Stopping at a station

I had a great weekend – I caught up with my oldest and closest friend, Andrew Simpson; we met rather a long time ago, when we were in our first year doing a degree at the College of Knowledge as the College of Commerce, part of Manchester Polytechnic was called.

As usual Andrew and I didn’t stop talking, subjects ranging over just about everything especially about our writing; we are both published authors, and writing is our life! We also talked about how things have changed – all sorts of things in all sorts of ways, since we first met. Andrew had a great idea for a blog post, or an autobiography ‘How Far We Have Travelled’. It’s not just our own personal circumstances which have changed several times in the course of our friendship, the world has changed too. We often say, rather wistfully, that when we were at the Poly doing our degrees, despite the impoverished circumstances and to be frank insalubrious living conditions, we actually lived in a golden age. We don’t mean that we wished things hadn’t changed – we don’t! Good grief, if anyone could revisit the attic ‘flat’ I shared at the top of an old vermin-infested Victorian house when I was a student, and then compare it to the halls or residence my children lived in when they were doing their degrees, no-one would wish to reverse the progress which has been made in so many ways!

Our journey is not just our lives, and our personal lives and our circumstances, our wonderful partners and children, it’s the station where our life train has pulled into at the moment, I guess it could be called the writing station! Both of us write blogs as well as our books, both of us observe, reflect, record. I write from my imagination, Andrew writes imaginatively but using historical facts and materials.

If I could just go back to myself at eighteen or nineteen, and look forward to the future, it would seem like a dream come true to be where I am now – how far I have travelled, how far indeed!

Here is a link to Andrew’s piece, ‘How Far We Have Travelled’:

… and here is a link to his books which I recommend you read if you haven’;t already:

… and to my books:

Unusual names

I came across the unusual name of Windrum in a churchyard in Somerset, and wrote about it a couple of years ago:

I came across the name Windrum and wondered where a family with that name might have originated; it was so unusual, I’ve never heard of it or seen it anywhere before.

I looked back in the nineteenth century censuses and the first time it appears in 1851; in Scotland there was a family of Windrums, the father William was a fisherman and he and his wife Mary had two little girls, Helen and Jennet, pretty names. Jennet is obviously a Windrum family name, because in the same place is another family, a Chelsea pensioner named George, and his wife Jane, and their children, Jane, Peter, and another Jennet. There is another family of Windrums in Pailey and they work in the textile industry; however in the workhouse in Anwick it is a different story, poor Harriet Windrum and her five children are in the workhouse, described  as paupers – it doesn’t mention whether she is a widow, but nor does it mention a husband. There are Windrums in subsequent censuses, but never very many of them; it is indeed an unusual name!

I’ve returned to this lovely sounding name a few times, but have not really found an answer to its origin, although it may be Scottish. In the early censuses, all the families lived in Scotland or North-east England; in later censuses there were a few families in southern England, mostly London. I did find there were quite a number of Windrums in Canada; when I looked at some nineteenth century shipping lists there were indeed a number of Windrum passengers to Canada, but also a great many to Boston, and also New York. I guess from these North American Atlantic ports people would travel into the west and would probably settle all over the place. It wasn’t unexpected to see a lot of people had also gone to Australia and New Zealand, and a few to South America which may have been on business rather than to settle. My own grandfather travelled to Brazil, for example, but not to settle or live there. There were a lot of Windrums, particularly men from Ireland who served in the forces, but I also found another statistic which showed that many people with that name worked in agriculture.

Having an unusual name myself, first name, last name, married name, I guess I am interested in other people with distinctive names. I think the Windrum’s are even more distinctive than mine!

Cabinet pudding – but whose pudding was it?

I once worked in a hotel as a waitress; as well as our wages we were gen meals after service. They were very good, as I remember, and the one dish which was my favourite was cabinet pudding. It’s a traditional pud, also known as chancellor’s pudding… although which chancellor liked it I have no idea… however, it is at least two hundred years old – yes, 200! The first chancellor I can find was Sir Richard Sackville who held the office from 1559 to 1566…

Here is a recipe…

Cabinet pudding

  • 7 oz  dried fruit and candied peel
  • 4 sponge cakes
  • 1 oz of  ratafia biscuits
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 16 fl oz single cream
  • the zest of ½ a lemon
  • 1 tbsp rum or brandy
  • Optional  jam  or jam sauce made with 3 tbsp apricot or raspberry jam, cold water, 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. cream the eggs, sugar and cornflour together making sure they are really well mixed
  2. heat the cream and lemon zest but don’t boil
  3. pour the cream onto the egg and sugar mixture and stir really, really well
  4. add the brandy or rum
  5. pour over the broken up  cakes and biscuits and the fruit
  6.  pour into a greased and lined souffle dish and let it all soak for about 15 minutes
  7.  cover the dish with foil and secure it with string like you might do for any other steamed pudding
  8.  steam over simmering water or in a steamer for an hour
  9.  it needs to stand for a few minutes to settle before you  turn it out

The old lady was hitting me with a saucepan!

