Monday 28 February 2011


I bought some Sainsbury's Extra Thick Carrot And Coriander Soup from Approved Foods. Can’t find a picture, I think they have discontinued this flavour now

cupasou[p lentil

But suffice it to say, I got 36 sachets for 99p so that has to be good value. I figured I could eat them for my packed lunches at school [average of 2 per week] from now till Pentecost!

However I said to Bob he was welcome to eat them as well, if he felt so inclined. By May I may loathe them!

Here’s the thing – I have to make mine in a bowl and eat it with a spoon, I just cannot drink soup from a cup. He is quite happy to stir his up in a mug.


A number of female staffroom colleagues say they are ‘bowl not mug’ people too. Is this another example of Men From Mars, Women From Venus do you think?

What’s In A Name?

Here is my lovely husband -  Rev Robert Almond, aka Bob


And this is the Natwest Bank in Brixton

natwest brixton

Finally  we have discovered what happened to our money!

Thank you to Gill, who works in the Brixton Branch and has just got back from her holiday. She phoned this morning to apologise that nobody had contacted us Saturday, and asked for the details again and went off to “Stick my head into the metal box and see if your envelope is stuck inside”

She has just rung back this afternoon to say that they did get the envelope out last Monday, but would not credit either of the two cheques inside to us, because one of them was in the wrong name! It said Bob not Robert.

She then apologised that nobody had phoned us immediately to point out the error. She apologised that we had been through so much hassle because of it. She said she would return the cheque and maybe the original issuer could correct this.


I have to say that Gill could not have been more helpful – and beats the three people from the Natwest National Helpdesk hands down for politeness and efficiency. She apologised no less than three times – which is three times more than any of the others [particularly the chap this morning who said it was unlikely to be sorted for at least five days!]

God bless you Gill, whoever you are!

[Bob has managed to bank cheques in the past issued to his various aliases …Mr, Rev, Robert, Bob, RH … so we don’t know why this one hit a glitch]

Icing For Joy**

DSCF2002I put on my pretty new apron and felt inspired to do something domestic. So I looked again at the library book I’d picked up last week. I suspect the library of acquiring some new cookbooks – this one had only been borrowed twice before, and the Mary Berry I got in January was brand new too.

biscuiteers book

biscuiteers Harriet-Hastings

The author, Harriet Hastings, left her PR/Marketing career, after an epiphany whilst in New York, [!!] to start a biscuit company – figuring that they offered more scope than cupcakes or cookies.

And since 2007 her business has really taken off – Harrods, Fortnum's, Liberty, John Lewis…and stores in Paris and Dubai all stock her treats.

And now she has produced a book giving away all her recipes and many of her designs. They are truly amazing!

Full instructions on preparing the dough, cutting, baking and icing

biscuiteers book4

Loads of styles and ideas – here is a set of 24 ‘Advent Calendar’ biscuits…

biscuiteers book3

She recommends that you roll out the dough between sheets of cooking parchment, and use ‘rolling guides’ to get an even thickness. I used two chopping boards, which worked really well. [‘rolling guides’ are bits of square-section dowelling, although they do sound like inebriated members of a girls’ club!]


I cut various random shapes with my cutters, and baked them


And here, dear reader, is where things went pear-shaped. I made white royal icing for outlining, and pink thinner ‘flood’ icing for filling in the outlines. But I am afraid that I do not have a very steady hand for this sort of thing.

Maybe if I had just left them as un-iced butterflies in a tin like these…

butterfly bics

[these are from Little Pong’s Blog. Little Pong says the instruction in the book about ‘keeps in tin for 4 months’ is only true if you do not open the tin in that time. If you do, they go stale]

I used the ‘Almond’ recipe from the book – but will do the ‘basic’ one next time I think – we couldn’t really taste the almond flavour.

Plain biscuits [24]

350g plain flour

100g self raising flour

125g granulated sugar

125g salted butter, diced

125g golden syrup

1 large egg, lightly beaten

· Sift flours, add sugars

· Add butter, rub in till breadcrumb consistency

· Make well in centre, mix in egg and syrup

· Mix till ball of dough forms

· Squash into two even discs, chill

· Roll between parchment 5mm

· Preheat to 170°C, bake 14-18 minutes

· Cool completely before icing

[for the ‘almond’ variation, replace self raising flour with 100g ground almonds]

But mine looked rather less professional than Ms Hastings efforts


Fortunately they tasted good!

