Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do your cockles need warming?


Mine did yesterday and the thought of drinking a cold white wine didn’t have its usual charm.  Then I remembered that in our gorgeous Christmas hamper there had been a small scarlet satin bag with the recipe for mulled wine and small muslin wrapped spice bags containing cinnamon, orange peel, allspice and cloves.  I remembered MTL used to make it – to his recipe and was inspired to give it a go.

Bring half a litre of water and one spice bag to the boil and simmer for fifteen minutes.  Add one litre of red wine, half a litre of orange juice, one measure of brandy* and sugar to taste and gently heat to serving temperature stirring constantly (do not boil).
Serve with slices of orange or lemon.
*I couldn’t find any brandy – just some dubious cherry brandy so I made an executive decision to use port instead.

Both of us found it truly heart warming – cockles and all - and will enjoy every last drop.  However MTL thought perhaps the one he used to make was a little better because he used real cinnamon sticksJ





Warming the cockles

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Magical moment...

...when a misty moon momentatily appeared over my crib scene
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Monday, December 24, 2012

Peace and good will to all.

We shall be having a quiet Christmas.  There is solitude and there is loneliness.  If you feel lonely over the holiday leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Post script.

The phone rang in the evening and I thought I recognised the low, slow voice of my old friend Pat.  She was born three months after me – delivered by my midwife grand mother, so we were sort of sisters.  She was blonde, bonny and serene and when I visited my Gran we became playmates.

When I left home for nursing at 16 we lost touch.  Granddad died, Gran came to live with us and we never seemed to go in that direction.  Fast forward forty years and I got a phone cal from an advertising agency saying someone had seen an old ad of mine on TV, recognised me and wanted to get in touch.  They would give me the details and then it was up to me.

As Pat had married I didn’t recognise the name but curiosity won the day and I had a long puzzling conversation with her husband until the penny dropped.  It was a happy reunion; she still lived in the north and when we visited our cottage in Skipton we would get together and catch up.  Coincidentally her husband Jack was born and bred in the next street to my Grandfather in Cleator Moor.
In later years Pat and I would catch up with long telephone conversations.  She was very proud of her children and grand-children – none of whom I had met.

The voice on the phone was her daughter; she had seem my Christmas card, finally found my phone number and was telling me that her much loved mother passed away some time ago.  I realised I hadn’t heard since I sent her birthday card and wished I had phoned her.  Her daughter told me her father died in October – which was a blessed release, but her mother’s death had been a great shock and I really felt for her.

She asked me how we had known each other and was very interested in hearing about our childhood.  When Gran delivered Pat she asked her mother what they were going to call her and when they said Patricia, Gran – in her forthright way said;
“Oh no you can’t: my granddaughter is christened Patricia.”

It was a very emotional phone call but I am so glad she took the trouble and I hope it was of some comfort to her.  Her brother was living in Dubai and she said she would tell him of our conversation.  This has made me determined to phone all those old friends one thinks about phoning at Christmas and then doesn’t.

Requiem in pace dearest Patricia.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Lovely Day

It really has been today - mild and sunny - easy parking at the surgery and at last I was able to collect
the shingles vaccine which I have been fratching about since September.
First I had to wait until after the 'flu vaccination had taken effect and then no-one seemed to know anything about it and I was told variously: it didn't exist, it was unobtainable and it was our of stock.  I finally managed to speak to the manufacturers who assured me it was not out of stock.  Another few weeks elapsed and yesterday I discovered it was safely sitting in the pharmacist's fridge to be collected today.

"You are very lucky to get this on prescriptiion" - said the nurse and I told her that right from the beginning I had insisted on paying for it myself.  According to my research the Health Service is shortly going to make it available, on prescription, to the over sixties. 
Thanks to my Canadian friend Jack Bush for the heads up.

Then on to the Coop for definitely a final shop - quite painless and everyone helpful and festive.  Home to more cards from old friends and a lovely Fortnum's Hamper from our Australian family who we always spent wonderful Christmasses with.  I know that is a preposition but this is just chatting.
I hope it's been a lovely day for you - I'm sure we'll have to batten down the hatches tomorrow,
Yippee it's Friday I can have a drink:)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Lemon Chicken

