Tuesday 31 March 2020

From My Windows

Do you remember the brilliant Hitchcock film "Rear Window" ? James Stewart plays a professional photographer, with a broken leg, who is housebound in his upstairs New York apartment.
He spends his time looking out of the window watching the activities of his neighbours opposite - and has two regular visitors, his no-nonsense nurse [Thelma Ritter] and his stunningly attractive girlfriend [Grace Kelly]
It's summer, the windows are open- he hears snatches of conversation, he watches his neighbours, gives them nicknames and creates stories about them.
...he becomes convinced that one has murdered his wife.
Fantastic story, clever, typical Hitchcock thriller. Many regard it as his best - check it out if you have never seen it.
It's a bit like that round here [watching the nighbours, not suspecting murder]
When did someone come out with chalk and draw the hopscotch grid outside that house? It's great exercise - but were they playing alone, or with a parent, or a sibling? I haven't seen [or heard] it being used yet.
Being at the top of a hill, opposite a side turning means I can see lots of houses in all directions.
Over the weekend, the family next door put up the most humongous tent, similar to this one. It covered a high proportion of their back garden. Plans for a family holiday with the cousins have been abandoned, but they thought they'd check out the tent anyway.  Sadly the wind became quite strong, and it had to come down again.
I had a good conversation from my rear window with Mum, and she said that at 4pm every day her son plays a game of chess online with his Grandad. How good is that?
Lots of neighbours on all sides are gardening. Including our neighbour next door [the other side] who knew we'd been isolating and trimmed our front lawn as well as his own. 
Dorset Waste have announced they are suspending garden bin collection for the foreseeable future.
Some people are going a bit crazy though - cousin Gill in Wilko said one of their customers bought a 2 foot high garden gnome last week, and toddled off back to the car park with it standing proudly in her trolley.
Is this essential shopping ? Wilko remains open because they sell cleaning products, loorolls and pet food. Not sure about the gnomes. I love watching families going for a walk together, toddlers struggling to master their bicycles, older children on scooters and skateboards, etc. Often they look up and wave and smile when they see me at the front window. That's lovely. At the end of the side turning is a tiny gap between the houses and you can see flashes of colour as the busy Ringwood Road traffic passes. Not as busy as it was last month! 
If I go to the extreme end of my window, and lean close to the glass, I can see the houses to the East which back on to Ringwood Road. One is where my friend Angela lives. But I cannot work out which [it is quite away off] Perhaps she and I should stand and wave flags at 4pm, so we can each work out the other's location? I wish I had kept practising the semaphore I learned in the Brownies. It could prove very useful when 'social distancing' But it does depend on the other person knowing it too, of course.

Monday 30 March 2020

For Emma

It is almost nine years since my good friend Gladys died. As I type this, her little Bakelite Box is on the desk beside me. I said in the post I wrote back then just how proud she was of her family. Here's that family now.
Her granddaughter Emma has just finished all her training as a doctor. 
I have watched Emma grow up - being a Supply Teacher for her class in primary school, making crafts at Holiday Club with her, then having her working alongside me in various church activities.
She is bright, and witty and generous and kind. She has always had a caring nature, patient with all generations - both fussy little children and nervous older folk. It is a privilege to count her [and her parents] amongst my friends.
But this is not how it was meant to be - the years of study have all come to a rather abrupt end, and she is waiting to see where she is needed. Everyone knows that medical training is extremely hard work, with long hours - and at the end of it, there is meant to be a moment to celebrate and have fun with friends, before going off to work in a world of sickness and pain. 
Her parents have loved and supported her through all these years, and I know they are rightly proud of their daughter and her achievements. But it must be hard for them not to feel anxious about the genuinely dangerous world in which she finds herself working now. 
It is right that we acknowledge all our NHS staff right now, and thank God for the sacrifices they are making.
But this morning I specially want to think of Emma, and all her young friends who are beginning their careers in a way nobody could have envisaged a few months ago. And also remember their families who are anxious for them.  
Keep well, keep safe, Emma...and thank you.