When I first wrote about Thomas Radwinter  he led a very quiet, very boring, and actually a very unhappy life. Things changed for him in the course of the events described in ‘Radwinter‘, and they changed some more in the sequel, ‘Magick‘. He had begun to explore his family tree, and had uncovered a lot of other stories too in the first novel; in the second he was asked by a friend to investigate a little mystery she had, and in the third story in the series, ‘Raddy and Syl‘, he is commissioned to find a missing woman – a missing woman the police don’t believe ever existed.

The extent to which Thomas’s life has changed is demonstrated in the following extract. He has discovered Kashmira imprisoned by her own father Adnan; he isn’t able to break the chain holding her to her bed, but he is able to break the bed – but not completely… He, Kashmira and the bedhead hurry out of the room where she has been kept and down the stairs, to meet her father coming up armed with a meat cleaver:

As my foot connected with Adnan and he fell, tumbling  backwards down the stairs, there was a terrific whack on my shoulder … the old lady was hitting me with a saucepan. Kashmira was screaming at her, I grabbed the bedhead, grabbed Kashmira and dragged her down the stairs. Adnan was lying stunned in the passage, the cleaver in the doorway to the kitchen. I hadn’t time or a free hand to pick it up, so I kicked it and it spun away with a clatter.

I almost dragged Kashmira outside and she collapsed holding her hands over her eyes. I picked up a bit of brick and smashed the bedstead so although she still had the chain round her wrist at least we didn’t have the bedhead as well. I chucked the brick away and saw my phone… I’d dropped it when I slipped on the oil.

I snatched it up but I wasn’t going to waste time – I had to get us away from this horror. Kashmira was just weeping, heart-breaking sobs, collapsed as the rain came down on her.  I pulled her to her feet just as a figure appeared in the door… Adnan and this time he had what looked like a big chopper… I screamed at Kashmira to run and I picked up a brick and chucked it at him, it missed but he had to duck as he came down the steps.

I threw a coping stone which struck him on the shoulder and I rushed after Kashmira. She had got out of the gate, but disoriented had run the wrong way, away from the bridge. I shouted at her and ran after her as she hobbled ahead. I glanced back and Adnan was after us, no time to phone…

Kashmira had reached the lock and to my amazement she began to walk across the top of the lock gate, balancing like a wobbly tight rope walker. She was so desperate to escape, so brave…

There was a pole with a hooked end on the ground and I snatched it up, hoping I could keep her insane father at bay. He was shouting at me, raving… and then, oh thank god, I heard the blues and twos… Maybe Rashid had phoned the police…

Adnan swung his axe towards me and I poked at him with the pole. He took a swing at it and cut the end right off!

I poked at him again, backing away. I daren’t see where Kashmira was, I didn’t know what was on the other side of the lock – I’d never been here before… it must be near the station car park…maybe someone had found her…

I shouted for help, bellowed as loudly as I could ‘Help! Help!! Help!!!’

He suddenly raised the axe and ran at me, fuck! I held out the pole and he ran right into the chopped off end and suddenly I was falling sideways and so was he and I slammed onto the concrete edge of the lock and he tumbled in…

I lay winded, looking down at him as he splashed about in the filthy water about six foot below..

“I hope you drown you mad bastard!” I shouted, except it wasn’t a shout it was more of a wheeze… and then I realised he was drowning and shouting ‘help

I staggered to my feet and looked round for one of those ring things… there was a sort of cabinet with ‘use in case of emergency’ stencilled on it… but it was empty… I looked down at Adnan, paddling about, going under, drowning… where were the police? Where the hell were the police?

I took off my coat, emptied my trouser pockets, took off my shoes, sat on the edge of the lock and then reluctantly launched myself into the water… Shit it was cold… shit it was freezing… It was a terrible, terrible shock, that freezing water…

 I swam over to him and damn me, he lashed out at me! I swam away – the bastard, the mad bastard – I’d jumped in to save him and now he was trying to drown me!

Suddenly something clumped into the water in front of me… a ring, one of those lifebuoys… I grasped it, realising there was shouting above and looking up I have never in all my life been so grateful to see a policewoman looking down at me…

You can find all my Radwinter stories, and my other novels and paperbacks here:

As falls the pattering rain

John Clare’s ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’  is a poem cycle covering the months of the year. In parts it is idyllic, but there is also harsh reality too – life for ordinary folk in the nineteenth century was hard and precarious. People who worked on the land, like my ancestors  had a life of toil and labour, out in all weathers and doing s they were told, when they were told.

His description here is very apt for today’s weather, the flying clouds, the wind that o’er each coming tempest broods, the pattering rain – we had a lot of pattering rain today!

The flying clouds urged on in swiftest pace
Like living things as if they runned a race
The winds that oer each coming tempest broods
Waking like spirits in their startling moods
Fluttering the sear leaves on the blasting lea
That litters under every fading tree
And pausing oft as falls the pattering rain
Then gathering strength and twirling them again
The startld stockdove hurried wizzing bye
As the still hawk hangs oer him in the sky
Crows from the oak trees qawking as they spring
Dashing the acorns down wi beating wing
Waking the woodlands sleep in noises low
Pattring on crimpt brakes withering brown below
While from their hollow nest the squirrels (pop)
Adown the tree to pick them as they drop
The starnel crowds that dim the muddy light
The crows and jackdaws flapping home at night
And puddock circling round its lazy flight
Round the wild sweeing wood in motion slow
Before it perches on the oaks below
And hugh black beetles revelling alone
In the dull evening with their heavy drone
Buzzing from barn door straw and hovel sides
Where fodderd cattle from the night abides
These pictures linger thro the shortning day
And cheer the lone bards mellancholy way
And now and then a solitary boy
Journeying and muttering oer his dreams of joy.

