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Archive for August, 2009

It’s important to teach and mentor the next generation.

I believe that whole-heartedly.  So today, I picked them up at 9am, took them shopping for shoes, bought them books and pretty stationery then treated them to lunch out.  I don’t ever want it said that Aunty Raynah taught them nothing!

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Flapjack recipe

I can’t even remember where this recipe came from, but it’s so easy and so delicious I thought I’d share it.

Flapjack

75g of butter or margarine
50 – 75g light brown sugar
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
175g of porridge oats

Flapjack Baking Directions:


1. Put the butter or margarine, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the fat and sugar have melted.

2. Add the porridge oats and blend thoroughly.

3. Press into a well greased 18cm square sandwich tin.

4. Bake in the centre of a moderate oven at 180c or 350f or gas mark 4 for 25 minutes or until evenly golden brown.

5. Mark into fingers whilst warm.

6. Allow to become almost cold in the tin before removing.

7. Enjoy!

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Then I’ll begin…

I LOVE stories.  As a child I would happily watch hours of Jackanory, and I loved to have stories read to me.  My desire for stories meant I was an eager reader and I completed the school reading scheme early, and was allowed to move on to ‘real’ books.  It was no surprise, I suppose, that I ended up doing the job I do; teaching English.  Sometimes I regret that the curriculum has changed so much and that we teach less through novels these days, but I hope the more ‘scientific’ approach to the analysis of language will give our children more power – because that’s what words are – they’re power.

Anyway,  I thought I’d share a story with you today.  So here it is, straight from The Brothers Grimm.

The Frog Prince


Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters. In his courtyard there was a well with wonderful clear water. One hot summer day the oldest daughter went down and drew herself a glassful, but when she held it to the sun, she saw that it was cloudy. This seemed strange to her, and she was about to pour it back when a frog appeared in the water, stuck his head into the air, then jumped out onto the well’s edge, saying:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

“Ugh! Who wants to be the sweetheart of an ugly frog!” exclaimed the princess and ran away. She told her sisters about the amazing frog down at the well who was making the water cloudy. The second one was curious, so she too went down and drew herself a glassful, but it was so cloudy that she could not drink it. Once again the frog appeared at the well’s edge and said:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

“Not I!” said the princess, and ran away. Finally the third sister came and drew a glassful, but it was no better than before. The frog also said to her:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

“Why not! I’ll be your sweetheart. Just give me some clean water,” she said, while thinking, “There’s no harm in this. You can promise him anything, for a stupid frog can never be your sweetheart.”

The frog sprang back into the water, and when she drew another glassful it was so clear that the sun glistened in it with joy. She drank all she wanted and then took some up to her sisters, saying, “Why were you so stupid as to be afraid of a frog?”

The princess did not think anything more about it until that evening after she had gone to bed. Before she fell asleep she heard something scratching at the door and a voice singing:

Open up! Open up!
Youngest daughter of the king.
Remember that you promised me
While I was sitting in the well,
That you would be my sweetheart dear,
If I would give you water clear.

“Ugh! That’s my boyfriend the frog,” said the princess. “I promised, so I will have to open the door for him.” She got up, opened the door a crack, and went back to bed. The frog hopped after her, then hopped onto her bed where he lay at her feet until the night was over and the morning dawned. Then he jumped down and disappeared out the door.

The next evening, when the princess once more had just gone to bed, he scratched and sang again at the door. The princess let him in, and he again lay at her feet until daylight came. He came again on the third evening, as on the two previous ones. “This is the last time that I’ll let you in,” said the princess. “It will not happen again in the future.” Then the frog jumped under her pillow, and the princess fell asleep. She awoke in the morning, thinking that the frog would hop away once again, but now a beautiful young prince was standing before her. He told her that he had been an enchanted frog and that she had broken the spell by promising to be his sweetheart. Then they both went to the king who gave them his blessing, and they were married. The two other sisters were angry with themselves that they had not taken the frog for their sweetheart.


Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Wise words from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, a movie I loved as a teenager.  I’m not going to talk about why I loved the film, but rather why that particular line has resonance for me now.  I used to be the person who walked round and saw nothing.  I never knew my way to places*, I wouldn’t see birds of prey in the sky over the motorway, I didn’t notice if someone had a new car, or if a room had been decorated.  On one occasion when I was about 15, I arrived home and my mom asked me if I’d noticed what she’d done in the garden that day.  I didn’t even know if I’d come in through the back or front of the house, I was so completely on auto-pilot.

It has been said many times but I’m going to repeat it here; photography stops you from walking round with your eyes closed.  You look, you see.  You take walks a little more slowly.  You pause for thought and consider the detail.  Here’s the case in point: we have been growing a beautiful purple clematis in our garden for about 5 years.  I knew that it had enormous purple flowers, and that they bloomed all summer.  I didn’t know anything else about it.  I’d never noticed the velvety, soft green spikes that opened into buds; I didn’t know about the intricate basket-like formation of the seeds after the petals fell.  I had no idea that these seeds became fluffier until they worked their way loose to float away.  I didn’t know that dozens of spiders live amongst our clematis.  I do now: I’ve stopped to look around, and I’ve photographed it all.

