Tuesday 31 July 2018

My Three Precious Girls

I had a brilliant time with Liz and Rosie at the weekend. Rosie's language skills are developing fast and it's lovely to have real conversations with her. Initially it was unbearably hot. We really enjoyed visiting the gelato bar on our walk to the playground. 

Eventually the weather broke and we had cooling showers and noisy thunderstorms. My little treasure loved puddle jumping in her new pink poncho I'd bought for her. 
On Sunday afternoon while Rosie slept, my very organised daughter prepared her own packed lunches for the coming week ; poached chicken, roast veg and bulgur wheat, with a little pot of tzatziki dressing on the side. 

Meanwhile, my other daughter, Steph is further away than she has ever been, on the other side of the world. She's in Darwin, Australia, with Gary and his parents, to visit her brother-in-law. She sent a beautiful picture of sunset on the beach. I'm really grateful for modern technology enabling us to keep in contact. And I am incredibly proud of these three happy, loving and clever girls.

Monday 30 July 2018

Just Chillin'

Kids' Club starts tomorrow. Miriam chose the theme some months ago. Which is why, during the hottest summer I can ever remember, we are "Just Chillin'" 

I have the responsibility of sorting out the crafts this year. Which is why the dining room is full of bags and packets. 
I have this feeling of deja vu! 
Expect some pictures as the week goes on... 

Sunday 29 July 2018

One More Leading Nowhere, Just For Show

We were mooching round IKEA, looking at the 'room scenes' which they lay out to give you an idea of how to use their products. One actually had a narrow staircase built against the back wall - going from floor to ceiling. 
I found myself singing that song from Fiddler on The Roof - If I were a Rich Man -  where the chief character Tevye, asks God why he has to be poor, and explains how he would live differently if he were rich.
He explains that his first activity would be to improve his housing...

I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen
Right in the middle of the town,
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.
There would be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down,
And one more leading nowhere, just for show.
and spotting the pointless IKEA staircase reminded me of that, and started me humming tunes from this fantastic musical, they have been my ear-worms all week.
I have loved this musical [written 1971] for years, long before I became a parent, it's all about Tevye, a Jewish father in pre-revolutionary Russia, with his five daughters, praying that they would grow up well and happy, finding good partners, concerned about his own wife's happiness, and wondering when the Messiah would come and rescue them all from the troubles brought upon them by the Csar. The lyrics are poignant, the music is lovely.
At one point, the parents sing this Sabbath Prayer for their girls
   May the Lord protect and defend you.
May He always shield you from shame.
May you come to be
In Israel a shining name.
   May you be like Ruth and like Esther.
May you be deserving of praise.
Strengthen them, Oh Lord,
And keep them from the strangers' ways.
   May God bless you and grant you long lives.
(May the Lord fulfil our Sabbath prayer for you.)
May God make you good mothers and wives.
(May He send you husbands who will care for you.)
   May the Lord protect and defend you.
May the Lord preserve you from pain.
Favour them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.
Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.
Another song deals with the issue of children growing up and moving away [Far From the Home I Love] It's a real three-handkerchief story - with fun and laughter interspersed with thoughtful moments. But getting back to the song that started me humming - it starts with this Tevye asking God
Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poorBut it's no great honour, either. So what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?If I were a rich man...
...towards the end of the song, Tevye explains to God why it is important for him to be rich, from a spiritual 

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack To sit in the synagogue and pray, And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall, And I'd discuss the learned books with the holy men Seven hours every day That would be the sweetest thing of all...
Oh Tevye - if it were truly the case that wealth = time = time to pray more, then surely our world would not be in the mess it is right now. I am so challenged by the faith and prayer of the poor folk of this world, and acknowledge that even though I have wealth, and time, I really don't spend always use my resources wisely, to grow closer to my heavenly Father. Lord help me not to waste my time in pointless activities...

