brought back from a Mediterranean cruise, the death of a little girl in 1932… I have written five novels about my character Thomas Radwinter, the sixth should be available in May this year!!

Here is a link to my Radwinter novels:

My featured image shows the Portland Arms Hotel in Cambridge, where my granddad held the license from the mid 1920’s until 1950.

Out of the box…

For a now forgotten reason my Friday group had settled on a title ‘Out of the Box’ to write about for yesterday’s meeting. Considering it was a rather unusual title and i would have thought difficult to write about, we did some varied pieces of work to share! The story of a genie found during a beach clean-up, for example, an auction specialising in model cars, and I carried on a story I had started last time.

Clare had got lost during a walk and found herself near an old mill which was being restored. She met the couple who owned it and it turned out that Clare and the woman, Jenny-Lee had been at school together. Jenny, however mistook Clare for another girl at school, Clare Cherry. For some reason, Clare said nothing…

Out of the Box

Clare had downsized, she had downsized to some tune; going through her parents’ things when they had moved into the supported living, had begun to persuade her that hanging onto stuff – either because it might come in use, or because it reminded her of something, or it seemed a waste to throw it away – hanging on to stuff was not a good idea.

This thought impressed itself even more firmly when her role as executor for her aunt presented itself unexpectedly, the old lady having been found dead, lying in a deck chair as if asleep in her beloved garden… She lived near Salisbury Plain and Clare hadn’t visited for years, and what she remembered as a house full of stuff didn’t come anywhere near the actualitée… her aunt was a compulsive hoarder.

Dozens, scores of everything, piles of stuff going back decades, mouldering at the bottom, hundreds of packets of cereal from before there were sell-by dates, enough spirits and wine to keep Clare happy for years – and her aunt was a Salvationist and didn’t drink, dozens of pairs of scissors, two accordions, thirty-four tea-sets, a wardrobe full of stationary including more paperclips than several branches of W.H. Smiths had in store… endless amounts of stuff… and then there was what was up in the roof, and in the garage, the two sheds, the greenhouse… and the cellar…

Everything needed to be gone through, money was hidden in all sorts of places, in magazines, in cushions, down the side of chairs, taped beneath tables and chairs…. There was jewellery secreted about the place, and Clare had to visit every bank and building society in town to check whether aunty had accounts there…

Aunty’s death had coincided with a difficult time at work, and Clare, as the sole beneficiary of the estate, was able to hand in her notice… and spent the next year, a whole wonderful year of fredom, clearing the house…

A lesson learned, and the result, funds enough to buy a place anywhere she wanted. She got a job in Easthope, and for the moment rented… Much of her stuff was in storage, but she was beginning to think she might send most of it to auction and start again…

Her rented house was a small terrace and she used the little second bedroom as an office and where she used her computer. A friend had lost all her most precious things in a fire at the storage facility looking after her possessions, so Clare had everything she valued most with her… including photos, memorabilia and all-purpose stuff from her past.

The boxfile she was looking for was near the bottom of the stack… she wasn’t sure she had hung onto what she wanted, there had been many moves in her life, and she’d had other down-sizes. At some time, she couldn’t remember when, she had gone through all her school photos and records and put them into poly pockets, junior school, grammar school, other grammar school, sixth for… and then Uni…

She didn’t allow herself to get side-tracked, too easy to go through the memories of her early childhood, in nativity plays and May Days… She took the ‘other’ grammar school pocket and looked through the school reports, the school photos, a couple of programmes from school plays. The photos were class photos, just two official ones, then a couple which the form teacher had taken.

Angela Fergus, Sandra Panton at one end, Joan Marshall and Pauline Davis, Heather Thoms and  Jenny-Lee Harper, Clare Cherry  and Clare herself, Clare Mason as she was then. There was the usual mixture of natural and unnatural smiles, half closed eyes, irritated faces, blank expressions…

Clare Cherry… how could she be mistaken for an adult Clare Cherry? She looked at the girl in the picture, wavy dark hair falling across one eye, her head slightly turned and looking directly at the camera… and then she looked at herself, a picture of misery. Her dark curly hair was all over the place – was this a result of her enforced haircut? She couldn’t remember. Little Clare had tipped her face forward so her expression was hidden, but the droop of her shoulders said it all.

Jenny-Lee was smiling broadly, a wide confident smile, brazen and cocky… cocky, they wouldn’t have used that word then… In fact now she looked at the photo, Clare thought that Jenny-Lee hadn’t changed very much. How could she think Clare was Clare Cherry, Clare Cherry, Jenny’s best friend?

This wasn’t what she wanted… interesting to look at the old pictures now she was an adult, now she could stand up to –

She put everything back except that one photo… so where was what she wanted, had she thrown it away? Surely she hadn’t… not that she could remember looking at it…

There was a box right at the bottom, labelled ‘miscellaneous’. It was a cardboard box with red wrapping paper stuck to it, leftover from a distant Christmas. Clare took it downstairs and sat on her settee with a glass of wine and opened the box.