Bob generously said that I should not worry, and there are many other things I can do, so it doesn’t matter if my icing is wobbly.

Other people will have to produce masterpieces like these

royal wedding

**the title is from line 5 of the chorus of ‘My Jesus, my Saviour’

Sunday 27 February 2011

I Don’t Think They Noticed!

A good service this morning – we watched the Fairtrade Youtube clip [less than 2 minutes long!] and gave out free samples of tea & coffee and money off vouchers.

I wore my brown wrap dress today. Last time I wore it, I omitted the camisole underneath. As I sat in the lounge at my friends’ house, Bob looked across the room and mouthed “lean back” [confused, I raised my eyebrows] He mouthed again “leee-an baaa-ck”[this time I understood!] So I sat up straight and discreetly rearranged my clothing! [tempted to make puns about bosom friends, but I won’t]

Today therefore, before leaving the house, I said “Do I look OK?” Bob made a great display of checking my appearance, front and back, and pronouncing it all perfectly fine.

Immediately before the service, I popped into the Ladies cloakroom at church. It was then that I spotted myself in the mirror – I was wearing completely unmatched ear-rings [One large pearl, one small navy stud] It is a good thing my hair is long enough to cover my ears!!!

Spice Of Life

kate humble spice

I have been watching Kate Humble on The Spice Trail.

It has been fascinating to see how the different spices are produced, and where in the world they come from – and the hard work and intense manual labour involved in so many stages of production.

spice trail kate humble

And I mention it today because it is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight. You can find a complete list of fairtrade herbs and spices here. Sainsbury’s stock both Bart’s and Crazy Jack’s products.


I especially love nutmeg – and I am glad that is is available as a fairly traded product. Isn’t it beautiful when you see it in its case, surrounded by the beautiful red mace?

Spices have been highly prized since Bible Times…

sheba solomon

Never again were so many spices brought in as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Money Makes the World Go Round…

natwest brixtonI am trying to be calm about this…but not succeeding.

Whilst we were with the girls, I paid two large cheques into the bank [Brixton branch, just opposite the underground station] on Monday


There was quite a queue, so I just used the Quick Deposit facility. The natwest website says this offers

  • secure in-hall deposit boxes for cash, cheques and bill payments
  • business customers can also use these deposit boxes
  • same-day processing when you deposit funds before 3.30pm

However I am still waiting for these cheques to show up in our account. I rang the telephone banking help-line. Once the operator had agreed to talk to me [it is a joint account and technically it is supposed to be Bob who does it all] she said there was no record of these cheques – but she would ring Brixton and find out. Did I have the exact address of the branch? No- I just came out of the Tube Station and there it was!

bank ladyShe found the number, and tried to ring them. No reply. She said she would contact them and get them to ring me back.

So I waited…

No one called back. I rang again. Spoke to another operator, who said she ought to speak to the Reverend really. But then we established it was all ok. I explained the problem again. She said that if the person who had issued the cheques had no funds then that would delay things. I assured her that one of the Reverend’s cheques had come from his church, and I knew there was money in the account! She then asked why I had used Quick Deposit and not paid it in at the counter [because the queue was out of the door] and did I have a receipt? [only the counterfoil in my paying-in book, and the tear-off strip from the envelope] No real proof then? I said the tear-off slip had a serial number but she said that wouldn’t prove anything.


What about the bank ringing me back?

Did I have the exact address of the branch? No- I just came out of the Tube station and there it was. “Brixham” she said. “NO – that’s in Devon, I mean Brixton in LONDON” “Oh, I don’t know where any of our branches are.” she said”I can leave them a message. But you won’t hear anything before Monday at the earliest, these things take days to sort.”

Then she said “But you should have been told that earlier. And you should have rung us on Tuesday when there was no sign of the cheques in your account” I said I had never had a problem before and I thought they took a day or so to clear anyway. And I was on holiday at the time, so didn’t check till I got home.

So basically she was telling me

  • that I should have told them sooner
  • that I ought to know the exact address of the branch
  • that I should not have used Quick Deposit anyway, because I have no proof that I did deposit the cheques.

Where has my money gone? And if the operators are suggesting that Quick Deposit is not reliable, then why do they still provide it?

I am hoping that I shall have good news to report on this one after the weekend, and that the missing money has been located. If not, you may have to seek me out here [The Debtors’ Prison, Newgate!]