Saturday 28 July 2018

Rocking The BOAT

The main reason that Peter and Jenny invited us to go with them to Brownsea on Monday was to see BOAT- the Brownsea Open Air Theatre. This group of talented amateurs have been meeting since 1964 [I'm not sure if any of the original group members are still involved] and each summer perform a Shakespeare play.
They meet each weekend throughout the spring to prepare and rehearse. An elaborate stage set is constructed, and there are three banks of tiered seating.
What can I tell you about Monday night's performance?
Jenny rang and invited us to go, and I said yes immediately. I love watching Shakespeare in the open air. We saw Midsummer Night's Dream in Norfolk two years ago.
"It's Titus Andronicus" Jenny said, adding "I don't know anything about that play - I'm just going for the experience"
"It's bloody violent" I replied [not my usual language, I admit]
I sensed that Jenny was suddenly unsure - should she have invited the Pastor's wife to something like that?
"Oh don't worry!" I said "It won't be much worse than the average evening in Ambridge!"
Well - we went, and it was extremely well done. It is the most violent, and bloody, of Will's plays. One lady left just before the interval, followed by her husband- and they didn't return. 
I shan't give any spoilers, but suffice it to say that we didn't eat pie on Tuesday!
We were asked not to take photographs during the production. Here are some from the BOAT website,

I was sorry that some of the audience felt the need to giggle at some of the more gruesome bits - but that may have been a coping mechanism. If you aren't expecting it, the gushing blood can come as a bit of a shock.
I certainly needed the reviving cup of tea which Jenny produced in the interval
This an incredibly miserable story, focussing on revenge and hatred. 
It was very good amateur theatre - lighting, costumes etc all excellent. I'd be interested in seeing BOAT's Richard III next summer. 
But if you want something more jolly I'd recommend you try Mamma Mia 2 instead!
We were watching the dress rehearsal - this is an annual perk for the Brownsea NT Volunteers plus their guests. So on the ferry back, well after 10pm, we were travelling with many of Jenny and Peter's colleagues. It was such fun [despite the gory bits]. Thanks again J&P!

Friday 27 July 2018

A [Baptist] Mother's Ruin?

This summer, I have discovered a new treat. Belvoir Fruit Farms, that lovely Leicestershire company who produce elderflower cordial have introduced a new flavour. 
Botanical Juniper and Tonic
Well chilled, with ice and a slice. Delicious in this hot weather.
Yes, I know that there are those among my nearest and dearest who regard it an abomination to add fruits to their gin, and the whole idea of a G&T without alcohol is incomprehensible - but I think it's utterly delicious! 

My other guilty pleasure is nibbling dark chocolate Tunnock bars cool from the fridge. Having eaten one, it's great fun to fold the wrapper into a little paper boat. I love the way you can make a jolly striped gold and blue one with crisp white sails. 
Of course, if you buy milk as well as plain bars, you could make a whole flotilla of multicoloured boats...
Apart from these occasional treats, I've been munching my way through loads of healthy salads. Please do not refer to salad as 'rabbit food' - Steph tells me that it is important not to feed lettuce to rabbits. Apparently it contains a substance called lactucarium, which can make them very ill. It's other name is 'lettuce opium' because of its sedative and opiate properties! I learn so much from my daughters.
But I think this heat is getting to me!
What are your favourite foods and drinks in this stifling weather?

Thursday 26 July 2018

Still Going Doolally!

Jon's off to Wiltshire to play his music at WOMAD this weekend - so I am going up to London to stay with Liz and play with Rosie. But first, I shall be going here
The Imperial War Museum -  just a short walk from Elephant and Castle. I have to meet with someone from their donations department.
When I was helping Jim clear out his clutter before he moved [he continues to be so happy in his new home] I found a cardboard box in the bottom of a wardrobe. 
When I asked what it was, Jim said they were the letters he sent home, whilst in the Army [19645-47] His Dad had kept them in paper folders. He held out the rubbish sack "Chuck 'em, I don't want them any more"
I asked if I could look through them quickly. Wow! they were utterly fascinating. I told Jim they should be in a museum. He was dubious as to why anyone should want letters from a soldier in Deolali, sent to his parents in Brighton, written over 70 years ago. But he agreed that I should see if anybody else was interested.
I went on the IWM website, which is extremely helpful.
They politely inform you that they are offered hundreds of items of militaria, and it may take a few months before your email even gets a reply. Furthermore, for obvious reasons, they cannot guarantee to accept anything. But there is a well laid out form to fill in, where you can give basic information, add a photo or two etc. 
I sent off the form. With a matter of days, they replied!

