Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Weekend... and Monday


I've got so many things I want to post about but sometimes I just want to record events as they happen (or, in this case, shortly afterwards). This blog is a kind of journal/musings type of place but today's post falls firmly into the journal category.

Since moving back here we've been reacquainting ourselves with things we've always enjoyed, like shopping at the Saturday market and going out walking. But there are others which are on our doorstep and have been on the 'would like to do that at some point' list. 

The first half of the weekend was wet and windy, so we darted in and out of the market (I was there once and the tarpaulin, sagging with a heavy pool of rainwater, finally gave in and emptied itself. I was the poor unfortunate who got a cold shower. I now stay well away from any joins in the roof) and had a little trip to Rossendale Museum. The council recently gave it up and someone heroically stepped in to save the day - it's now a truly lovely place to visit with a great cafe and well-maintained grounds. Should've taken my camera. I never leave my camera behind.

On Sunday we took Joe on the East Lancs Railway. He's a complete locomotive obsessive enthusiast and he loved it. We (the grown-ups) loved the fact that the compartments are excellent for containing energetic and curious toddlers. Oh, to return to the days of proper trains.

This time we remembered the camera. But no, I won't subject you to the many photos of steam trains, diesel engines and the entire contents of Bury Transport Museum. Even I can't face looking at them again.


I mentioned recently we'd been out berry picking. The winberries are so small and laborious to pick that I cooked the small amount we managed to forage with some sugar and topped a cheesecake with them. The result: delicious. Who needs pie anyway? (Answer: me. Chicken pie tonight. It's ages since I made pastry and I'm - ahem - quite excited).


Anyway... the long and sun-filled evenings mean we've been out walking a lot. The temperature's just right post-six, and the sunshine's often accompanied by a little breeze.




The gradually-lowering sun means there are some great shadows to be had. We often wander down the old railway line where the branches of the trees meet overhead. The brighter bits are full of wild raspberries; catch them in the right light and they're illuminated. So much easier to spot than those pesky blue-black winberries.



On Sunday evening we picked a nice bagful so yesterday I made a jar of jam. Fifteen minutes' cooking and normal granulated sugar did the job - raspberries are quite high in pectin so it was a very quick and easy jam to make.


It's going to go in a cake of some sort (as yet undecided). Fruit picked by our own fair (well, pretty scratched now) hands and some sugar. That's it. Simple pleasures indeed.

Hope you're having a good week and that the weather's being kind.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Place Where...


...Everyone Natters. That's what the 'Welcome to Lancashire: A Place Where Everyone Matters' sign, up on the West Pennine moors, has been altered to read. Yes, I laugh each time I drive past because it's just so true.

Being a full-time mum to a toddler means I'm usually out and about at playgroups or the swimming baths or park. Other days it's just me and Joe doing our thing. And whilst that's fun and I savour those times, it would be a bit dishonest to suggest that I don't enjoy adult conversation too. Taking on the persona of a children's TV presenter during daylight hours is both exhausting and slightly crazy-inducing.

Lucky for me then that Lancashire (and Rossendale, the valley in which we dwell) is full of natterers. Jay thinks it's funny. I like that people say hello when you pass them whilst out walking. Especially in that lovely broad accent. I talk a lot. So does Jay actually. The other week a little old lady stopped me in the supermarket to say how nice it was that I was constantly chatting to Joe as we did the shopping.

I wasn't even aware I was doing it. There's a continual monologue going on in my head anyway so it's not entirely surprising that it finds its way out of my mouth too.


Yesterday we went for a walk around Helmshore, the place where I grew up. Yes we could have got there on foot but I drove. It was hot and there are hills. Lots of hills.


The woods, the footpaths, the fields... all scenes of childhood games and adventures, pony rides and picnics. Then later on teenage trysts and illicit cider drinking.

Whilst out and about we got chatting to some nice people and passed the time talking about characters around the village past and present, and the usual things: do-you-remembers, who sold what house and all the rest of it.

Joe and I continued on our merry way, stopping to pick some raspberries then heading down to the park: Snig Hole, as it's known to locals. Snigs, apparently, are eels in ye olde Lancashire. The 'Hole' bit refers to the river where said snigs lived until they were caught and eaten by the eel-loving locals.

It was ridiculously hot. We ate a packed lunch and played on the swings, and I bumped into a few of the mums from playgroup. More stories and chatter were exchanged. And then a friendly girl with two small children introduced herself so we had a lengthy conversation too.


