Something to Sing about

I’ve told you that I was going along to see why I couldn’t sing – despite loving to sing. I set off expecting to be asked to hit a few notes, perhaps played on a piano or something for me to repeat, or a trilling ‘lalala’ to copy, perhaps even a rendition of “Doe a deer a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun, me … ” from the sound of music or just a ..me-me-me-me-me…Hmmm?

None of it, well not for a long time.  My dear and lovely friend, (this is why I felt safe even though still vulnerable) made us both a nice cuppa and we sat. ‘Why do you think you cannot sing?’ she asked, without having heard the evidence (ie, me trying to sing.)  ‘When, in fact, did you first think you could not sing?’ I did tell you before that she is of the belief that everyone can sing!  Did I mention she is also a beautiful singer and ex speech-therapist?

Picture credit to Gryffindor

Picture credit to Gryffindor

As it happens the first time I realised I could not sing is etched in my memory. I must have been about nine – as I was in Mrs Snow’s class. I can see the room, the double desks on cast iron frames, the ink-wells set in them. Mrs Snow was choosing people for some sort of special choir. The actual reason is, for me, lost in time. I suspect it was something to do with the church, as our school was a C of E and we trooped next door to the church for various events.

‘All those who would like to be in the choir put your hand up.’ Me, me, me, my hand up and waving. She picked out about a dozen, maybe fifteen, hand-wavers. Pointed at me and said, ‘Not You,’ then also to a contemporary sitting two desks away. This was a lad whose voice I had heard often in our ‘Singing Together’ lessons (A lesson broadcast on the radio and followed in class with special booklets of the songs) as he sat quite close to me and, I thought, sang like a frog.  He was a keen joiner-in though so had his hand up for the choir too, finally a ‘Not you,’ for one other child, over towards the back of the classroom. Everyone else who wanted to sing was chosen.

It was obvious to me then … I knew the lad couldn’t sing .. so I must sing like a frog too.

Sadly that was not the only time I was deterred from singing, my dear OH wonders aloud ‘if I am ill’ if he hears me singing loudly in the kitchen (as he often does – as I love to sing along to the radio) and I was even asked to mime at the end of an Am Dram panto as I was ‘putting the others off in the last big chorus.’

So, after an hour of chat and probing about my memories of singing, which included the times I liked to sing, happier memories of singing and the like, she gets out the words to Good King Wenceslas. ‘Lets have a go at this,’ she says, ‘but as you sing I want you to swing your arms from side to side.’

And so we did. We sang the first verse together.

‘Perfectly in tune,’ she says. ‘Next verse you sing ‘the King’ I’ll sing ‘the page’.

‘Great – perfect. Next verse, together..’

Well I was right in the swing of it now I thought (arms swinging away rhythmically too, to help distract me from thinking too much – I think)  ….. but when we came to the second half of the verse my voice went to pot…… ‘Ah HA!’ she said, ‘You tried to sing that high when it didn’t need it and it went everywhere!’

And so it had.

‘You could be as low as a tenor,’ she said, ‘or at least second Alto.  And if you sang naturally low even as a child you may have not blended in with the high voices of the rest, so that Mrs Snow wouldn’t want a low voice mixed in with the general high voices. You sing low – but not out of tune and not like a frog!’

‘I suspect that you try to sing like others around you, but the melody line is frequently out of your range so your notes go all over the place – which explains why even in later life you have been told not to sing.’

WOW

So, like the Page I follow, placing my feet in the footprints as we  ‘siren’ swooping from high to low and back up high – and higher. Good vocal stretching, silly noises that are not singing but may extend my range. I am to practise.

We are going to have another meeting. None of this is to teach me to sing… but I now know that it is not without hope. If I choose I can find my voice – perhaps have some singing lessons, perhaps join a choir that needs low voices… exciting or what? Certainly something to sing about!

Do you remember ‘Singing Together’?

Have you ever been told not to sing?

Is it possible that it is only a misplaced voice?

Can we really all sing??

What do you think – do share, you know I love to hear from you.