Such a kind email - yes they were interested, and may even consider coming to interview Gunner Smith [!!] for their Oral History Unit. I asked that they wait till he was settled in his new home, and because I knew I would be in London this week, I offered to bring these documents in person.
Letters, photographs, and a diary telling the amazing story of his two years in India.
Just an ordinary chap describing a soldier's life to his Mum - but  letters are so well written. Not just their legibility [beautiful cursive handwriting] but also their content.
"I saw a mongoose. Until I came to India, I thought a mongoose was a sort of bird- but it's more like a ferret"
"This is a picture of a rickshaw"
Britain was still on ration - so Jim was pleased to hear the family had obtained enough currants to make a Christmas pudding - he wished he was there to share it with them, the troop were having to make do with tinned pus from Oz.
He talks of his disappointment when the trip to the Taj Mahal was cancelled [its OK, he got there later, he told me, and sat "exactly where Princess Di sat"]
Jim is understandably quite thrilled at the IWM's interest. I am so hoping the IWM considers these worthy of their archives [if not, Jim says I may keep them]
I will keep you posted.
Liz says London is unbearably hot - Doolally Tap [Indian fever] may be on the cards this weekend...

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Beautiful Brownsea

Our great friends Peter and Jenny are NT volunteers and give their time working on Brownsea Island- Jenny welcomes people as they come off the boat, and Peter drives the little buggy, showing less mobile visitors the sights.
Brownsea is only a few miles away from Ferndown, set in Poole Harbour -Jenny was concerned that in 3½years, we'd not been.
They had the opportunity to each take a guest to an event last Monday, and kindly invited us to join them. It was glorious! We parked at Sandbanks  and then got the boat across to the island around 3.30pm.
Sandbanks has, by area, the fourth largest land value in the world! Peter said that Harry Redknapp used to live in one of these houses.
We watched the chain ferry going across as we sailed out to the island- the only passengers on the boat!
On arrival, we had a cup of reliable NT tea, and watched one of the red squirrels [for which the island is famous] scampering about among the picnic tables, hoping for morsels.
Then we walked across the island- spotting a deer in the long grass. Bob saw a rabbit, and there were peacocks strutting about too - but I never got photos of them!
Trees however do not move, so I managed some pictures of them! This amazing oak, believed to date back to 1687, fell unexpectedly 4 years ago. 
The woodlands are carefully managed- the Island belongs to the National Trust, but the hotel is on a long lease to the John Lewis Partnership, and the Dorset Wildlife Trust manage the lagoon.
33 years ago, two lovers carved their names on a tree- and 26 years later, art students developed the 'Heart Wood' painting heart patterns on the trees- but very cleverly - you have to stand back and look through the trees and when seen together they reveal the pattern.
It is possible to look out over the water and watch the boat, including large ferries en route to France. The island has a rich history [read it here] with various owners and celebrated visitors, from Viking times, right up until it was acquired by the National Trust in 1961. The John Lewis Partnership were  generous benefactors in this process.
The restored engine reveals part of the island's former glory. The classy rubbish bins [labelled "General Waste"] are all over the island. There's a memorial to Robert Baden Powell. He came here with 20 boys in 1907 - this is the birthplace of the Boy Scouts. He taught them camping and woodcraft. The original troop were made up of sons of the nobility, and ordinary lads from the Boys' Brigade company in Bournemouth 
BB was already a quarter of a century old before BP's experiment! We finished our walk, and returned to the cafe area. We'd seen so much beautiful scenery, and learned a lot from J&P about the island - its history and its ecology.
We enjoyed a lovely picnic supper in the warm sunshine, and felt we could be sitting anywhere on the Mediterranean coast! Huge boats went past, bearing the rich - and possibly famous - to who knows where!
But this was only the start of our experience. We were really there for another BOAT. I'll tell you about that soon...[thanks Peter and Jenny, Brownsea was just wonderful as you'd promised!]