Ah well –maybe they will prove the truth of their slogan on Monday!


Still dreaming…

lotusLogo In my youth, back in the last millennium, I lived not too far from  Lotus Engineering in Norfolk. i would watch the cars going past on transporters, and dream of the day when I would be rich enough to own my own Elan…

After all, Emma Peel drove one in the Avengers [when not riding a motorbike] so they were obviously the coolest car for a girl to own.

lotus elan emma peel

The Elan was designed by Ron Hickman, who died this week. Before working for Colin Chapman at Lotus, his first car designs were at Fords of Dagenham, on the Anglia 105

ford anglia 105

Much less glamorous!

But Ron’s other great design, which I am proud to say we do have in the garage downstairs is this


A Workmate.

Ron had the brainwave in 1961 after sawing through the expensive Heal’s chair which he was using as a makeshift workbench. He tried to sell the idea to tool companies - who turned it down. Black & Decker did not think that the average DIY enthusiast would need such a big device, while tool company Stanley told him the bench’s success would be measured ‘in dozens rather than hundreds’. And so he set up his own manufacturing company.

In 1972, Black and Decker saw the error of their ways and began mass production. By 1981, 10 million had been sold [Ron earned £1 for every one!] He was justly proud of his invention.

workmate Ron-Hickman

Bob’s Workmate, still in regular use, was a Leaving Gift from his workmates at Marconi Instruments in St Albans when he left there in 1981 to go into the ministry. At the time, it was a larger departure gift than was usually given, but his colleague explained to me that “Everyone knows he is going to do something he really believes in – and anyway, nobody ever leaves this place to go to a job where they earn less money - so we have all put in more than usual!” I wonder how many other leaving gifts are still used thirty years later?

Great designs, Ron! As the Guardian Editorial said

For manufacturing's sake, we need Hickman's design elan and the Workmate spirit today.

I’m still dreaming about getting my Lotus Elan though…

Friday 25 February 2011

Another Of Life’s Unanswered Questions

According to the dictionary “EXOTIC” is defined as

    1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants.
    2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle.
    3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature; exotic weapons.
    4. of, pertaining to, or involving stripteasing: the exotic clubs where strippers are featured.

So please, can anyone explain to me why there was a large bin in Asda today, labelled “Exotic Vegetables” which contained Brussels Sprouts?


Looking at the four definitions above…

    1. They ARE fully acclimatized – we have had them here since the 16th century [admittedly they came originally from Belgium, but this girl is very fond of Belgian stuff]
    2. They DON’T look strange- they look like baby cabbages
    3. They are NOT new, and not much good as weapons either – although I have eaten some which were hard as bullets
    4. I have had a very sheltered life** so maybe there IS a hidden connection with stripclubs which is known to the people who regularly shop at Asda that is outside my personal experience!

**but I do know that the proper name for a stripper is an “Ecdysiast” – although I rarely have the opportunity to use this word.

polycell stripper

[what sort of stripper did you think I would post a picture of?]

Anyone For Pym’s?

I went to bed early with a good book and a large handkerchief. I was too tired even to watch Kate Humble investigating nutmeg [hope that programme has recorded properly, so I can catch it later]

The book was one Liz lent me on Sunday night. “Thought you’d enjoy this” she said – not knowing I’d already planned to ask if she had it! Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women

pym excellent women

First, a word about the actual book itself which Liz kindly loaned me. It is a Virago Modern Classic, hardback, with a cool Orla Kiely “Striped Petal Print” design on the cover and a foreword by the delightful Alexander McCall Smith.

It is a pleasure to hold it, and apologies to my techie friends out there- but it is far more satisfying than holding a Kindle or iPad!


The story is set just post WW2, and revolves round Mildred Lathbury. She is the spinster daughter of a clergyman [deceased] and lives in London and is a great supporter of the parish. She is one of the ‘excellent women’ who helps Rev Julian Mallory keep his parish ticking over. Living in a house in a ‘fairly respectable’ street, her life changes when new tenants move into the rooms downstairs.

Sensible, ironic, independent, with a self-deprecating sense of humour, Mildred says of herself

Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her.

Philip Larkin said he would rather read Pym than Austen, and I am inclined to agree with him. I rather overdosed on BP when I first discovered her in the early 80s. I borrowed all of them from South Norwood Library and worked through them in rapid succession.