On the way back up yet another hill to where the car was parked, an old schoolfriend (and one time suitor - I think it lasted roughly a week) pulled up in his truck for a chat. He's a farmer and he was taking his lunch break from, erm, farming so we had a catch-up too. 


I do love all this talking, passing-on of information. I love the impromptu nature of it; of seeing people you know when you're out walking, and talking to friendly strangers too. The word 'stranger' often has creepy connotations but you know what I mean. Little conversations here and there often bring things to light: you always know someone mutually or both remember something from a long time ago.

Even the odd bit of gossip isn't a bad thing. Not the malicious type - just the 'Ooh, really?' sort. Like finding out all about the big feud between the baker and the butcher in our village. My mum thinks Edenfield (where we live) is annoying because everyone knows your business. I don't mind that. It's far preferable to the strange anonymity of those places where people don't speak to, or even acknowledge, their neighbours.


I've just become aware that this post is starting to ramble. You can type too much as well as talk to much, it seems.

Anyway... later in the evening we headed out to a meeting for Incredible Edible. We're hoping to extend the scheme to Edenfield and went along to find out more. It was the best kind of meeting. A beautiful balmy evening up on the edge of the moors, sitting around a wooden table in a farm yard. It just so happens that I more or less grew up on this farm - I kept my pony there and every evening and weekend I was to be found somewhere on their forty-odd acres. Going back was lovely. It's changed a lot but in a good way.


So we sat in the sun and talked and planned and Joe looked at the chickens and stables and played on a porch swing. It was lovely. And it wasn't as much a meeting as a big, well, natter.

Welcome to Lancashire.

Have a great weekend!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Latelies


Firstly, I would like to say thank you to everyone who read and commented on my previous post. I wanted it to reflect the way memories can affect us later in life. However, they are just that: memories. I'm lucky that my experiences are (like most people, I hope) mainly happy ones. But to go through life with nothing unpleasant ever happening would be virtually impossible. It would also be wrong. The occasional struggle makes us stronger and wiser.

Aaaand... normal service is resumed. 

A few things we've been up to of late:


Eating: home-baked spelt bread (it worked and I've discovered that our nice warm attic is the perfect place for dough to rise); rose and lemon Turkish delight from the Artisan market (yes, 'artisan' generally translates as 'expensive' but I treated myself to a little bit and it's delicious); big fat radishes and new season beetroot from the same market (but a whole lot cheaper than the sweeties); tacos with Quorn mince chilli (we moved in here three weeks ago and the whole 'state of chaos' excuse for eating rubbish doesn't really wash any more).


Enjoying: evening walks; sitting up in the attic under the skylight and listening to the rain - we've recently had a thunderstorm or two; showing Joe the 'choo choo train' (he looks for it every day); morning strolls through damp fields.



Spotting: vintage Penguin books (40p each at the car boot sale. They came home with me); hard-to-reach winberries (bilberries) which are tiny but I'm hoping we've got enough for a very small pie; moustachioed cats; the last of the sun's rays illuminating the buddleia.

I hope your July is full of small joys too :)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Food memories - and a cautionary tale


A while ago I mentioned writing a post on food memories.

Well, that little idea has been growing and forming and I'm at the point where I've found the direction I'd like it to go in. You see, I love writing about memories in general. I also love food: reading about it, shopping for it, growing it, cooking it, and eating it.

Apparently smell is the most evocative of the senses. And I'd agree with that. But taste... Well, that holds a lot of memories too. I can probably list my ten most memorable meals and where I ate them right now (and that's a good future post idea right there).

But the one which brought this whole thing about? Strawberry jam. Appropriate for this time of year when so many people are picking strawberries and jam-making. I don't like strawberry jam. I never buy it. It's not the flavour per se, it's the whole association thing. It quite literally leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

This blog isn't really a confessional but it is mine and I choose to sometimes include personal things. So, a little glimpse into my family history. Brace yourselves.

My parents divorced when I was five. My dad was a serial philanderer and one day - after a long-term affair - he decided to go and set up home with an old schoolfriend (she was also married). So they did. My dad cleared out the finances and the furniture. When my mum came home from work she was greeted by empty rooms and an equally empty bank account. 

Eventually when the dust settled and my dad got married to my stepmother I would go and visit every few weeks. They'd moved to the Midlands with her two children.

I hated going. Seriously. I'd come out in a nervous rash and beg my mum not to make me go. It was awful; the not-so-happy newlyweds would constantly scream and shout at one another (it later transpired my stepmother didn't want my dad paying any maintenance money out; he duly stopped doing just that). She made no effort to disguise her dislike and contempt for me. I'd go there - so very far from home when you're little - and my dad would disappear to the golf course every day, leaving me with my step siblings and Her.