John Clare 1793 – 1864

I’m not sure about beetroot and egg salad

I came across a recipe for pickled beetroot and boiled eggs… I like beetroot (unpickled) and I like boiled eggs but together? Some recipes you make and they go wrong but they are still edible – however, I’m not sure that this would be; even though the beetroot are steeped in a sweet pickle. The recipe calls for beet of all colours, and then cooks them together; the red would bleed into the golden  and the pink would just become red. I have the feeling that if it’s not nice it’s not nice and not nice enough to eat at all… hmmm… wasteful… hmmmm.

I’ve had a think, and I’ve adjusted the recipe, here is a version I might try:

Beetroot and egg salad

  • 1 lb beetroot, peeled, cooked in water, liquor reserved, then cubed
  • 2 tbsp of  wine or cider vinegar (or slightly less)
  • 2 tbsp of caster sugar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp creamed horseradish (miss it out if you don’t like it)
  • 4 tbsp of double cream
  • 4 eggs, lightly boiled, peeled and cut in half
  • optional grated horseradish (i think it sounds a bit aggressive so I wouldn’t use it – but it is in the original recipe!)
  • salad leaves of your choice
  • chopped chives
  • salt and pepper
  1.  mix the sugar and vinegar  until dissolved
  2. add the mustard and horseradish if you like it and mix really well
  3. stir in enough cream to get the consistency you want and chill
  4.  either serve on a large dish or four separate plates – arrange the leaves and scatter  the  beetroot
  5.  put the eggs on top and season, then top with the sauce
  6. garnish with chives and the grated horseradish

It’s not just the combination of eggs and beetroot, it’s the eggs and that sauce… maybe I’ll try it… If you’re wondering why I reserved the liquor I would cook some more beetroot in it and make soup!

My featured image is of a different salad I made with beetroot but with no eggs


Infographics, charts and graphs… a challenge for the 73

I am a bit obsessed by the list of 73 that a friend and I found; my friend and I share a blog and he came across a list of seventy-three suggestions of different sorts of blogs you could write… and we ended up having a bit of a challenge. Yesterday I wrote about listicicles, and as I am working my way through the list in order (which is random and as the creator thought of it I think), the list which in itself is a listicle… but that is a different blog, a yesterday’s blog.

Today I am looking at infographics. I think this is just a catch-all word for lists, graphs, charts, pictures, diagrams, etc which offers information visually rather than through words, or just words. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’  is a well-known saying – and yes, to a certain extent it is, but not always. A picture can show you a beautiful scene, but words can enhance the scene with descriptions of aspects of it such as the scents and perfumes of a place, the particular and maybe unique sounds you can hear,  the feel of the wind or the sun, and also an explanation of certain features – geographical or historical that you might see in the image.  I guess as a writer and word person (wordsmith is too pretentious!!) I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Advertisements are a really good example of images giving over a message rather than a lot of words – some adverts have virtually no words, or just a simple catch-phrase. However, thinking beyond images, and thinking of diagrams and charts and other visual representation of information, the best ones are brilliant – the worst ones makes my heart sink… When information is to do with numbers, it is much easier to understand to see a bar graph or a line graph than have it all written out. One of my interests is names and how they change and go in and out of fashion; for example, I looked up how my own name, Lois has gone in and out of fashion. Lois is in the Bible, she was St Timothy’s grandma, so maybe it has been associated with old ladies; it has never been a really popular name, rising in numbers from the 1850’s, peaking in the 1920’s and 30’s, before dropping away to almost none as the century ran out. I looked at a coloured graph to show me this; it was easy to see at a glance, and if I wanted more specifics, then the basics were there – in the 1030’s, Lois was the 21st most popular name!

In science and maths, commerce and industry, infographics are vital; some information would be very difficult to put over in any other way! I guess I have neatly demonstrated that I know little about this side of knowledge by the fact that I’ve written a couple of paragraphs above about visual images, just touching briefly on graphs, and by the fact that I am about to quote a quote from Wikipedia:

‘In his 1983 “landmark book” The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte defines “graphical displays” in the following passage:

Graphical displays should

  • show the data
  • induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production, or something else
  • avoid distorting what the data have to say
  • present many numbers in a small space
  • make large data sets coherent
  • encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data
  • reveal the data at several levels of detail, from a broad overview to the fine structure
  • serve a reasonably clear purpose: description, exploration, tabulation, or decoration
  • be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set.

Graphics reveal data. Indeed graphics can be more precise and revealing than conventional statistical computations.’

I think that sums it up really!

Here is a link to my novels:

… and to my piece on listicles: