Saturday 31 October 2020

Weighed In The Balance

When I was a child, I remembr going with my father to the National Gallery in London. One picture we looked at was Rembrandt's amazing "Belshazzar's Feast". The NG only acquired the picture in 1964, and I think it had only recently gone on display when we saw it. The story comes from the book of Daniel Chapter 5. The King has looted the temple in Jerusalem and stolen the sacred vessels. He takes them back to his palace and uses them at a lavish banquet for a thousand guests

During the evening, a ghostly human hand appears and writes words on the wall - which terrify everybody, although nobody can read them. It is Daniel who interprets the four words -Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin 

He tells the King that he has not learned the lessons of the previous monarch, his Dad, Nebuchadnezzar, and the days of his kingdom are numbered.[read the full story here] Daniel says “This is what was written: ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin Number, number, weight, divisions.’ And this is what it means: number, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; weight, you have been weighed on the scales and found to be too light;  divisions, your kingdom is divided up and given to the Medes and Persians.”

And why am I thinking about it now - well, I learned the King James' Version of the text back then " Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting" - and the more modern version [Good News Translation] "Weighed on the scales and found to be too light" is rather a challenge at the moment. I weigh exactly the same as I did at the start of this covid19 business, and have only varied by a pound or two in either direction for the past 7 months. [I suspect Belshazzar was morally lightweight, rather than physically. He's got chubby fingers and a double chin in the picture] 

But my other problems is the kitchen scales. I have a set of electronic digital scales at Cornerstones, and also my lovely iron & brass balance scales. I have a cheap set of electronic ones here in Dorset and I planned to make the Christmas Cake and Puddings this weekend. But on Wednesday morning, my scales here just died. So frustrating - if it had happened last week, I could have brought back some scales from Norfolk. 

However, my dear friend Jenny has already made her Christmas Cake, so is generously lending me her scales for a few days [thanks, J]

I wonder if Belshazzar had fruitcake at his feast?

I wonder if I ought to abstain from Christmas Cake this year in the hope of losing weight?

I wonder how long the cake will last, if there's only Bob and me to eat it?

Friday 30 October 2020

Taking The Long View

Steph's BIL Dan is an interesting guy. I have only met him once, he's a great family man - a loving husband, and father to two very happy little daughters. Dan is a surveyor by profession, travelling the country with his work - he's fond of Italian food, and a supporter of Man Utd.  About four years ago, he took up a new hobby- photography.

I take pictures- but mostly I just point the camera, press the button and hope. 50% of the time I get blurred pictures of Rosie's feet, or half of Bob's plate of food. Dan is much more considered in his approach. 

His specialism is long exposure photography. He tells me that this "is a great way of capturing scenes that sharply capture the stationary elements of images while obscuring the moving elements such as motion blur in the water or streaking clouds."

"To take a long exposure photo, 9 times out of 10 you need an ND [neutral density] filter to darken the scene making the camera think it needs a long shutter speed for the correct exposure. Most of my photos are taken anywhere between 1.5 seconds for water photos up to 2 minutes for streaking clouds in the sky. Using a tripod... makes the still elements stay sharp, and anything that moves while the camera is taking the photo will appear blurry creating the effects you see in my photos."

I asked him if he preferred colour or black and white colour - he responded "I’d just edge towards black and white for dramatic effect. Although each photo is different. e.g. for a photo taken in an autumn wood you would want to see all of those colours."

These are just some of his pictures - Sandbanks and Durdle Door here in Dorset, St Margaret's Bay and Deal Pier in Kent, and Lawton Bluebell Woods in Cheshire.

I think they are utterly stunning. Dan is now selling his pictures- and as I am committed to encouraging small businesses, I thought I'd do a post about his work. [Thank you Dan for supplying the background information]

They start from as little as £10 and if you want to purchase some of his artwork, just check out his site HERE



Thursday 29 October 2020

Boots, Books, Light, And Love...

Our binmen have changed their timings - they used to collect around 11am, but now its 6.45am.  I know the council say 'bins out by 6am' - but I'd got into the habit of pulling them out at 7 when I made the first cuppa of the day. So I missed the collection the other week. I am now putting them out Tuesday night before bed. 