I think it is time to start again – but slowly this time, and work through the list. Her books deal with ordinary, good people [mostly Anglican ladies living in genteel poverty!]

Pym ew pic

AMcCS says in his foreword

Excellent Women transcends its particular historical setting, …because it says something about human aspirations that is as true today as it was when it was written: we all have our hopes; we are all, to an extent, and unless we are very lucky, unfulfilled in some parts of our life; we would all like things to be just a little bit better for us.

That world of vague longing is described in this novel in a way which not only shows us the poignancy of such hopes, but allows us to smile at them. One does not laugh out loud while reading Pym; that would be too much. One smiles. One smiles and puts down the book to enjoy the smile. Then one picks it up again and a few minutes later an unexpected observation on human foibles makes one smile again.

…We fill our lives with small things, and they become immensely important to us. Barbara Pym understands that, and in celebrating these little things so vividly, she helps us, I think, to be more sympathetic to others. If it is a mark of a great novel that it should help us to feel for others, that it should touch our human capacity for sympathy in an important way, then Excellent Women, a novel that on one level is about very little, is a great novel about a great deal.

He is so right – I didn’t laugh out loud [throat was hurting anyway!] but I did smile. A lot.

Unlike South Norwood Library in 1983, Kirby Muxloe Library in 2011 seems sadly bereft of any Pym. Perhaps all the genteel Anglicans round here possess their own copies and do not need to borrow from the Library?

Thursday 24 February 2011

Tied To The Apron Strings

Today was the day in my half term break I had dedicated to sewing. Good thing too – a bad cold and a sore throat mean I am not well placed for conversation or socialising.

First of all, with this pattern…


…I made myself an apron. I have been planning this for ages. Liz and I were discussing aprons on Tuesday, and agreed that for messy cooks like us, a bib front is essential! Furthermore, I think a pocket is vital too. I liked the vintage retro look of View 5 on the pattern [the largest picture on the left] So I checked out my fabric on Wednesday evening to make sure I was ready to go in the morning.

Two problems

  1. the bib is lined and I didn’t quite have enough of my floral fabric. However I had some blue cotton [an old shirt of Bobs] which which provided the piece I needed.
  2. the instructions required 4½yards of ‘pre-gathered lace’ and I didn’t have any of that in the Stash. But I did have some pretty, flat lace on a spool.


I sat on Wednesday evening pleating and pinning the whole roll – I had enough for the task – plus a mere 15cm left at the end!

I tacked it all up ready to work with.

And here’s my lovely pinafore


The flowers are a lovely cornflower colour, so I stitched round the pockets with a decorative stitch in blue.

Then I took the rest of the blue shirt, and some more darker scrap fabric and made these


These aprons are for role play in the Reception Class at school



Having done all that, I finished off the personalised gift to go in the OWOH giveaway – so that’s off to Mexico shortly.


I feel I ought to produce some splendid dish or other whilst wearing the new apron. I may try something from this new book which I recently received as an unexpected gift from a good friend


That’s if I can be sure I have translated it all properly! Looking at what I have in the cupboard and fridge, I am thinking of trying “Biguenée”, which appears to be a sort of Breton crêpe. The front cover – and many of the recipes inside – relate to wonderful looking seafood dishes, but Bob will have to wait a little longer for his moules.

Crêpes seem a good option - it’s nearly Pancake Day, after all!

Half Term Holiday -

We arrived at Liz’s flat just after 10 on Sunday night.

The DJ Deckstand got assembled and Jon started loading it up [but Bob and he still didn’t finish dusting it!] I just sat around drinking tea and eating toast and Liz’s home-made pumpkin jam [and mending things with my sewing kit]


On Monday morning, Bob and I went over to Clapham, and sorted out the curtains in Steph’s bedroom [drill and sewing kit much in evidence] then we went with the girls to Brixton and had lunch in FrancoMancas



They specialise in sourdough pizzas- and even do them without cheese [for people like me!]

Then we went on to the Museum of London by tube. Steph appears to be hunting for something elusive in her bag. Bob just looks contented and relaxed.


museum of london

m of l street photocgraphy We wanted to see the exhibition of London Street Photography.

This was really interesting, and showed pictures going back 150 years.

We spent ages wandering round looking at the images. They were mostly black and white, and beautifully arranged.