My Lemon Chicken
This is for Parsnip (side bar)
Our French DIL is an excellent cook but the children said her chicken was not as good as Grandma's.
1.5kg(3lb 5oz) whole chicken
2 lemons, quartered
2 heads of garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves
A bunch of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper.
For the roasties
700g(1lb 9oz) potatoes, peeled and diced.
1 teaspoon of salt
I tablespoon of olive oil
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark  5/190 degrees C/fan oven 170 degrees C.  Rinse the chicken remembering to remove giblets.  Pat dry with kitchen paper and place in a non stick roasting tin.
Push the lemons, garlic and thyme sprigs into the chest cavity of the chicken.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the skin of the chicken; rubbing it in with your fingers.  Roast for 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Meanwhile place the diced potatoes in a plastic container that has a tightly fitting lid.  Add the salt and oil, place the lid on the container and shake well, so that all the pieces of potato get a light covering of the salty oil. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on a non stick baking tray.
About 35 minutes towards the end of the chicken's cooking time, place the potatoes in the oven to roast.
Two heads of garlic sound an awful lot, but because the cloves are not peeled they just impart a subtle flavour.
Choose whatever vegetables you fancy as an accompaniment.  With an Aga just put it where you normally cook roasts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Turkey with all the trimmings

Turkey with all the trimmings

The girls and I met yesterday in our friendly bistro to have a Christmas lunch together.  We are down to three since Margaret deserted to Cheltenham and the day before Joy phoned to say she wasn’t very well and was doubtful if she would make it.  I told her to see how she felt on the day – only she could decide and we would be in touch.  I then phoned Jackie to make sure she could still make it and warned her that Joy probably wouldn’t.
The bistro was bustling when I got there and I was glad to have reserved a table.  Jackie was there already having convinced herself it was 12.15am instead of 12.30am.  We always meet at 12.30am for lunch.  As we had a large table for four I told Kym the owner, we would probably just be the two of us and would she like us to move.  Fortunately she told us to hang on because a little while later Joy wandered in.  They both were a bit tired so I took their orders: water for Joy, orange juice for Jackie and rose pour moi (I know it isn’t the week-end but it was a Christmas lunch.)
The girls decided to have the pensioner’s chicken – slightly smaller serving and cheaper - whilst I had the Christmas lunch – turkey with all the trimmings.  Because that is what we had originally ordered we had Christmas crackers but we decide to leave them un-pulled as only one of us was entitled.  The girls rallied, enjoyed their lunch and managed the delicious fruit crumble.  I enjoyed all the different flavours – super bread sauce – delighted I wasn’t the chef but it really was a man size helping and I reluctantly had to leave some.  Miraculously I found space for blueberry cream.
A lady none of us knew came up and offered us an after- eight mint “because it’s Christmas”.  Her name was Ada and it was such a sweet idea we happily partook.

As we are having my lemon chicken on the day I booked dinner for Saturday so that MTL can enjoy the same.  I have done that marathon for so many years under varying circumstances; it is an arena I am happy to bow out from.
I’m now off to Taunton to attend a funeral and there are flood warnings.  I’m getting a lift with neighbours – I don’t think it is necessary for MTL to attend.  Fingers crossed we don’t get swamped.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Love is all around

 What is it about the Coop?  Almost everytime MTL goes there alone he tells me of yet another elderly lady who has engaged him in conversation. Never happens at Tesco's or Morrison's.  Today I was shopping alone at the Coop - MTL was elsewhere with his own  trolley and as I was trying to spot frozen  puff pastry - for one of Chef's (see sidebar) excellent recipes, a silver haired charmer, in a wheelchair asked  me if I could get him a raspberry  pavlova from the top shelf.  As I handed it to him he said he would never  have been able to get it without me and we exchanged smiles.
At the exit my rusted  trolley got its wheels twisted and was dragging me into the road when yet    another chappie in a flat cap asked me if I was in charge of the trolley and  masterfully wrested it from my grip and led me to the car park. I thanked him profusely and convinced him I could manage the rest and we bade a fond farewell.  To my embarrassment the trolley wouldn't work in the park so to retrieve my £1 I had to re-enter the store passing flat cap on the way in and on the way out.
By the time I reached the car my face was aching with smiling and MTL who had caught the last action was having a quiet chuckle.
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Remind me why I changed to Windows 7

It was when I had to replace my computer and was told  W 7 was the way to go and I would be left behind without it.  I have yet to find an advantage and am only too well aware of the disadvantages.  For instance when I press reply to answer an email the layout goes peculiar and recipients are puzzled. The layout of the address book is different and puzzling.  It is all so unfamiliar and I’m not good at embracing change.

 Then this morning I did a post quickly so I could get on with Christmas stuff and whilst emboldening it - with  the mouse in my hand - it completely disappeared beyond recall.  Maybe I should have saved it after the title – but I never needed to do that before.  Where in tarnation has it gone to? I am not a happy bunny.






Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cracking up or breaking down.

Whilst writing about Jeanette Winterson's break down in my recent post What doesn't kill you I remembered a post I did six years ago after watching Stephen Fry talk about his own problems with manic depression or bipolar disease, as it is now known. It seems just as relevant today so I'm posting it again.