I'd feel so homesick. I'd write letters and postcards home (even if I was only away for the weekend). I missed all the little details of life with my mum and brother - who, incidentally, is actually my half brother as my mum had been married very young to his dad - so he didn't come along on these visits.

Life at home was relaxed, silly, happy. My mum worked hard but my brother is ten years my senior so he took care of me and took me on his adventures outdoors. It was just the three of us and it was a lovely childhood to have.

Staying in the Midlands felt very alien to me. Arguments and shouting and blame. The children were almost an inconvenience. We three ate together (from plastic plates, which I found odd). And the breakfasts... Oh, the breakfasts! Cereal with warm milk which slowly turned into a mush reminiscent of soggy autumn leaves. It made me gag. Occasionally toast with seedless strawberry jam. I've never eaten it since.

Back at home breakfast was creamy porridge in cold weather or bread with honey or jam (of the apricot, damson or raspberry varieties). Glasses of milk. I wasn't a tea-or-coffee-drinking child.

One day, in desperation, I told my stepmother I was allergic to milk. Anything to avoid the warm Shreddies situation. She promptly concocted elaborate milkshakes for the others. Yes, really. Hard to imagine being quite so petty or spiteful to a five-year-old, is it?

So, there you have it. The first food memory and it's not a very happy one. The rest are though, I promise!

And the story has a happy ending of sorts. At the age of eleven I stopped visiting my dad. My mum had asked a solicitor to deal with his non-payment of child maintenance and from that moment on I received no more birthday cards, no phone calls, nothing. Yes it's horrible to be rejected like that but the end of those traumatic visits more than made up for it at the time. And my stepdad now is, in my eyes, my 'real' dad - he's lovely and he adores Joe.

Amazing what the thought of strawberry jam and sludgy cereal can dredge up.

Oh, and something very important I learned from this whole sorry experience: be careful with the feelings of little children because these things can cut very deeply. I'm glad I know this now I'm a parent. It's a valuable thing to remember.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Five finds...


...From the weekend. 

It's been a bit of a weekend of discoveries (if you read my last post you'll see the little library I spotted en route to the park). 

Well, on Sunday morning we headed out to Burrs Country Park on the edge of Bury. It's maybe four or five miles away from where we live and although I'd heard of it I'd never actually been. 


The park is sited on the remains of an old mill complex, built during the Industrial Revolution, and many features have been retained. The East Lancashire Railway also passes through it (much to Joe's delight). There was a Diesel Weekend going on and he's becoming quite the trainspotter locomotive enthusiast.


Although I always prefer to get right out into the wilds, Burrs was indeed a great discovery. There are lots of ponds and footpaths which were all easy to navigate with the buggy. And we had a really lovely time looking at the wild flowers, ducks and geese and insects. 

I noticed that just as the wild roses have finished the Himalayan Balsam is starting to flower. It's pretty rampant in these parts; a big stroppy non-native with pinky purply flowers. It's very invasive but one redeeming feature is that bees seem to love it.


So, as ever, I was on the lookout for little details (taking the camera has this effect) and I like to bring back a souvenir or two when we go outdoors. We picked up some big feathers dropped by the Canada geese - getting as close to the water's edge as we could without upsetting them as their young were close by.

The little feather with the blue sheen is from a mallard I think.


I also chanced on a little patch of raspberries so picked some and brought them home. Just enough for a small dessert after lunch.


On Saturdays we go to Ramsbottom for the market. There are several charity shops and a big antiques 'emporium' which is an Aladdin's cave of books, jewellery, pottery, paintings, music... I think the word 'stuff' just about covers it all.

I've been after a crystal vase for a while now but nowhere seemed to have one that was reasonably priced. These things appear to be making a bit of a comeback and I do like a crystal vase filled with spray carnations (another unfashionable flower which seems to be back in vogue). I did pick up a lace mat for Gertie's table which I liked though.

I'll nab a vase from my mum when I next see her. She used to collect bowls and vases and the like when I was little and taught me how to differentiate between crystal and cut glass. I remember one day she sighed and looked at her collection and said, Do you know what? I bloody hate crystal.'

So snaffling a bit of it shouldn't be too difficult.


Finally, a bit of glamour: parsnips. Out of season I know. But that's the fun of the market. Like Forrest Gump said, 'You never know what you're gonna get'. These were so pale and small and beautiful I just had to. No peeling; just a quick scrub and into a roasting tin.