I was glad I'd done that, it was raining heavily when I woke up. I had a morning of errands to run too. First stop the cobblers, to get my winter boots heeled. I should have done that in the Spring when I put them away 
for the summer, but forgot. This local business is 30% cheaper than the national chain I have used in the past. Then to return my library books. Sorry Sue, I just couldn't get on with the Elly Griffiths books - even though they were set in Norfolk! 
I took 5 on holiday, and gave up halfway through the 3rd.Then round the corner to LoveAllFood. I blogged about them last month. These lovely people are concerned for the children in Ferndown who will miss their free school meals over halfterm, so they are offering free lunches
Like many other of their customers, I wanted to make a small contribution to their costs. Then on to McColls, to drop off another Ziffit parcel. This culling of the books is painful, but must be done! Another £6 sale.
Just up from McColls is the
Waggy Tails Charity Shop, and I saw exactly what I needed in the window - we're relocating our chandelier to Norfolk - so we needed a new lampshade over the dining table. I paid £3.50 - for a shade still in its plastic wrap. When I got home, I discovered they are currently £20 in Dunelm! A damp but satisfactory outing around the town. 

Wednesday 28 October 2020


In July 2018, I went to London to protest about Donald Trump's visit. My main objection was the way he was treating the children of refugees and immigrants  arriving at the borders of the USA. A few days ago I read this news story I could have wept - there are 545 children whose parents have been 'lost' by the Trump administration. These kids are, in effect, orphans.

Here's another Brian Bilston poem - one which can be read both ways. Thank you BB for a brilliant, thoughtful, challenging piece. God give us strength to go on fighting for the widows and orphans, the lowest and the least. 


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read it from bottom to top)

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Bags One For Me!

Do you have an accumulation of bags? Years ago, I read that the average family has 17 plastic carrier bags [this was in the days before bags-for-life, and biodegradable ones, when the shops gave them away free] Most of my bags now are thin cotton tote bags. "I've collected up all the bags," Bob said "and put them in one 
bag, on a hanger in the Futility Room" I thanked him, admitting that did look a lot tidier. Then when he was busy watching The Mandalorian, I sneaked in and tipped them out - that one bag had ten more inside it. I daren't tell him I've already found five more in other places...
Liz lent me her book of Brian Bilston poems -this one seems to have been written especially for me
you have bags of bags

in your bags 
you keep more bags all bagged up 
in bags for life.

if there was a competition for number of bags
you would have it
in the bag

i dont know why you need so many bags
its not as if you have anything to put in them

except other bags.

Monday 26 October 2020

They Dined On Quince

Unlike the owl and the pussycat, I don't possess a runcible spoon, but when Liz mentioned that someone in her village had put out a help-yourself-box full of quinces, I thought I ought to at least try this unusual fruit. I collected about a third of the box contents [thank you, generous householder, whoever you are] They weighed in at 1.5kg. 
I considered making quince jam [the Portuguese word for quince is marmelo - from which we get marmalade]  and also membrillo -the quince fruit paste which the Spanish serve with manchego cheese. In the end, Liz and I decided a simple fruit compote would be most versatile. I checked out the internet and found this recipe.
Nigel Slater says get a good knife- cutting and peeling is difficult- and you need to cut out the woody core, and manky
brown bits. 
Peeling was laborious - look at that one that looks like a"builder's bum" - some fruits looked fine outside, but were bad inside. In the end I got just under 3 jars of fruit. 
And I reduced the syrup, as Nigel suggests - this jewel coloured liquid can be swirled into yogurt, drizzled over pancakes, or stirred into sparkling water. 
Things to note 
  • the flesh is white [as you are preparing, drop it into acidulated water or it will discolour] but it cooks to a an apricot/pink shade, and the syrup reduces to this lovely pink.
  • it has a beautiful fragrance [and yes, I could smell it as the pieces bubbled away in the poaching syrup]
  • the compote will keep up to a week in the fridge- or can be frozen. So Liz had a jar, I have a jar- and the remainder is in the freezer.
If something is like a quince, is it quince-ish, or quincy?
Here's a trivial fact - in the TV series, we never did discover Quincy's first name -although in Episode #33, we saw a business card showing his first initial was 'R'. At least Colin Dexter finally revealed that Morse's moniker was Endeavour!