*I still don’t know my way to places and my sense of direction has not improved – maybe that’s a topic for another day?

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention

Some 14 years ago, when I started my second teaching post, I soon got chatting to Pat, who shared my love of folk music.  It must have been the first day, in fact, because we were in casual clothes and she was wearing the t shirt from that year’s Cropredy Festival.  She asked me if I’d ever been, and I hadn’t.  I’d heard of Fairport, but my experience of folk was mostly Irish, not English, and  didn’t know anything about the events that take place every year in a field in Oxfordshire. I said to her then that I’d try to get there one year, and it’s taken nearly a decade and a half for me to do it.

A few months ago The Bloke and I were mooching around the ‘net and happened to come across something about The Levellers’ ‘Beautiful Days’ festival.  That jogged our memory and we decided to check out the date of Cropredy.  It was perfect – it just so happened to be the weekend at the end of the week he’d booked off for a summer holiday, and as we hadn’t booked anything, we purchased our tickets straight away.

They arrived about ten days later and we had two whole months to get excited about it, so I put some Fairport in the car, got chatting on an internet forum and settled down for the wait.

By the time mid-August arrived I was unbearably excited.  The line-up looked fabulous; we were both really excited about seeing Ade Edmondson’s band, The Bad Shepherds,  and The Bloke was going to finally get an opportunity to see The Buzzcocks, whom he’d listened to in his yoof. Neither of us slept much the night before and we were up with the lark.  We’d allowed extra time to get to Cropredy but we were there within the hour, and were pitched and settled in our tent by the time the official campsite opening time came around.

The bands started at 4 on Thursday afternoon, and we saw a local band, Harlequinn, then Manchester based quartet  4 Square, who were absolutely splendid.  Ken Nicol and Phil Cool did a spot, a mixture of music and comedy which amused me, then it was The Buzzcocks followed by Steve Winwood; neither folky, neither my cup of tea, but a good experience anyway.  We left the arena field early because we were extremely cold, and returned to the tent.  We were troubled by the poor behaviour of some of the younger campers and this meant we had an unsettled night, but we were still up and about before 8am the next day.

Queues  for the showers were looooooong, but it was worth waiting for.  We had a mooch down to the village and then returned to sort out the stuff we wanted to take to the arena – chairs today!  Some more new experiences followed; I’d never seen or heard ColvinQuarmby, or Megan and Joe Henwood, or the afore-mentioned Bad Shepherds. Neither had I heard Scott Matthews, John Jorgensen or The Dodge Brothers, but suffice it to say it was an amazing afternoon of music, with something for everyone.  The evening’s acts were Richard Thompson and Seth Lakeman.  It’s almost sacrilege to say that I think both of these are over rated, but the atmosphere was good and we enjoyed it, although once again we left the arena before the end o f the night. I also managed to seek out my old colleague Pat and catch up, which was lovely.

Camping was even worse on the second night.  The gang of youngsters had grown and we were treated to some yelling and screaming before one of them fell into our tent.  At one point I did receive an apology, but only when I yelled ‘Shut UP!’  This must have been around 2am. I cannot for the life of me work out why these kids had gone to Cropredy; in all areas of the campsites there were enclaves of youth who appeared to have no interest in the music and who didn’t move away from their tents. I can only assume they feel the need to ‘do’ a festival and Cropredy is considered ‘safe’, but that won’t be the case if these behaviours continue – it’s a shame.  By the time we were up on Saturday we’d decided not to drink alcohol, so we could pack up the tent before the bands ended and drive home as the event drew to a close.  I’ve since learned that we weren’t the only ones to do so. I suppose the plus side is that while they’re around the campsite these kids are not spoiling the arena.

Anyway, up on Saturday and all the camping gear put away, we made an early start down to the arena to bag a good spot for the next 12 hours or so.  Saturday was my favourite day musically, opening with the lovely Richard Digance, who was followed by The Churchfitters and then Feast of Fiddles – both bands providing marvellous, upbeat tunes.  The surprise success of the day were Dreadzone, described by Fairport as “an eclectic fusion of dub, techno and folk into a powerhouse of ideas, experiments and imagination.”  They’re basically a reggae band, and the audience, for all the misgivings they may have had, loved ’em. Then Nik Kershaw played; yes, little Nik Kershaw of The Riddle and so on.  Lots of people liked him but I have to admit he left me cold; nice to hear the songs of my girlhood but his nasally delivery drives me mad.  Some GREAT people watching to be done though; I had a ball with my camera! It’s really interesting to see the vast range of types of people who go to folk festivals (aside from the people I wrote about earlier.)