Sunday 29 March 2020

More Virtual Church

Things are improving as we get into the swing of this. The Norfolk Service had a bigger congregation this week. After we finished the service at Ferndown, we had a Zoom after-church coffee session. That was fun, seeing the smiling faces of our friends and catching up on news. Here are some links. [why does YouTube always freeze on terrible facial expressions?]
A short sermon
And prayers
Jesus said "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them". That includes gathering round our screens in this strange new world. If you are feeling isolated, remember that you can still join with others to worship and pray. 
God bless you all

Lent Inspirations #4 - A Sabbath Rest

For almost a fortnight now, Bob has posted a 'Thought for the Day' on our Church WhatsApp group. This one received so many positive comments, I asked if I could use it as a Guest Post today. May it bless you as it has blessed others. Thanks Bob! He says...
"Like many of you, I’m taking advantage of this beautiful weather and the encouragement to get some exercise each day to go for a (carefully distanced) walk. We’re privileged to be just a little distance from Poor Common. Called that because back in the 19th century, when wealthy landowners enclosed more and more land that had previously been free to access, land was sometimes left so that the poor could gather wood for fuel (though not graze animals). It’s now full of beautifully surfaced paths through Scots Pine trees.
And I’m conscious as I walk of the quietness. Far less traffic noise, far fewer planes overhead. Intentional or not, desired or not, the world is getting just a short Sabbatical - a rest it desperately needed, in order to recover. 
Maybe we all need to see this enforced break as a Sabbatical - and embrace the ‘doing less’ as a moment to be renewed. How often have we told ourselves of the things we would do if only we had time? Just now we do have time - to talk to each other; to pray; to bake bread; to write that novel; to study scripture. Maybe we should be less anxious to get back to where we were, and a little more ready to see today’s blessing. For make no mistake - we are still in a place of privilege. Here’s what one writer from India reminds us:
“Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practise it. Hand washing is a privilege too. It means you have access to running water. Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means you have money to buy them. Lockdowns are a privilege. It means you can afford to be at home. Most of the ways to ward the Corona off are accessible only to the affluent. In essence, a disease that was spread by the rich as they flew around the globe will now kill millions of the poor. All of us who are practising social distancing and have imposed a lockdown on ourselves must appreciate how privileged we are.”
Let us not waste this Sabbath, but recognise the blessing it offers us. Leviticus 25 reminds us: In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.  Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.  Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you,  as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.”
Enjoy a Sabbath rest today!"

Saturday 28 March 2020

Lockdown Larder

Three easy ideas to share with you for recipes which are mostly storecupboard ingredients. 
Steph was talking about making some snacks - she's doing ORCS - Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, based on an Anna Olsen recipe. Steph always has porridge oats in the house! You can leave these plain, which is my preferred option, or you can sandwich them together with a peanut butter filling. That's altogether too rich for me!
It is a a very forgiving recipe, if you don't have the spices, leave them out, or use mixed spice instead. My original post about them, including the recipe, is here.
Next up, homemade soup. This is from the original Cranks Recipe book - a gift from Bob 35 years ago, just after Steph was born. It is called Armenian Soup, and is a lentil based soup, but it is pleasant and light - as the weather gets warmer, I don't want heavy, creamy soups quite so much. A very simple recipe, quick too. Swap and change as you need too. I served mine with some chives from my herb patch.