Diaries, notebooks, letters, odd things like a flattened Milk Tray box, luggage labels, receipts, envelopes with things in, postcards…

It was an unassuming brown envelope, slightly furry with age. She moved to sit at the table and switched on the reading light; she shook out the contents of the old envelope.

‘See you on Monday Button, behave yourself, you don’t want to become unButtoned!! Haha!’… ‘Did you enjoy detention, Button, naughty you scribbling on my book!!’… ‘Wishing you an unMerry Christmas, Button, and a very unHappy New Year, from your best friends J-L and C.C.’… ‘Did you think we couldn’t see you in Dark Fort, wherever you are, we will know!’ ‘Button up, Button!’

Clare spread them out and looked at them… what vile little bullies they were…pick on the smallest girl, how brave they were…

Oh well, it was all in the past… She gathered them together to put back in the envelope, she’d put them in the bin. One slipped from her fingers and fluttered to the floor and as she picked it up she saw there was something on the back.

It was her own writing, neat and small. ‘I will climb out of the box and I will find you and kill you…’

 She didn’t remember writing that, she turned the paper over ‘Halloween Button, we will put you in a coffin and see how you like that! From your spooky best friends J-L and C.C.’

 She shook the notes from the envelope, each one had a message in her own hand…’you can’t hurt me, I have secret powers’ ‘my Christmas will be merry and bright, and so will yours as you burn in hell’, ‘you saw me in the Dark Fort but you didn’t see my friends who live there, they will find you and haunt you…’

Chilling, chilling little threats she couldn’t remember writing…

I will climb out of the box and I will find you and kill you…’


Leopard cake and cottage pudding

Here are a couple more 150 year old recipes – simple and still very appealing to our modern tastes:


  • flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of molasses
  • ½ cup
  • ½ cup of sweet milk
  • 1 cup of raisins or English currants
  • ½ tea-spoonful of soda
  • 1 tea-spoonful of cream tartar
  • cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
  1.  mix the sugar, eggs, butter, soda and cream of tartar and stir with flour sufficiently (whatever that means – I would guess 2 cups!)
  2. then take nearly half the mixture into another dish
  3.  to one half add half a cup of molasses
  4. 3 tbsp of milk
  5. ½ a cup of flour
  6. 1 cup of raisins or English currants
  7. add cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to suit the taste
  8. put in a spoonful of the dark and light alternately
  9. bake in a moderate oven.


  1. Put a layer of bread crumbs in a pudding dish
  2. then a layer of sliced apples, or any other fruit you like
  3. another of crumbs and apples, finishing with the bread
  4. Strew each layer with a little sugar and a few small pieces of butter
  5. Then take a pint of milk, two eggs, half a cup of sugar, make a custard and pour over it.
  6. flavour with lemon and steam one hour
  7. to be eaten|with cream and sugar.

My featured images is once again the little cottage I think wold be just the one to have a leopard cake in the cake tin and a cottage pudding in the oven!


Surveying or surveilling

My fellow writer Richard Kefford and I have challenged ourselves – or each other, I’m not sure which, to tackle a list of blog subjects we randomly found on the net… there were seventy-three different types of blog suggestions, so we are having a go at doing all seventy-three. Richard is attacking the list at random – at least he was until we hit on the idea of producing a book of our blogs; One hundred and forty six blogs might be a little long – so we are thinking of producing three volumes,. I started at number 1 on the list and worked my way through and I am now at number twenty-four, surveys and polls.

I must admit I am a bit stumped; how interesting would a survey that I might conduct be to anyone? I got to thinking about surveys, and began to ponder on the word… sometimes pronounced sur-vey, sometimes more like s’vey, depending on whether it’s a noun or a verb. I guess that it might come via French (from Latin) sur meaning over or above and veillée  which means vigil or watch over something – my rough explanation! There are words which come from it – verbs meaning to look at something, and verbs meaning specifically to measure and look at something, and the noun which is the product of the measuring and looking. Then there is surveillance, definitely all about watching and looking! So am I right? 

So, survey comes from Middle English, surveyen which in turn comes from from Old French sourveoir –  as I thought from  sur – over, and veoir to see . It was certainly around and about at the turn of the fifteenth century meaning to consider or think about or ponder, and then it shifted to include to guard or watch over, and then on to inspect and check and look at in detail. By the middle of the sixteenth century it began to take on the meaning of measuring and recording information about a piece of land.

Surveillance, however – as I understand it, does not come from the same thing at all, even though it sounds as if it should. It’s a loan word from French but it comes from that Latin vigilare meaning to watch over – and watching over in the French Revolutionary sense  were les Comités de Surveillance – surveillance committees. It’s a concept we are very familiar with now, with CCTV on every corner.

