Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Tapas Evening

Tortilla Squares baked in the oven
The Spanish love their tapas - and so do we! We wanted to invite some friends round for the evening and so we decided we’d try our hand at tapas with a Canarian twist. Now these were not as authentic as they might have been; they weren’t made by a native of Lanzarote for a start. We’ll never know whether they would have stood the Canarian taste test, as our friends on this occasion were entirely ex-pats and Brits who visit the island several times a year. We DO have Spanish and Canarian friends and one day, when we are feeling really brave, we may try these recipes out on them too.

We used a mixture of books and the internet to source the recipes, so we had a fairly eclectic mix. We didn’t have any fish as one of us doesn’t eat it at all and we thought it best to avoid it on this occasion, which was a pity as it would have added another dimension.

Ropa Vieja, or ‘Old Clothes’  for using up leftovers!

I’m not going to reproduce any of the recipes here as they can be found on many sites through the simple method of googling. There are whole blogs on the subject for heaven’s sake, and cooks who will speak with far more authority, and at great length on the correct way to do it. I’m just going to showcase some of the dishes we had to whet your appetite.  We could have bought a lot of this ‘ready-made’ but it was more fun to start from scratch, even to the extent of blanching our own almonds for the nibbles section, apparently this is far tastier. Not sure I’d bother again.

Spicy toasted almonds
Marinated olives (very lemonny and garlicky - that’s a technical term!)
Little portions of steak to dip in chilli sauce

Papas Arrugadas (Wrinkly Potatoes)
The next two go together. The wrinkly potatoes are very Canarian and very salty and they are served with Mojo sauces.

Mojo Sauces (very garlicky too!)

Tiny beef meatballs with tomato sauce

Tiny pork meatballs with almond sauce
We couldn’t decide on which meatballs , so we did both!

We eat a lot of aubergines here and these were marinated and served warm; lovely!

Marinated Aubergines

A variation on that good old standby Lemon Chicken

 A refreshing green salad to add some contrast to the palate and a selection of Canarian cheeses. These are curado (cured) and semi-curado goats cheeses and not like your average Cheddar.

I hope you enjoyed that little culinary tour. Of course you need a bottle or two of wine or a few beers to wash it all down. The company of friends makes the meal complete.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

She Did Her Bit!

The title of today’s post is taken from a popular First World War propaganda poster which encouraged women to work in munitions factories. Sepia Saturday this week prompted this theme, and others will no doubt be posting similar stories and images from both World Wars.
My maternal grandmother, far right in her ‘Munitionette’ uniform
This is a picture of my maternal grandmother (she of Wedding Day Delay  and Beautiful Babies fame) with some of her fellow workers from the Munitions Factory where she was employed during the First World War. She was born in 1898 and left school in 1912 to enter the world or work. She was bright and articulate, nevertheless she did not enter any of the professions. She was the eldest girl of ten children and the family would have been keen for her to earn a wage and make a contribution to the household expenses. Instead she was apprenticed to a French chocolatier, and as far as I know, this is where she worked until she went into munitions. When I was a child she would tell me stories about her employer and the handmade chocolates they made to order. I was fascinated and wondered how she could resist ‘sampling’ the goods. She did say they were allowed occasionally to have a treat. This make perfect sense as knowing they would have the odd chocolate (perhaps a ‘mis-shape’ as we call them now?) must have meant they weren’t so tempted. What a kind and canny employer!

This is the only picture I have of her in her factory uniform, and as she married in 1918, she never went out to work again. Men returned from the war and took back the jobs which women had filled in their absence. Women who had been carrying out skilled labour, and filling many vital roles, returned to more menial tasks, or became housewives and mothers.

The women who went into munitions work, known as Munitionettes, were paid better than some others as the work was highly dangerous and carried a serious risk to their health. However, they were still paid half of the wage of a man carrying out the same task. Here we are nearly a century later and, in some areas at least, women still find it difficult to break through the glass ceiling. It’s possible to read in some first-hand accounts of the women having rolls of banknotes (Lyn Macdonald, 1914-18, Voices and image of The Great War), but I don’t recall any such legend within my own family. Whatever my grandmother earned would have been ploughed back into the family resources. Max Arthur in ‘Forgotten Voices of the Great War’ uses transcripts of original recordings held by the Imperial War Museum. Some of the ‘voices’ are of munitions workers and they probably present a more realistic picture of the dangers and hardships these women faced on a daily basis.