Hidden libraries, country parks, feathers, wild raspberries, lace, root vegetables. An eclectic weekend.

Have a great week.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Year in Books: July


I can't believe how fast this year is going by; it's only when I type 'July' into a post that it really hits me. We're halfway through 2014 already.

Still, marking a year with the books I've read each month is a good thing. 

I've always got a few books on the go, but June's big one was The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It was the first in the Cazalet series and I was hooked. Howard is such a sensitive writer - her characters are so real and beautifully observed. And the historical detail is excellent too; I was surprised to see the book was published in 1990 as it's so authentic I'd just assumed it had actually been written during the 1930s.

If you're a fan of family dramas and social history you'll enjoy it hugely. In fact I was sorely tempted to order the next book, Marking Time, and continue straight on but decided on a change (that way I can prolong the reading pleasure too). 

Having recently moved back to the Ramsbottom area I made joining the library a priority. We're lucky to have a really lovely one here. However, trying to choose a book with a toddler in tow isn't quite as enjoyable as when you're alone. I picked up a few but nothing particularly inspiring. In fact, I was contemplating looking at my own reading pile and grabbing whatever was on the top when I made a chance discovery this morning. 

We'd driven down to the big park in Ramsbottom  - well, Jay drove actually - and that's how I must have noticed the little wooden library in the picture above. When you're a passenger you get to have a good nose around and notice things you wouldn't (or shouldn't) when doing the driving yourself. Eyes on the road and all that.

It was next to a garden gate and the sign read, 'Borrow a book or leave a book. ENJOY!'

So I had a look and, despite the somewhat small selection, there were plenty that appealed. I managed to limit myself to two: What to Eat by Joanna Blythman and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both non-fiction (bye bye, comfort zone) and both of interest. I read Shopped by Blythman some years ago and I do like her no-nonsense approach to food writing. And, having recently watched 'The Best Diet in the World', I've been on a bit of a healthy eating mission. In theory if not quite in practice. Yet.

The Happiness Project has been on my 'would like to read' list for a while, but it's one of those books I doubt I'd actually buy. 

So: a happy discovery! Of course, I'll return the books once I've read them and maybe donate a few of my own too. And if you're interested you can visit the Little Free Library. I'd never heard of it before but I love the idea.

Joining in with Laura's The Year in Books over at Circle of Pine Trees.

Happy July reading!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Gertie's table


If, like me, you like to while away a bit of free time looking at pretty pictures on Pinterest, Tumblr and the like, you'll probably have noticed the trend for photographing things from above on old wooden tables.

The 'things' usually take the form of artfully-styled food or cups of steaming espresso; books open at particularly profound passages (accidental alliteration there, I promise) or that Kinfolk magazine I've never actually read for myself.

Anyway, I'm not one to turn my nose up at trends unless they're really silly. I quite like this style of photography and Gertie's table is proving to be a great backdrop for photos of objects. So before I go on, I'll explain a bit more about the table and where it came from.


Gertie was my stepdad's mum. I only ever saw her once. I say 'saw' as we didn't really meet - she was very ill in hospital and I accompanied my parents when they visited her. Sadly she passed away a few weeks later.

She'd lived in a little terraced house and my stepdad kept some of her things, including this table and a big trunk (which I'm also custodian of). They both came with me to Bond Street and my last house, but despite being quite small - it seats four - the table wouldn't fit anywhere so has spent the past four years in Jay's mum's garage.


I'm nothing if not honest: I thought we should maybe just give it away but Jay was insistent we kept it. So we did. And a week or two before our move he collected the table and I spent a few very hot, dusty afternoons out in the back garden sanding away then polishing it with beeswax.

And the reddish-brown varnish came away to reveal a nice  - what? Damp sand? Walnut shell? - colour.


I love the fact that it's old. The little metal plate underneath proudly declares it's a radical 'Gate-less' table. I also love the little nicks and marks (I like to think, with romantic optimism, that some are ink stains). 


So now it lives in the 'family room', a big room at the back of the house. It's underneath the window and we sit and eat there* and I write there too. Although the computer lives in another room** so that kind of writing is done at a more office-y type desk.

It gets lovely soft light falling on it and is regularly polished with wax and it's now my favourite piece of furniture.

So that's the story of Gertie's table.

P.S. The lavender in the top photo was a steal: £1 a bunch from the supermarket whose name starts with 'M' and it smells gorgeous.

*I bought some PVC-covered fabric for mealtimes as Joe is a typical messy toddler. 'Character' is fine but welded-on fish finger is not.
** He also likes to grab at play with anything electrical, valuable and breakable.

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