Tuesday 24 July 2018

A Load Of Old Tripe?

YouGov recently conducted a survey into traditional British foods, to see which are likely to disappear in the near future. They had 24 on their list. I was fascinated... 
There are five I have never eaten: tripe, giblets, cockles, purslane and medlars. [unless you count gravy made with giblets] I don't have a problem with any of the others, although I wouldn't go out of my way to eat turnip.
But some of these are regular favourites: sardines, tapioca, suet, semolina pudding, corned beef and treacle [aka Golden Syrup]
Those are foodstuffs usually found in my pantry. Bubble&squeak is a great leftovers dish, and Bob makes it beautifully.
Bob's Dad used to prepare a tongue each Christmas and my Mum regularly served liver with mashed potatoes. Jon has even made his own black pudding. I love making suet crust pastry, and any and all milk puddings [semolina, blancmange and tapioca] 

It's a shame the weather is so warm, reading the list has made me yearn to produce a Treacle Suet Roly Poly Pudding. Perhaps I should just knock up some sardine fishcakes, coated in semolina and oven baked, accompanied by sauté potatoes fried in beef dripping. 
Do you think these foods are disappearing from our menus because they are complicated to prepare? Or perceived to be high fat/high carb/less healthy? 
Many are inexpensive carb/protein meals traditionally favoured by the working classes in earlier generations.
And what is winter purslane anyway? Bob and I have not heard of that one. We only know of Job's comment in chapter 6v6 where he says "Who can abide the slime of the purslane?"
Do you eat any of these, or do you avoid tripe like the plague? 

Monday 23 July 2018

Going Doolally Whilst Haring About In The Heat

Life has been quite manic in the past week or so. Saturday's MAD event went well, but it was unbelievably hot. I felt sorry for the organisers- folk arrived late, then cleared off early [to watch football or tennis on TV] The Hopestones were well received, and Rev Ruth the Curate did a fantastic job of producing bunting with the children.
On Sunday our church was responsible for the monthly Forget-Me-Not service. This is a brief hymn service, for the benefit of those who suffer with dementia, and their carers. It is always held in the same parish church, so folk are comfortable with the familiar location. Our members, as usual, were brilliant - providing readers, musicians, participants, and caterers [and an abundance of cakes] Sadly the attendance was really low, over 60% being supporters from our church. Never mind.
Monday afternoon, once Bob's meeting had finished, we drove to Norfolk to attend a funeral on Tuesday. The journey was fine. We called briefly on Adrian and Marion, then drove through Dereham at 10.30pm and stopped to see the Hare. He is called "Phareoh" in recognition of the local links with Howard Carter who discovered King Tut's tomb.
Then onto Cornerstones. It was well past 11pm before we fell into bed. At which point Bob asked "I forgot to ask, what are you wearing tomorrow?"
"That smart LBD from Next which Steph passed on to me at Christmas - it is smart, but will be comfortable in the heat"
At which point one very apologetic husband confessed  he had completely forgotten to mention it was a 'please do not wear black' funeral. Did I have any other clothes? I leapt out of bed, and found that apart from jeans and t-shirt I'd travelled in, I had a fleece, a waterproof, some spare pjs and pants - and a couple of old teeshirts with slogans on. 
Fortunately Sainsbury's on the west side of Norwich opens at 7am so we were able to go in early to find an alternative dress. [The changing rooms were locked- so I did have to lurk in a quiet corner, shielded by Bob, in order to try the garment on. 'Tu' clothes vary enormously in size - I can be anything between a 12 and a 16] I found a cream floral frock which I was happy with. We arrived at Tuesday's funeral in good time, correctly attired!
Wednesday was a little quieter. I called Bob through for his meal, and he paused the TV. I just had to take a picture of the screen - it was a bit absurd!
Thursday we had a visit from Christine and Paul, good friends from Kirby, holidaying nearby. We caught up on the news of the school where I had done so much supply [where newly retired C. was a Teaching Assistant]  the adventures of their daughter Emma [well on the way to being a qualified doctor, currently on a placement in Nairobi] and the exciting developments at our old church. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of our visitors, and their cute dog, Daisy!
On Friday I was totally baffled by a pair of chopsticks in the washing up bowl - we haven't had a Chinese meal for ages. Then realised Bob has been stirring his Sourdough Starter  with them.
Saturday was spent scanning documents. Letters from Deolali to be precise. There were problems with the operation and it took 5 hours to complete. I was going quite mad with frustration. Deolali was the place in Indian where the British Army had a large camp, and a sanatorium. Many of the soldiers had fever [Urdu word is tap] Hence the expressions "Gone Doolally" and "Doolally Tap" for someone temporarily deranged.
One long, hot busy week. This one looks equally full...