Stephen opened his programme ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depresssive’by telling us that after three performances of Simon Gray’s ‘Cell Mates’ he had left the West End Theatre and walked out of the play. I knew about this but what I didn’t know was that he took a duvet from his flat to seal the door of his garage and sat in his car for two hours staring at the ignition key. It wasn’t a cry for help, he said; he wanted to kill himself.

He fled to Europe and after a week returned to hospital where – aged thirty seven he was diagnosed as being bipolar. He went for a long break to America asking was he mad and how did he get the disease. He said there are four million people in the UK who suffer from this and many of them may commit suicide. He wanted to know what triggered it, was he getting better or worse and was it the correct diagnosis. He decided to talk to others. He was told in L.A. ‘You don’t need to be gay or Jewish to get on here- just bipolar.’

For years he has kept quiet about his illness but now wants to speak out. He met his friend Robbie Williams in L.A. Robbie had been told he was not manic depressive – just ‘dead upset.’ He said his drug of choice was fantasy to escape depression and boost his self esteem. He lost ‘the cog’ to socialise but could perform brilliantly before thousands of people. He used the classic method of alcohol and drugs. Then he was prescribed anti-depressants and they worked. Stephen said that he was manic in real life.

Stephen next visited Carrie Fisher who, he said lived on the edge of sanity – not mad enough to be hospitalised but not sane enough to live a normal life. She described her ‘highs’ where she is manically enthusiastic about everything and everybody and spins out of control imagining she is getting messages from deep space. She was asked ‘Does your doctor know you behave like this?’ And then she would cry for four hours at a time. She was diagnosed and is on medication but half the sufferers are not diagnosed.

It is not easy to diagnose and Stephen found that a brain scan doesn’t show any difference to a normal brain. He went to Cardiff University where they are trying to find a bipolar gene and had his DNA taken. There isn’t a single bipolar gene and there is no clear cut test. The psychiatrist asked Stephen many questions and built a medical history.

Stephen was nearly expelled from prep school and was from Uppingham. He used to cut games and wander over the rooves of the school. He said he was a ‘show off’ a ‘loud mouth’ and ‘impossible.’ He met his old house master who remembered giving him permission to go to London and he didn’t return. He had been to see ‘Clockwork Orange’ The Metropolitan Police were called and a psychiatrist said he had a mild depressive illness with ‘some brain damage’

He stole although he didn’t need to. The school laid a trap in Matron’s room and everybody was very shocked to discover the thief was Stephen. Stephen said the stealing was ‘nerve wracking but a real buzz.’ It was just called ‘bad behaviour’ He stole credit cards and then had a manic episode aged seventeen where he bought ridiculous suits and drank cocktails at the Savoy. He was arrested and sent to Pucklechurch Prison.

When his mother visited him in prison bringing him crosswords, he was very upset.
He found prison very like boarding school. He reckoned that every five years a ‘huge storm ‘would come. First there would be depression and then 6/12 later a manic phase;’a Tourette's view of yourself – a complete arsehole.’ He attempted suicide.

He travelled again to the USA and found they diagnose children much earlier and thus are treated earlier. In the UK they don’t label sufferers until aged nineteen. He met a family where the two young sons were both bipolar. Some are diagnosed as young as three years.
Stephen thinks that great stress can push you into Manic depression. He suffers great stress before his many public appearances but thinks the illness has probably helped his brilliant career.

He met Rod in Cornwall who had been an officer on the Royal Yacht for four years. He had a break down and went to France where he hallucinated and saw sea gulls as soldiers who had been killed and he thought he was Jesus. He was hospitalised and decided to escape. He walked onto a motorway and stepped in front of a lorry. He showed his mangled legs – a legacy of that incident. That was ten years ago and now he is stabilised. He wouldn’t change his illness because he has ‘walked with angels.’

Stephen interviewed the chef Rick Stein whose father was manic depressive and hurled himself from the cliffs in Cornwall where Rick lives. His concern is if he or his sons would develop the illness. He also spoke to Tony Slatterley who had suddenly plunged into manic depression ‘out of the blue – for no reason.’ He rented a warehouse and stayed alone for months. He called it his dark hour but – like most of the others – if given the choice to get rid of the illness would not.

A young mother knew that pregnancy was very dangerous for her condition and reluctantly decided not to have any more children. It was said that somewhere in the sufferers history there would be another family member who had been bipolar – not necessarily diagnosed.
Another woman in her forties was the one person who bitterly regretted having Manic Depression. ‘I don’t see the future’ she said. She had attempted suicide a number of times – once by using an electric drill in her head.

Stephen reckoned that he was lucky to be at the mild end of Manic Depression but the psychiatrist thought differently and by the end of the programme Stephen said he must consider treatment and that his life needs to change dramatically.