I don’t know anything about the other girls in the picture, but I do know that my grandmother played in an all-women football team, possibly with some of her co-workers. My grandfather saw them play and said they were very good (and he was not one to lavish praise where football was concerned). She would still have been living at home with her parents, and by 1916 two of her elder brothers had been killed in the war. This may account for my great-grandfather’s paternal strictness. Having lost two of his sons he was protective towards his future son-in-law, and if my Gran went out with her friends to alleviate some of the tediousness and loneliness, this was frowned upon, whilst “That lad is fighting for King and Country.” She did however, come home with a tattoo at the top of her arm on one occasion, perhaps egged on by the other girls. Nothing changes, and peer pressure was as strong then as it is today.  For the rest of her life she was deeply embarrassed by this. My grandfather had no such qualms about his own tattoo, which proudly proclaimed his love for my grandmother; her name surrounded by hearts and flowers if I remember correctly. As a nineteen-year old soldier serving in France it was probably 'de rigueur’.

When I was young my Gran would tell me all sorts of tales about her life and we would often say that one day we’d write a book together. Sadly I never even wrote anything down and my Gran died many years ago now so it’s too late to ask her. This is my way of honouring our shared wish. My Gran also appears on my other blog Picking Up The Threads. She was a very talented needlewoman, especially crochet, and you can see some examples of her work in ‘Hand in Glove With Grandma’.

You can read more about the work of the Munitionettes by clicking here. the North Watford History Group have an excellent page about the Munitions Factory my Gran would have worked in. If you click on the two links below you will be a treated to short black and white video clips from the British Pathe News archive. Click on the link, then on the still picture.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Not Burt and Deborah

Sepia Saturday this week has the prompts of sea, sun and sand, and gave me the perfect excuse to post this photograph of my late parents-in-law, Noel and Mary. I think it was the first holiday they went on together somewhere around 1928.  I love this picture because of the bathing costumes, which were supposedly discreet and covered up more of the body than they do these days, when in reality, the fabric left very little to the imagination. No wonder Noel is proudly sticking out his chest and demonstrating his affection and adoration for Mary, with a protective arm around her shoulder. He seems to be saying, “She’s mine!”

In addition Mary has accessorised her beachwear with necklace, belt and hat. They have their socks and sand shoes on and probably aren’t going for a swim at all, but for a stroll down that shingly beach.

A few years later in 1953, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr posed for similar shots as publicity for the film From Here to Eternitywhere Burt was the epitome of manliness and Deborah’s costume was designed to show off all her assets.

Around about the same time as Burt and Deborah were euphemistically frolicking in the surf, I got my first glimpse of the ocean. I don’t seem too impressed!

But a year or so later I obviously felt confident enough to toddle along the water’s edge and give Mummy a friendly wave. It always amazes me when I view photographs of myself at such a young age. I have no real memories of those events and yet there I was, captured in grainy black and white, whilst I was only really a ‘little dot’ myself.

In the interest of parity, here is a photograph of my own mother, Mary, at a slightly older age, on holiday on the East Coast of England, where she had been taken by her aunt, to help her recover from tonsillitis.

Times were hard in the thirties, and she was lucky to be getting any sort of holiday. The family budget probably didn’t run to purpose made bathing costumes so, resourceful as ever, my mother did what you do in such situations and tucked her dress in her knickers!

I can’t leave out my own father, so here he is aged seventeen demonstrating joi de vivre and modelling another fetching pair of ‘bathers’. This is about ten years on from Noel and Mary’s shopping catalogue pose and Dad is obviously wearing an early prototype for Burt’s figure-hugging trunks, about twelve years later. Swimming costumes in those days seemed to be made from the same heavy fabric which was designed to absorb the maximum amount of water. They hadn’t improved much by the fifties. We all remember staggering from the sea with our swimsuits weighted down with seawater and somewhere near our ankles.