Sunday 25 October 2020



Our service at UCF today will be led by friends from the charity Christians Against Poverty. The service will be livestreamed from 10.30am. The link is HERE. [if you get stuck, go to YouTube and type in United Church Ferndown] 

Saturday 24 October 2020

Nuns With Guns?

There we were, driving up the A11 towards Cornerstones and I saw a van. "Whatever are actuators and dash pots?" I asked Bob. I knew that actuaries deal with risk and insurance. But who are these guys? To call somebody a dashpot sounds a bit insulting. It seems they are mechanical terms, actuators are involved with valves, dashpots with shock absorbers. 

We continued on our way and then Bob said "What's that?! - Catholic Protection?" a van shot past us   He had misread the wording [this picture is from their website, I never managed to get a picture] ACAPS is Anglia Cathodic Protection Services [electrical stuff]  I was quite disappointed - I did so want there to be Nuns-With-Guns, or at the very least, Father Dylan with a taser hidden under his surplice
Now we're at Cornerstones for a few days. With some odd jobs to do. These are listed on the blackboard in the Futility Room. 
In case you are wondering, we took a poster out of a clip frame and put it in a better frame, and it's slipped! 
Looking forward to some Serious Relaxing, and not too many chores over the weekend. Grateful to the team back to UCF for organising the Sunday service. 

Friday 23 October 2020

Mairzy Doats And Dozy Doats...

 ...And Liddle Lamzy Divey

I always thought that was a daft song, but like mares and does, I enjoy eating oats - on cold winter mornings I eat porridge, and usually throw a handful of oats into my toppings for fruit crumbles, and I love sweet oaty biscuits, and savoury oatcakes. Currently avoiding granola, not wishing to damage my temporary filling - but fond of the softer, fruity muesli. 

A recent pantry audit revealed quite a few containers with small amounts of nuts and dried fruits. I decided to use them up by making a batch of muesli. 

I picked up a huge bag of five flake muesli base for £5 on Salisbury Market. Oats, plus wheat, barley, rye and toasted malted barley flakes. I spent my loyalty points on a bag of dried apple flakes in Grape Tree. Then I added my leftovers - fruit raisins, cranberries, dates [chopped] sultanas, nuts almond, walnuts, hazel nuts and a few pistachios seeds I had a jar of mixed seeds. By weight, I used 80% flakes, 15% fruit, 5% nuts and seeds. I mixed up 500g at a time in a big bowl. Some commercial muesli has added sugar and/or milk powder. Mine doesn't. To keep it fresh, I packed it in lock'n'lock boxes. 
And here it is. I think this has worked out about 50% of the cost of "luxury muesli" from the supermarket, and tastes lovely and fruity. Being away for so long over the summer meant my baking supplies didn't get used up as fast they might have done. This has cleared the shelves and I can get fresh stocks for my Christmas baking. 
This little stack will provide plenty of breakfasts, with cold or hot milk - and I can make some flapjacks or streusel type toppings too. 

Another opportunity to avoid food waste, in a creative way

Thursday 22 October 2020

Pålegg Or Opsony?

Pålegg [pronounced paw-leg] is a Norwegian word. I learned it recently on Carole's Blog. It basically means 'spread' or 'something-to-put-on-a-slice-of-bread'. I was intrigued, I knew about smorgasbord, the Scandinavian open sandwiches, but didn't realise there was a name for the topping. I investigated further. One writer sniffily declared that those who say there is no direct English equivalent are wrong, because we Brits have the word opsony. Well that was a new word for me too. It comes from the Latin opsonium, and was in use till about 1800. So now when Bob suggests a snack, perhaps some bread or toast, I can ask him "What opsony would you like, darling?" 

Most of the time, my preferred opsony would be Marmite. 

His would be crunchy peanut butter. Just occasionally we have both - a thin smear of Marmite, topped with PB. 

So you'd have expected us to like this new product. But sadly we tried it and we're disappointed. It didn't taste right at all and the nut pieces were too... regular. We shall keep to our separate opsonies, and only mix them occasionally! 

What's your favourite opsony? 