Sunday 22 July 2018

The Psalmist Was Right

Psalm 127 says "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing."
I was sorting out some old photos from the 1980's [The girls are going to be very annoyed with for posting these] These were taken in 1985 when we were living in Orpington. I know the top right was Liz's first Official Playgroup Photo, she was just 3. The bottom one shows the three of us singing a favourite song ["Stick your finger in your ear and Tinga-Linga-Loo"]
The photos below were taken this year - Rosie is looking so much like Liz did - and her hair is gradually getting thicker, and has the same gorgeous colour as her Mum's [inherited from Bob's Mum] 
Yesterday would have been my Mum's 94th birthday - she died in 1991. I am so glad she lived to see my daughters. I know they brought her as much joy as Rosie brings to me. 
Children are precious, but they grow up so fast- treasure the good moments, and cherish the happy memories.

Saturday 21 July 2018

The OTHER Bob Almond

I know about "The Other Boleyn Girl" - but who is this chap?
This parcel arrived for him last Sunday afternoon as we were just going out to church.
You remember my great excitement when we went to Worcester and saw the giraffes, and then found ourselves on the Gtech video clip (here)
Well, the story didn't end there. Bob had a message from Gtech to say he'd won a prize in their selfie competition. 
So now he is the proud of a Gtech Multi handheld vacuum cleaner!
It is a lovely little thing. Full description here. It has extra heads, a flexible extension tube and a neat crevice tool which stores in the handle.
It's not too heavy to use, appears to hold a charge well, and is excellent for doing stairs and the car. 
Years ago we had a Black and Decker DustBuster [always referred to as the Bust Duster in our family] Technology has clearly moved on a lot since then.
The suction power is greater, the time it stays charged is longer, and the accessories are better. Also the dust reservoir is easy to empty and the foam filter washes efficiently and dries quickly.
It is over twenty years since I purchased my Sebo upright vac. That's still going strong, and I love it - but it's one drawback is that it is hard to manipulate on the stairs. This little gadget fills that gap. It has similar specs to the Dyson handheld and retails at around £150. Personally I prefer the design of the Gtech [made in the UK] 
I'm thrilled Bob has won this - he is delighted to be able to keep the interior of his new Skoda sparkling clean, and equally impressed with the staircarpet! Thank you Gtech. 
The other Bob Almond? 
That must be the one with a sudden enthusiasm for house cleaning! 

Friday 20 July 2018

All Up!

The rowing skiff, crewed by men in red uniforms glides serenely along the Thames. Someone spots a fluffy brown cygnet. The cry is heard "All Up!" and the oars go up out of the  water. 
The boatmen then go about their ancient task of catching, and counting, the swans. 
This annual task has been carried out since the twelfth century - when swans were a delicacy at the royal dinner table. 
Back then, all unmarked swans were the property of the Crown - and a few wealthy people were entitled to mark their own swans, for future consumption.
Now just two of the London livery companies- the Vintners and the Dyers have the right to mark swans on the Thames.  Nowadays the census is not about menus, but about conservation and education. The Swan Markers weigh and measure each cygnet, and check for good health [those showing signs of illness are taken away to receive treatmet and returned to the river later] 
Those belonging to the Livery Companies are ringed, the Queen's swans remain unmarked. Traditionally at least one member of the royal family attends the counting- this year Princess Anne [the Queen herself attended until about ten years ago] 
Today is the final day of this year's Upping. You can find out more on the Royal Family Website [click here
Schools send groups of children to observe, and members of the public are allowed to watch too.