50g red lentils, 
50g dried apricots, 
2 medium potatoes 
[unpeeled, but diced]
2 pints of stock, 
2 tsp lemon juice, 
1tsp ground cumin, 
3 tbsp chopped parsley. 
Salt and pepper to taste.
Place everything in large pan. 
Bring to boil.
Cover, simmer 30 minutes
Liquidise and Serve!
Finally my cake. Squeamish readers in Plymouth look away now - you know who you are! This uses a 200g jar of mayo as its base. Yes, I know that is utterly weird - but think about it, it is just oil and eggs. Using this means I can reserve my fresh eggs and butter for making comforting scrambled egg on toast. I got some jars of mayo in Roger's Best Before Warehouse, for less than 25p a jar. It is a very strange recipe. But all store cupboard ingredients
I made half the suggested quantity of frosting, and a spoonful of Camp Essence for the icing [I don't have instant coffee in the house!] And I found some Christmas sprinkles. The finished cake was portioned and frozen. All treats are rationed these days.
So here's my Chocolate Mayo Cake, with exuberant sprinkles.
Have you got a favourite store cupboard standby? 
And have you found an unconventional but creative use for any of your supplies?

Friday 27 March 2020

We'll Meet Again - And We'll Eat Again

I am so glad that yesterday's clip of Mrs Beamish made so many of you laugh! I've had comments on the blog and messages off the blog. Don't forget to support the Orpheus Trust if you decide to share it.
Happy Birthday to Dame Vera, 103 last week. She has urged us all to 'keep smiling and singing'
I was talking to Liz and she said "I am using my Marguerite Patten cookbook"
I think she has this one. I've felt reassured to realise that both my girls are eating sensibly and making good use of their resources in these bizarre times. I've dug out my collection of Wartime Cookbooks as well. 
Useful ideas for nourishing meals from limited supplies.
Sorry Jamie, your current show isn't hitting the spot for me. There was so much fresh produce in those recipes. And for families who do not usually cook from scratch, there's unlikely to be yeast in the cupboard, or a pot of fresh basil on the windowsill**. And personally I do not like chili in everything.
I'm enjoying Jack Monroe's daily 5pm tweets though - she's ace![#JackMonroesLockdownLarder] and my TCC book is also useful at the moment. Check out her soup recipe [here] JM really gets it when it comes to making tasty meals with random ingredients
Liz is producing a sourdough loaf and homemade soup every day.
Here is one of Liz's loaves. It looks like it will taste delicious. She says she uses this recipe from Breadmaker Par Excellence, Dan Lepard. I cannot believe that it is eleven years since the girls met Dan Lepard at a Guardian Cookery Event. I may have a try at that loaf sometime. The breadmaker is useful, but the exercise of mixing and kneading would be good for me! 
Here's my Marguerite Patten cookbook, a rather special edition, as you can see! 
I've made a cake, as a special treat, and will post pictures once it is iced. We've cut right back on desserts, biscuits and cake since last week. Both losing weight and feeling better for it - hoping to get back to a size 12 again very soon!
I do hope that wherever you are, you are able to get the foodstuffs you need. 
Kind friends who are doing deliveries- don't forget that rather than saying "Let me know if you need anything" it is more helpful to say "I'm just going shopping, is there anything you need?" Many people are hesitant to ask someone to go out just for them - but feel more comfortable asking when they know the person is going to the shops anyway. 

Thursday 26 March 2020

Social Distancing And The Church Of England

For centuries, my dear friends in the Church of England used Cranmer's Book Of Common Prayer. In the Eucharist [communion service] the priest would mumble The peace of the Lord be with you and the congregation would mutter back And also with you.
Then in the 1970s, they loosened up a bit, and realised it was something to share - so they started "Passing the Peace" with one another People turned to their neighbours and shook hands, or hugged, or kissed or generally displayed affection.Not everybody liked this burst of informality ['too much like those wild Baptists']

Singer/songwriter Sir Richard Stilgoe wrote a witty little ditty about it 'Mrs Beamish'
He's a good chap, and started the Orpheus charity for young people with special needs who are interested in the performing arts. You can look on his website and download any of his songs for a £5 donation to the charity. 
But Mrs Beamish is the one exception. It is free. This week it has made me smile so much. I am posting it here - and I've sent my fiver anyway. Watch, and enjoy...