PS - I also like lingonberry jam from IKEA - but being Scandinavian that would have to be described as a pålegg

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Happy Birthday Steph

To a brilliant daughter, sister, friend, wife, and now mum. This past year has been the strangest ever, full of sadness, sickness, sunshine and some incredibly special moments. You've coped so amazingly well with all that life has thrown at you in the past twelve months - but you always bounce back, sparkling and radiant as ever. God bless you today and always - and may your birthday be full of love and joy.  Looking forward to seeing you again before too long.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

That Sinking Feeling

 ...when as you clear up after making a cake, you find one particular  ingredient on the worktop, and realise you didn't put it in the mix! So my National Trust Spiced Toffee Apple Cake was distinctly unspiced. [The NT are currently celebrating the fruit from the orchards at their various properties]

The recipe was in the latest NT magazine, [click HERE]and having picked up a couple of very nice looking cookers from the 'help yourself' basket outside a neighbour's house recently, it seemed a good thing to try out. Above is the one pictured in the magazine, below my cake- before and after pouring over the toffee sauce.

Conclusions - 

  1. the taste was good, despite the lack of spice
  2. I liked the addition of pureed dates to the mix, which gave both colour and flavour - as well as keeping the cake moist
  3. I sliced my apple on the mandoline- probably a little too finely, I think the edges of the slices over-browned.
  4. there was too much toffee sauce in the recipe. 
I took the photos just after making the cake- when I returned to it later, the sauce had soaked in and the middle of the cake had sunk [despite the skewer coming out clean when I tested it earlier] Bob loved it, however, especially when served with a drizzle of cream from a tiny jug...

Monday 19 October 2020

The Story Of Three Bears [Plus One]

My friend asked if I could make her some memory bears - three 'regular sized' plus a smaller one. The shirts arrived, and I began my task. It occupied me for the best part of a week. I posted a picture of the WIP on my Facebook page and was deluged with questions - so here's my attempt to answer the FAQ.

No, I don't do this 'commercially' - I make them for good friends, and it is an opportunity to use my sewing skills to bless others. I charge for the 'extras' [stuffing, thread and safety eyes] If they wish to show their gratitude in other ways, that's up to them. But I am not in this to make money. I use the HowJoyfulBear pattern as my starting point. But I printed out the pattern on four different colours of paper- so that I could then make a multicoloured patchwork bear.

I ask for between 6 and 8 shirts - and then choose just four which go well together. All the bears in a 'family' will look the same. It is not for a novice needleworker. I allow between 6&8 hours per bear. The small one takes just as long, and is more fiddly.

Yes,they do take an awful lot of stuffing! I use hollowfibre pillows. It is the same stuff as toy filling, but way cheaper - and you need about 1½ pillows per bear. I have a large trug beside me, and I snip the corner of the pillow and pull out handfuls and tear the fibre into smallish clumps. This prevents the stuffed bear from feeling lumpy.

Here is my shredded fibre, and my trusty chopstick. You must push the stuffing well into the 'extremities' - four paws, the nose, the tum and the edges of the face or the bear will look thin and unloved.

The pattern tells you to make up the body and head, attach the back of the head/neck and then stuff. This does not work well for me. I stuff head and body separately, and close up the apertures with diamonds of fabric. When I sew the head in place, it is much easier to align the seams [see picture above]

Yes, I reduced the downloaded pattern on my PC to make the fourth bear. I had to do more hand sewing on this, it was too fiddly to manage on my machine. Also I had to source smaller safety eyes [I always back these with a piece of felt for added security]

I like to personalise the bears- so each has a little backpack, and inside the flap is a piece of Aida cloth embroidered with name and dates of the deceased, plus the recipients name. This time I stitched a shirt label inside the flap too. And did the mini bears tag on 16count Aida with the aid of a magnifying light.

The head/body seam is the hardest to do, and to stitch neatly. For strength I use double thread, and herringbone stitch, and gradually tighten the work as I go along. And then tie a ribbon bow to cover my stitches!
The bears went off to their new owners last week. And now I am horrified as I'm writing this, to spot one bear has got slightly different feet! Oh well, that makes him extra special. 