It is not a very cheerful subject but I think Stephen Fry is doing a great service by bringing this out into the open. When families are struck by this illness they shouldn’t have the added burden of having to hide it. I did this post specifically for an overseas friend and apologise for any mistakes but shorthand is all Greek to me.
More information can be got from

Stephen Fry

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Hurrah for Heather!

Some critics have gone leaden footed to see the stage version of the film The Body guard and have ended up stomping in the aisles - thanks to this lady: Heather Headley

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Happy Birthday Thomas.

The end result for Naomi(side bar).  The November moustache has now gone and his smile restored:)
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Thursday, December 06, 2012

What Doesnt Kill You...

What doesn’t kill you…

‘I didn’t think about sex – I just did it.’  Jeanette Winterson was talking to Alan Yentob on Imagine BBC 1 Tuesday 10.35pm – My Monster and Me.

She was born in Manchester in 1959 to a woman who worked in a clothing factory.  As she was illegitimate her birth mother gave her up for adoption and her monster – Mrs Winterson - took her to live in the back streets of Accrington, a soot-smutted Lancashire town just over the moors from my own home town.

 Jeanette wrote an award winning book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit when she was 26 which tells of her extraordinary childhood.  The monster was her adoptive mother – an evangelical Christian and Jeanette was meant to be a missionary.  She was ruled with a rod of iron – Mrs Winterson kept a revolver in the kitchen - and was frequently told the devil had led Mrs Winterson to the wrong crib.

 Rejected by two mothers (she regards the writer Ruth Rendell as her third mother) Jeanette found relief in books.  She demonstrated to Yentob how when she was pushed out of the front door she would curl up on the step. She said it was quite comfortable, sheltered from the rain and she could escape into her imagination.

 Books transformed her life; she would hide them under the mattress – they were her ‘flying carpet ‘to get away from her dreary surroundings.  She worked her way through the alphabet at the local library.

 Mrs Winterson threw her out aged 16 when her attempts to exorcise Jeanette’s homosexuality failed.  She lived in a borrowed Mini for two months and illustrated to Yentob how she kept things respectable by using the driver’s seat as an office – the large steering wheel as a book rest, the passenger seat as a dining room (never slide across –  always go out of the drivers door and in via the passenger door) and the bedroom was the back seat with the boot as a wardrobe.

 Somehow she got to Oxford University and loved the ‘five floors of books’, the beautiful town, the acquisition of knowledge and like minded friends.  Whilst at Oxford she asked Mrs Winterson if she could take a friend home and surprisingly was allowed.  The friend was of mixed race and Mrs Winterson provided lots of tins of pineapple and copious duvets on the bed because ‘they feel the cold’.

When the revolver appeared on the kitchen table Jeanette knew it was time to leave and was estranged from her adoptive mother until her death.

 Jeanette had many affairs both in England and Paris.  She said she always felt most lonely when she was in a relationship.  When a six year relationship broke up she felt she was going mad.  Her friends knew she was in a dark place but didn’t know how to help her.  She tried to kill herself in her car in the garage - unaware that her cat was with her and when she fell to the floor the cat scratched at her face until she got up and opened the doors.  She said she would never be in that place again.  This was a new beginning.  Oddly as she was relating this to Yentob there was a movement on the darkened screen and one could just make out a cat moving to sit by her.

 Now it was to be a fresh start and she determined to find her birth mother with the help of Susie Orbach.  Eventually she did find her.

 The programme visited Paris where Jeanette had found succour in the shop Shakespeare and Co, renowned for harbouring writers sometimes for years.
There she found loving friendship, was fed and looked after although they had no idea of what she was going through at the time

 When Mrs Winterson died Jeanette didn’t attend the funeral but sent flowers in the shape of a dog.  The film ends with her visiting Mrs Winterson’s grave along with Yentob.  As she said her mother was a monster – but she was her monster.  Finally – left alone with her thoughts she suddenly steals a bunch of white flowers from the next grave and put’s them on Mrs Winterson’s grave.

 As soon as the programme was over there was a footnote to say the flowers were immediately restored to their rightful place.

Jeanette’s memoir is Why be Happy When you could be Normal?

My next read I think, to fill in the gaps.





Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson OBE
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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

But when I got there the cupboard was bare.

So I'm sharing this photo of a Scruffy Buzzard (no offence Kim) aka Kim Ayres, ace photographer and ace blogger.
Most of you know him but if you don't visit his blog or click on Kim on side bar.  Although Kim is younger than our sons he is someone whose guidance I have asked for in the past - need I say more.
He also plays a mean game of Scrabble.
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Saturday, December 01, 2012