Dad doesn’t swim anymore but he paints lovely pictures of the ocean.  This one is my favourite and hangs on my living room wall.

Dad will be 90 next month; Happy Birthday Les! And here are Mum and Dad enjoying the ocean and the sunshine near my home in Lanzarote; not a soggy swimsuit in sight. Two days after Dad’s 90th they will celebrate their 69th Wedding Anniversary. Their motto is ‘Only Forever’ after the Bing Crosby song which they heard a lot when they were falling in love and preparing to marry. Dad often writes it on his Wedding Anniversary card for Mum. Burt and Deborah eat your hearts out, these two demonstrate real enduring love.

Click the link to hear and see Bing Crosby and Mary Martin sing this song in the 1940 film Rhythm on the River.
Only Forever

Happy Fathers’ Day on Sunday to all Dads whether they are more Bing than Burt, it matters not a bit.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Aspiring to Greatness

This etching by Wenzel Hollar (1607-1677) of Salisbury Cathedral is about as sepia as it gets and so I offer is as my submission for Sepia Saturday. Salisbury is my spiritual home, where I lived and taught for more than twenty years, and where the view from the bedroom window was of this magnificent building.

 I have wonderful memories and photographs. Sadly none is sepia (as I am far too young) and hundreds can be found in the many publications of old Salisbury photographs. As cathedrals go Salisbury is pretty tall but its spire is the tallest in the British Isles (123m). The cathedral close is also the largest in Britain, allowing the visitor to admire its towering majesty unfettered by the proximity of other buildings. The cathedral houses Europe’s oldest working clock (AD1386) as well as the best-preserved of four remaining copies of the original 1215 exemplification of the Magna Carta.

But enough of facts let’s share some photos and newsclips. About twenty-five years ago that very famous spire was under threat of collapsing, unless some major restoration work was carried out. The Spire Appeal was launched with HRH The Prince of Wales as president. As part of the fundraising effort a ‘Symphony for the Spire’ took place on the West Green on 6th September 1991 and we were privileged to attend. An unforgettable and magical experience with: Kenneth Brannagh, Phil Collins, Placido Domingo, Peter Donohoe, Ofra Harnoy, Charlton Heston and Jessye Norman. The concert was broadcast on BBC television and radio. Almost all outdoor productions at the cathedral concluded with a firework display; Last Saturday was the final day of Salisbury International Festival and this meant a Party in the Close with scenes like the one below at a performance of Carmina Burana.

John Constable painted the Cathedral and the Water Meadows several times and was inspired by views like this one of Heavenly peace.

The picture that captures what that view of the cathedral meant to me was the one I took on the morning I left our house, to emigrate, at the end of September 2009.

A maginficent sunrise! Birds were still singing with the dawn, there was the sound of a water bird disturbed from its roost, and an early morning mist was rising from the Water Meadows.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are We Nearly There Yet?

The challenge for this week’s Sepia Saturday themers was ‘trains’, not a subject I am very familiar with, so I was surprised to find  some examples among the family holiday albums. No sepia I’m afraid, and only dating back as far as 1988, when we had a holiday on the Yorkshire Moors. I seem to remember that we thought the children would be thrilled by a trip on the North York Moors Railway. After all, everybody loves a steam train don’t they? How wrong we were. I don’t think the adults got excited either; is that me engrossed in the newspaper?

The views were mostly bucolic, typical Yorkshire Moors, with the occasional stop at a rural station, such as Pickering, Levisham or Goathland. The latter is now better known as Aidensfield in the TV series ‘Heartbeat’ and as Hogsmeade in the first Harry Potter film.

So, as compensation for being bored rigid, it only seemed fair to give everyone a treat in Scarborough. Great! The Ghost Train, that’s much more like it. Trembly smiles all round; “It’s all right Daddy I’ve got you!"

Steam trains can be very evocative and romantic. Who could forget the part played by Carnforth Station in David Lean’s film ‘Brief Encounter? But for me the very mention of a steam train reminds me of the words of one of my favourite poems of the First World War era, Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.