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Fragonard And Frozen

I am going to be positive. If I am confined to barracks, I will not let my brain vegetate. Round the world, art galleries and museums are making available "Virtual Tours" - so that even if we cannot physically go we can look at things on screen. I have wildly eclectic tastes in art [but mostly old stuff, I don't really do 'modern'] 
When I was a student, I had a postcard of "Young Girl Reading" [painted by Jean Honore Fragonard about 250 years ago] pinned above my desk. I love this picture. It is in the National Gallery of the USA - too far to visit. But another of JHF's pieces, The Swing, is one that I have seen in reality. It is in the Wallace Collection in London
This week Liz alerted me to the fact that Fragonard pops up in Disney's Frozen. 
I have yet to watch this film all the way through [although Rosie has sung me all the songs]
In this very successful animation, Anna goes into the portrait gallery in Arendelle Palace, and imagines herself being 'in' the artworks displayed there, whilst singing The First Time in Forever.
People have spent a lot of time identifying which great artworks have been 'modified' for this purpose. Look at their ideas...
  1. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing. Rococo, 1767
  2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Peasant Dance. Flemish Renaissance, 1567.
  3. Auguste Serrure. Picnic [from a different angle] Romantic, ca. 1800.
  4. Gerard Terborch, The Dancing Couple. Baroque, 1660. Polesden Lacey
  5. John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo. Impressionist, 1882. Isabella Stewart
  6.  Lucas van Leyden, Potifar's Wife Shows Joseph's Gown to Her Husband. Dutch Golden Age, 1512.

Maybe you are not convinced- but I think this is enormous fun, and if it gets young children interested in great works of art, then I am all for it. Read more hereAnd here's the video clip
Liz told me that Rosie was keen on having some Frozen Yogurt every day. It was only when I was sent the picture, I realised she'd said "Frozen Yoga" !
Some enterprising people have put free videos out there to help our housebound children to enjoy exercising. She is certainly managing the pose, with hands and feet in the right places!
This is for all those parents out there, trying to find ways to occupy and entertain their children, in ways which will hopefully have some sort of educational content.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Here's Some Good News!

My beautiful niece Rebecca has just announced her engagement to Rhyddian. Here she is at her sister's wedding four years ago. I am so thrilled for the happy couple - the wedding is due to be next year sometime. Let us hope and pray that things are easier by then. May God bless them both in the days ahead.

Monday 23 March 2020

Give Us This Day...

          ...Our Daily Bread
I learned the Lord's Prayer as a very small child. I still prefer to say the 'old' version with Thee's and Thou's, because after six decades, it is hard to change. In this Covidian Craziness, it is a comfort to return to the familiar phrases. When I do not understand what is happening, or know what to say, I can pray these words which Jesus taught his friends. Bread is an important part of my diet. When I visited the Titanic Exhibition in Belfast with Mags, I was amazed to learn that the men who built that mighty ship existed on a diet which was mostly bread and butter washed down with tea. [There wasn't much money for fresh veg or quality proteins] 
I have bread flour in the cupboard, so when we finsihed the old loaf at the weekend, I was able to make a fresh one in the breadmaker. I mentioned 2 weeks ago that i'd just sold my £5 Cornerstones Breadmaker on FB Marketplace. Before I posted the sale, I made two loaves in the two machines, side by side. Here are the results...
On the left, the newer CS machine, on the right my older machine. I decided to keep the original [it has a couple of extra functions] and sell the CS one. 
I posted a picture of the machine, with its loaf - rugged crust and all! and it sold almost immediately. Brilliant, I thought
So I confidently loaded the old machine this weekend - and look what happened!
Not sure why, when everything else was just the same as before- but the top of the loaf rose like a muffin top, instead of a beautifully domed crust. It tastes wonderful, so I am not complaining.  