You could make the bear out of just one fabric - or perhaps two [like the original pattern] but people seem to like this patchwork effect. If you want to have a go, feel free to email me with any further queries.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Count Your Blessings

Since the Lockdown started, back in March, members of our church have been doing a weekly collection of food for the homeless and needy people in Bournemouth - pictures of car boots, laden with carrier bags are posted regularly in the church WhatsApp Chatroom, along with messages  of thanks. 

I am so grateful to belong to such a generous fellowship - many of those who contribute are elderly, or shielding, or on limited incomes - but they still want to share God's blessings with others. This Sunday is our Harvest Thanksgiving. We're having an extra special Food Collection this week, and our livestream service will have a Harvest Theme. Click the link HERE after 10.30am and join us!]

Saturday 17 October 2020

Selah! A Moment Of Decision

Selah is a Hebrew word- it occurs in the book of Psalms, and is usually interpreted to mean pause/take a moment/meditate/just think about it....Selah is also the name of a recent exhibition by the amazingly gifted British photographer Rory Lewis. Because access to galleries is somewhat limited at the moment, the artworks are being displayed on screen at Liverpool Railway Stations this week.

Here's Rory and his wife, Alexandra. He is very influenced by the chiaroscuro work of artists like Caravaggio, Dore and Ribera. I love Caravaggio's stuff - the one time I visited the Netherlands, Bob and I went to the Rembrandt/Caravaggio exhibition in the Van Gogh Museum, and I relished every moment. Rory uses dark backgrounds and clever lighting to reveal the depth of character in his subject [just look at Sir Patrick Stewart on the poster]

He chose Selah as his title because he wanted to capture a person's expression at that moment when they realise something, and make a decision. Here are some examples- Rufus Sewell, Natalie Dormer, Sir Ian McKellern, James Purefoy, Tobias Menzies and David Warner.

These actors look like people in classical works of art - contemplating, understanding, deciding, perfectly still in a moment of time.
Lewis also likes recreating the works of the Old Masters. Here's Doré's The Neophyte - a young priest surprised to find himself with all these older men - and below, Lewis' contemporary rendering of this group.

When we were in Amsterdam, I was very moved by Caravaggio's picture of Judas betraying Jesus. Rory has recreated this too

And here is Anna Passey [Hollyoaks] alongside Judith by Caravaggio I have omitted the rest of the painting - you really don't need to see Holofernes' dreadful end.

Do check out RL's website [here] He is so amazingly talented. 

Friday 16 October 2020

Bosom Friends

Yes I know, we are already halfway through Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Lots of my blogging friends have posted about it. I wasn't going to bother...then last week, I noticed something. Let's just say Pinky and Perky weren't as pinky and perky as normal. 

With Bob's encouragement, I decided to ring the GP. I phoned the appointments desk first thing Monday morning. The GP rang later in the day [covid19 means they do as many phone consults as possible], and she then asked if I could call into surgery at 4.30pm.

She was fairly certain it was not serious, but referred me to the Hospital. On Tuesday I was offered an appointment for 9.45 Wednesday morning, someone else had just cancelled. My friend Jenny dropped me off outside Poole Hospital - then went off to the Park to read her book. I was shown into the Ladybird Unit [the specialist breast care dept]. By 11am, I was outside again, having been fully checked, including mammogram and ultrasound -and given the All Clear. [they concluded it was a problem which 'occasionally occurs with advancing years', and not something to be worried about]

All the staff were so efficient, so professional - and so patient and considerate. They were working under covid19 restrictions, but with good grace and cheerful disposition. "Don't feel that you have wasted our time- this was important to get checked out. It could have indicated a real problem" said one nurse as I left the Unit. I was so grateful for the reassurance. 

Jenny and I sat in the Park,  drinking coffee and looking at the birds on the lake. "That was so fast, and I was treated so kindly. Although the mammogram was a little bit painful" I said "Like being put in a sandwich toaster" replied my bosom friend!

Be sensible - remember the TLC advice above. They would rather see you straightaway and start treatment promptly if needed than wait until things are more serious - and if all tests are clear, then they are pleased to send you home rejoicing. 

Thank the Lord for our NHS - may it forever be free and accessible at the point of need.