I guess on social media if you mention survey, most people would think of a list of questions which could be about anything from favourite books to favourite ice-cream! Some give choices for answers and then give results as a percentage, some are open for any answers. So here is a little survey, just a little one:

  1. Dickens, Austen or a Brontë?
  2. Poirot, Campion or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford?
  3. Holden Caulfield, Yossarian or Jay Gatsby?
  4. The Cherry Orchard,  The Government Inspector or Boris Gudunov?
  5. Girl With a Pearl Earring, or A Secret History or The Handmaid’s Tale?
  6. The Hunger Games, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) or Artemis Fowl?
  7. Dracula, Frankenstein or The Triffids
  8. Macbeth, Hamlet or Richard III
  9. Dylan Thomas, R.S. Thomas or Edward Thomas
  10. Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke or Jackie Kay

… and more on surveillance:

Writing about your family history (iv) … telling the truth? Or not?

Telling real stories as fiction…. You might have a fantastic story to tell about your family, but for various reasons (not just risking being cut out of the will!) you may have held back. If you want to write it, however, three are ways of disguising the actual people involved so no-one will guess or recognise them, and yet the bones of the story are there.

I shared this a while ago when thinking of things to write about when inspiration for total fiction deserts you… but thinking about writing family stories, there maybe some you are desperate to write but for personal reasons you can’t write them… but maybe you can!

  • Decide what part of the real story you want to use
    • is it the skeleton of the plot?
    • is it the characters?
    • is it a real setting?
    • is it a situation or event or series of events…
  • Decide on the disguise
    • if it’s just the bones of something real, there are all sorts of ways you can disguise what inspired you, changing characters, locations, sequence of events
    • if it’s the story of a person, change their details
      1. name (obviously!)
      2. gender
      3. age
      4. character (unless the story is dependent on the character – in which case you can change other aspects of them)
      5. appearance (of course! But think about ethnicity, religion etc. as well)
      6. their situation, class, family, background, work, fashion/clothes and so on
  • if it’s a personal story decide whether you are featuring in it – this might make it more difficult to change personal details of other ‘characters’; if you are you! You can, however, change yourself – as in the point above
  • change the time/date/era – bring a Victorian story into the present, change the swinging 60’s to the glam-rock 80’s, change the war in a war story, put the present back into the 90’s; summer to winter, spring and beginnings change to autumn and endings; a CND protest can be an anti-something else demonstration
  • change the location from anywhere to anywhere – even the effects climate and temperature might have on events can be changed, danger from flooding could change to danger from avalanches, trapped by flood water could be trapped by snow
  • decide on the tone or ‘voice’ of what you are writing; is it patently a disguised memoir, is it autobiographical and you just want to be discrete about other ‘characters’; is it seemingly a piece of fiction, is it a ‘maybe true, maybe not you decide’ piece of writing; is it just an episode in something else – a character/incident in a novel you are writing?

You might find your family story told in disguise takes on a life of its own, then you will have to decide whether to maintain the hidden truth, or continue in a completely fictional way.


Untrodden streets of Time…

This poem by Walter Turner is beautiful but mysterious. Tantalus was a mythological Greek figure, a very unpleasant character who after various misdeeds was punished by standing in a pool of water with  food just out of reach, and every time he bent to drink the water flowed away… He was punished in this way for all eternity. So maybe Turner is thinking of the man for ever tempted but unable to satisfy his hunger and thirst… or maybe Turner was thinking of another Tantalus, a geographical Tantalus on the other side of the word – Mount Tantalus  – Puu-ohia, is an extinct cinder cone in the southern Koʻolau Range on the Hawaiian Island of Oʻahu which also has a summit crater called, unsurprisingly, the Tantalus Crater.

The Towers Of Tantalus

The Towers of Tantalus I saw
Above untrodden streets of Time;
The sunlight and the moonlight shone
Together, on great spars of rime.

Terrestrial lilies were those Towers
In calm sky pools of that dark noon;
Calm lay on rocks of frozen light
The shadow of the Sun and Moon.

Still, bright-gold chrysanthemums
Shone in the polished, dim, jade halls,
And at small windows in still woods
Hung snow-curved, shining waterfalls.

Those pinnacles, sky-pointed, sang
A cloud-embroidered song of doom,
The flowers sang in the halls below
Wax sprays of light in ebon gloom.

The waters frozen in the woods
Were mirrored on the shadowed sloors;
Cold constellations from the sky
Hung low, dream-captured at the doors.

‘Twas music hewn upon the air
Flashed for a moment on these eyes
I heard the trumpets crumple, and
I stared once more at transient skies.

Walter James Redfern Turner
My featured image is of a volcano far away from Hawaii, Kerið in Iceland and I have no idea what sloors are, shadowed or not!