Then we walked down the Victorian Street – passing the intricately carved doors and interior of one of Selfridge’s original lifts



I enjoyed looking at the display about the Safety Match Factory built by the Salvation army [much better working conditions than those offered by Bryant And May] Lights In Darkest England


We also admired the Suffragette information, including this wonderful handstitched banner



After that, we went home again, and in the evening went out to Steph’s local, The Calf, for a Quiz Night.

the caldf

We didn’t do too badly- it was unfortunate that I had confidently identified the photos of the two schoolboys as “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown” when in fact they were “Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson”! But we clawed back points when Liz correctly identified the collective noun for cockroaches as “An intrusion”

KOZEL_FOUNT_BADGE___FINAL Steph was keen that the others should sample her company’s latest “Goat Beer” [she works for MillerBrands]

There are no goats involved in the production – but apparently there is a goat who lives at the Czech Brewery where the stuff is made!

On Tuesday Steph had to go to work, but Liz had taken a second day’s holiday. We went up to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to look round the Sir John Soane’s Museum

sjs museum

I cannot begin to tell you enough about this place- absolutely packed full of artefacts and curios collected by the wealthy man, who turned the back part of his home into a display area for them – Greek and Roman statuary, an Egyptian sarcophagus, paintings [evocative Canalettos and busy Hogarths and many others] beautiful furniture. I discovered that the colour of our own humble Dining Room is actually quite close to “Turner’s Patent Yellow” [but he never made his by mixing up leftover pots in the shed!]

sir john soane sarcophagus

This sarcophagus is believed to be that of Pharaoh Seti.

He is probably the one who ordered the murder of all those little Hebrew babies – and his daughter was the one who lifted baby Moses out of the bulrushes.

All very interesting in view of Bob’s recent Exodus sermons.


We spent ages looking round. Then off to lunch – at Itsu

itsu logo#

itsu pots

“Our mantra is health & happiness. We make and sell butterfly light soups, sushi, noodles & rice bowls, all freshly made on site.”

Liz and Bob had pots of noodles and chicken – I had rice and chicken. It was fast, hot and utterly delicious.

Then on to the British Museum.

brit museum

We loved the [free] Eric Gill exhibition – although it was rather small [“housed in a broom cupboard” Jon said later]


The man who designed the wonderful Gill Sans Typeface and produced some wonderful sculptures was incredibly gifted – but in many respects, utterly bonkers"!

We wondered about looking at the “Egyptian Book Of The Dead” Exhibit – but decided that at £12 each that was rather a lot of money. So we just went round the free Egyptian stuff instead.



Bob was transfixed by the massive sculpture of the head of Rameses II.

He’s the son of Seti [see above] and therefore likely to be the guy that Moses confronted. God says “Let My People Go!”

I love the way that artefacts in the British Museum go right back to Bible Stories.

I remember being taken as a child, by my Dad, to see many of these things – and he explained the connections. Real people, true stories…


There’s always time to send a text to someone you love!

We admired the Assyrians for the intricate details of carving on their beards. Liz liked the way this one was posing with his bag.


It may only be February, but I started thinking about Holiday Club [Exodus Themed this year] and looking at some hieroglyphics


Forget your synthetic phonics – every Egyptian schoolboy knows the rule is “Eye before bird, except after wave”

scoop logo

After that, more refreshment, coffee and ice-cream in “Scoop”


This was splendid. A 10-year old called Esther was celebrating her birthday – they brought out an ice-cream cake. We joined in the singing, and she kindly brought three slices of cake to our table for us!We’d already sampled coffee, gelati, and a waffle!


Back to Elephant and Castle for a bit of a rest, and then in the evening, we went round to Mamuska, the lovely, homely, Polish restaurant for one of their extremely generous [ but remarkably inexpensive] meals.


Jon is very suspicious of my camera, and muttered about that blog.


But it was all so tasty! The other three sampled the Polish Beer



Tyskie is apparently the most popular Polish beer both in Poland and in the UK.

And guess what- MillerBrands bottle that too!

disclaimer – I should point out that the pastor did not spend all his time in London drinking beer!

It is not the responsibility of the rest of the family to keep Steph’s employer in business.

We all entered the competition on the label to win holidays in Poland. You never know!


It was a brilliant break, and we seemed to cram an amazing amount into just 2½ days. Home well before mid-day Wednesday, and back to all the usual home stuff.

Thank you, Liz, Jon and Steph for giving us such a lovely time.

Hope to see you again soon!