I posted a picture of this on FB and a number of friends have sent pictures of their breadmaker efforts - alongside comments like "I've had this machine for ages and never used it" 
I prayed for daily bread, and that is what we have received. Yes, it looks a little wonky - but the whole of life looks a little wonky right now as we enter our second week of self- isolation. 
May you keep well, and may you too have sufficient bread for your family today.

Sunday 22 March 2020

"Normal" Service Will Be Resumed

...but who knows when?
Till then, here are some YouTube Links
Our service from UCF included a sermon [https://youtu.be/s1LEqD7TotQ]
And a prayer [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huVknLGIZKk&feature=youtu.be]
Apologies that I didn't manage to get Alison's service from France properly loaded [https://fatdormouse.wordpress.com/2020/03/21/a-zoom-church-service/]
I managed to worship with two groups - my Norfolk chapel friends from 10 - 10.30, then my Dorset ones 10.30 -11. Now I am going to shake hands with the preacher - nobody else can - and enjoy the afterchurch refreshments [tea for two]
UPDATE -thank you for your comments below. We're glad that this can be a blessing to people beyond our Dorset Fellowship. It looks like this will be the norm for a while yet. I'll post weekly links for the duration.

Lent Inspirations #3 - You Are Not Alone...

These flowers and the card were left in the porch early on Thursday morning, by a lovely family from church on their way to school. 
So thoughtful.
Self-isolating and solitary have similar roots - the sense of being alone, apart from others.
This is Lent, when we remember Jesus going into the deserted place to be tempted by the Devil. Later on in Mark 4, the Bible says Jesus got up early while it was still dark, and went to a solitary place to pray.
I'm currently self-isolating [fortunate to have Bob with me, so not totally without human contact] as are many other people. Lots of them live by themselves - so will be especially grateful for the contact we can have through phones, WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype etc.  
But this is still a difficult time. Just two thoughts
- firstly that when he was on earth Jesus faced times when he was alone, so he understands what we are going through
- secondly, the Bible promises us that nothing, can separate us from God's love.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Pictures In The Attic

The world seems a mad, mad place right now. On Friday afternoon, Bob was shifting things around in the lounge, setting up lights, screen and a video camera, in order to record part of a 'virtual' church service. It's going out on YouTube on Sunday. 
I hope it all works. In the process we discovered half a dozen ants which had somehow got through the patio doors and were scurrying around behind the sofa. We have ant killer. But it is at Cornerstones!
One Church member kindly stopped off at Wilko on her way home, then left a canister of the stuff in the porch for us.
This morning, two other friends left carrots, onions and a jigsaw. 
Currently nestling either side of the fireplace are two pictures, which I retrieved from the loft about a month ago. You can just make out one of these behind the screen [I have to say, it was quite fun watching Bob reading his sermon from the autocue on screen]
But back to the pictures. When we moved into the house [January 2015] we found them  up in the loft, and I have been intrigued by them ever since. I got them down on the day of the Pancake Party - less than four weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime away now. I wondered if any church member had the remotest idea of where they came from. Nobody did. So I am sharing them here on the blog.
They are both around 20" x 24" painted on old bits of wood from cheap packing cases.
One says "Hornsey School of Art 1955"
I call this woman Princess Margaret
and the other one Her Friend
Were they done by students?
Were they painted in a "Life class" - or did the artist [s] copy these from existing pictures or photographs.
Are they real people, or artist's impressions?
There are no names or other identification marks.

I don't suppose I shall ever find out their origins. Unlike Dorian Gray's picture in the attic, the faces have not aged with time. There is the remotest possibility that somebody reading this post might recognise them. Any suggestions?

Friday 20 March 2020

Bringing Out The Best...