Ralph McTell began the evening’s music, and I loved his set though it was very short.  After Ralph came Fairport themselves, the highlight of the evening for many.  It was wonderful to see Yusuf Islam (Formerly Cat Stevens) up on stage with them, and I think my favourite tune of the weekend was Fairport’s ‘Ukelele Central‘.  Just fabulous.

Because we were driving home we didn’t see all of Fairport’s set, and we hope that next year we’ll have a better camping experience, but overall, the festival was a wonderful, wonderful experience.  Good weather, fine music and great people – what more could you want?  Cheers!

Cats.

I am, first and foremost, a cat person.  When I say first, I mean before humans.  I like cats better, mostly.  I like their independence, their physical beauty, the touch and sounds of them, and sometimes, depending on the cat, I like the smell of them.  I like kittens, especially when they are at that pubescent stage, all gangly legs and big ears.  I like squishy, comfy cats like my Dylan, and I’m amused by naughty cats, scratchy cats, aloof cats.

I grew up amongst cats and dogs. The dogs were, mostly, loyal, affectionate and predictable.  The cats were often willful, bossy, demanding and surprising; I loved that about them.  It has been the patterns that my dogs have been female and my cats male, but there have been exceptions; Wilhelmina, or Willa (because otherwise her name was too big for her), whom we hand reared and who didn’t realise that cats and humans were different species.  We had her kitten, Mildred, who left home to live with her boyfriend – I kid you not. Then later, my mom’s little cats, Nanci and Alice; both tiny, dainty, enormously hungry little girls.

Mildred had a brother, George.  George was very slow witted, and very lovable.  He was the cat who gave me my soft spot for ginger moggies. We also had Moses, the oriental cat who came from a rescue centre on account of being so badly treated.  He was completely deaf and so had no idea how loud his voice was – he was a real character.  Later there was Clarence, or Ratbag. He was fluffy and very handsome, but had an evil temper and some very bad habits involving sexual behaviour and women’s heads – eventually we banned him from sitting on the back of chairs. We had other cats too; Oliver, Billy, Pixie, Dixie and Tommy; they were all special, and stayed with us for varying amounts of time.

When I finally left home and lived in a flat, I was desperate for a cat.  I investigated the possibility of an indoor cat, and ended up with Robinson, a gorgeous, bright ginger tom.  He and I were a great partnership but he was generous enough to allow The Bloke into our home, and he is cited as the cat who changed The Bloke’s mind.  It was a sad day for both of us when we had to say goodbye to Robs, but Robs was old and had become very unwell, and we had to make that terrible decision.  Neither myself or The Bloke liked living in a cat-free house, so we started to look around for another cat.

We soon learned of Dylan and Edward, who were being fostered in Coventry.  They weren’t brothers, or even friends, but I loved Dyl and Ed loved The Bloke, so we had to have both of them and they eventually learned to rub along together.  Ed has recently shuffled off this mortal coil and we’re a one-cat family again, but some day there’ll be another – a home is richer for having cats.

And I love the big cats too.  I love their cat-ness, but also their other-ness. They roll, and show furry bellies and big fat cat paws.  They nuzzle each other and twitch whiskers just like those that twitch every day in my kitchen, but they seem to be a little bit magical too, and I think maybe they’ve shared a little bit of their spell with my kitchen-cat.

…and in my eyes, so do I.

Have you tried the pline cake?

It’s been a cake-y few days!  On Saturday we went to a colleague’s wedding and I agreed to contribute a cake to be served after the ceremony.  So Project 1 was an enormous chocolate and raspberry cream sandwich.  Sunday was my Dad’s birthday, and we had a ‘bring and share’ tea at his.  My contribution was Project 2, a cheesecake – see here – which made it to its destination and was enjoyed immensely. Project 3 was Dad’s birthday cake, a lovely bakewell tart cake, using this recipe.

Today is the first day of The Bloke’s holiday.  We’re not going away till towards the end of the week but are having some days out, and tomorrow we’re taking a picnic so I decided that it was time for Project 4.  I’m a bit fed up with rich and fancy stuff, and decided on the most simple – plain vanilla cupcakes, no decoration.  They’re so easy, and so delicious, in many ways the perfect comfort food – not least because they’re done and out of the oven in little more than half an hour.

We have just sampled them at their absolute best – straight out of the oven, warm, with a cup of tea.  I urge you – DO try the pline cakes!

Plain Cakes.

100g butter
100g caster sugar
100g SR flour
2 eggs
Drop of vanilla essence

Cream the  sugar and the butter together till pale yellow and smooth.  Add the flour, sieved.  Beat in the eggs and add a drop of vanilla essence.  Split the mix into 12 cake cases (or 6 muffin cases) then bake at gas mark 5 for 20-25 mins or until golden.

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