Thank you all for the kind words. My temperature is starting to go down, although the dry cough remains [intermittently] Of course I haven't been able to have a test, so maybe it isn't the genuine Covid19. But it's pretty grim whatever it is. My cousin, who works in Wilko [aka The Loo Roll Battle Zone] says in the past couple of weeks she has certainly seen the best, and worst, of human behaviour. So can I inspire you with some of the best bits?
Here at UCF our Phone Buddy system is working well, and all the older and isolated folk have friends making regular contact. We are in a Church WhatsApp group which is sharing info, and positive messages. Bob is working incredibly hard [from home] keeping in touch with people. He and the Worship team are planning a "virtual" Sunday service
Steph sent us a picture of the slip posted through their door from local residents in their street. As she's so close to the baby's birth, she's had to stay home. This sort of action by her neighbours is such a lovely thing. I'm glad to hear of this sort of initiative up and down the country right now.
This is Steph with her great friend Raquel. She used to be PA for ex-footballer Gary Neville. [I used R's picture because she's more photogenic than GN] Gary now owns some hotels in Manchester. He is closing them to the public, but making them freely available to NHS personnel, who need to keep working but cannot sleep at home if their families have gone into isolation. I understand that GN is "a good egg, and really genuine". May God bless this wealthy man who is using his resources to do good.
The National Trust are opening up the grounds of their properties for free, so that everybody can get out into the fresh air and appreciate the beauty of nature. That's brilliant!
Finally the generous Jack Monroe, who has set up a crowd funding campaign for the Trussell Trust. The TT and other foodbanks are going to need even more support now so many folk are losing income. If you normally go out for coffee on a Saturday, but now you are stuck at home, why not send the money to the TT instead? [details here]
I hope this post has inspired you with further ideas about getting through this strange time. I had no idea when I picked my #word365 for 2020 just how relevant it would become! Thank you to these people, and to every one of you, all working hard to help our nation through this crisis. 

Thursday 19 March 2020


High temperature, aching limbs, dry cough, headache, unbelievable lethargy. I'm self isolating, so Bob has to do the same. I hope to get back to proper blog posts soon. I hope none of you get this virus, it is not pleasant. 

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Rosie's Boredom Box

I started preparing this a while ago, intending it to be an Easter present.  But Liz asked for some ideas to keep Ro busy while they are 'confined to barracks', so I've worked hard and got it ready earlier than intended.
The square plastic box originally held cheese biscuits, but has been decorated with scraps of sticky-backed-plastic
[as loved by Valerie Singleton on Blue Peter]
I made a stack of envelopes, using my envelope maker and an old calendar. In each there is all the material for one activity. If crayons or a glue stick is needed, I've written that on the outside of the envelope. And I put these in the box as well. 
What's in the envelopes? I got a pack of simple colouring books in the poundshop. That filled 6 envelopes. I put a couple of finger puppets in another, with an instruction card "Make up a story about the monkey and the elephant. Ask a grown up to take some pictures" 
I had some leftover birds, and bird feeder kits, from a recent activity with the children at church. That filled a couple more envelopes. 
I put in three crown kits [more leftovers]. And some scratch art robots. Also some people shapes with stickers to create faces and clothes. It didn't take long to come up with ideas.
This is number bunting. Ten cards each with a numeral, and a set of punched shapes [butterfly, star, circle etc]  Once the right number of items is stuck on each card, they can be strung along a shoelace. 
The poundshop also provided a cute little bag to colour in, with felt pens. I found a recipe for salt dough, and another for simple biscuits. These went into envelopes along with cutters from my cookie-cutter collection.
And I made a couple of little books using a simple dotty font, so Rosie can write the letters and draw appropriate pictures. These are all simple activities and a couple of dozen envelopes should occupy Rosie for quite a while. 
I've numbered them so the repeats are well spaced and she doesn't get colouring books 3 days in a row. 
I plan to make more envelopes in coming days, this is just the starter. 
Have you any good ideas for occupying little ones? 

DON'T FORGET, the cost of stamps goes up next week. Yo may want to pick some up next time you venture to the shops or Post Office. There are elderly friends I will be sending cards to because they are not online, or living nearby, or able to use phone easily. GET THE STAMPS AT THE LOWER COST NOW!!!