This is not a real post – just a Litter-rant update

This is not a real post – just a Litter-rant update, honest – the post I was writing and didn’t post will arrive early next week.
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THIS is how much rubbish was collected on our Saturday Litter-pick. THIS MUCH! from just the roadsides round out parish.
So you can see our litter-pick happened but not before yet more hurdles were placed in our way…. as you will know I was railing against the fact that one of the volunteers had to travel a total of 50 miles to borrow the equipment to do this litter-pick with… well .. this is what happened……
We headed off the the Liskeard, Moorswater depot … having checked where it should be… it turned out to be a place so unsigned that we had to ask in two other places before we found it! Even when we drove into the yard it wasn’t clear where to go – the office door having only a sign that said ‘visitors must sign in at reception’ though no sign to say where reception was, whose office this was, or anything. I stuck my head inside and said ‘I’m supposed to be collecting some litter-picking equipment?’ Slight surprise but recollection too, then they went to retrieve it from where-ever.
Boxes were brought… I looked and checked numbers ….. instead of the 25 pickers, 25 hoops, 20 tabards and 50 sacks ALL they had to loan us was 19 litter-pickers, 11 hoops, NO TABARDS and 50 sacks.  It transpired that they DO NOT keep this equipment at Moorswater – it had been delivered to them … and that is all they were sent!
 
Now, what you need to know is that without high-visibility tabards a litter pick should not be able to go ahead, as wearing these is part of the Risk Assessment that has to be complied with to receive the Council’s insurance to cover the event.
I asked for a receipt for the numbers I had actually been given as I did not want a different person telling me I had items missing when I returned them and set off wondering what we could do.
 
Luckily I had half dozen adult tabards and 19 small (child size) tabards that we have had since we first began our litter-pick and we were sent them from the national Keep Britain Tidy group. These are like bright green plastic bags with writing on and holes  for heads and arms. I then spent and hour  ‘converting’ most of these to fit an adult – so at least the litter-pick could go ahead. Everyone was very understanding, (including one gentleman who squeezed into an unconverted child-sized tabard – I wish I had taken a photo!) and we had a record turn-out of thirty helpers. (some helping at a different time to others) AND many thanks to all those valiant people who turned out and a special mention for Daniel who picks up all the bags and brings them back to ‘HQ’ for collection by the council later.
Was it worth it? Well, you be the judge – above is the photo of this year’s haul, thirty full bags of rubbish plus a couple of dumped tyres, some hub-caps and a television stand. Just think what it would look like if this much rubbish were left to lie beside our roads and lanes, with the same again added year on year.
So my rant stands, I think Cornwall Council are not helping to encourage volunteers who are picking up the litter, that the council should be doing, by effectively charging volunteers to borrow the equipment (that’s paid for through council taxes) by making them travel so far to collect and return it. We all know times are tight for councils, but this is wrong-headed. They have had plenty of advertising for their ‘Clean-Cornwall’ but what use is that if they treat volunteers in this manner?
Promise – the next post is far more pleasant  :)
Did you come on the litter-pick?
Have you been on one in your area?
Do share- you know I love to hear from you – even when it’s only been a rant :)

Council Kicking the Gift-Horse in the Head

You will have read here before of our annual litter-pick – clearing our beautiful Cornish country lanes of the litter debris that accumulates over the year. You will  have seen the HUGE pile of bags filed with this rubbish, numbering twenty or more, plus sundry car tyres, plastic buckets and unidentified parts of something or other … Here’s last year’s collection DSCF7445

This all done through the goodwill of VOLUNTEERS. Volunteers who arrange the day, the allocation of routes,  the borrowing of tools to help in the job, the driving round the routes to collect bags that have become too heavy to carry, the collection of all the bags filled and sundry objects, and, ultimately the collection of all this by the Council.

All fine and dandy … we’ve been doing this for nigh on twenty years. However this year I am very UNHAPPY. The council have decided that the equipment can only be collected from one of four depots around our long county. … expecting us, in this case, to make a total of !!! 50 miles !!!  journey to borrow these items ….  TO HELP THE COUNCIL DO ITS WORK ???

# Their excuse is ‘the cuts’ … Umm excuse me ….. wind back a bit ……

Last year* (and for a number preceding this) we have been able to collect the equipment from the local One-Stop-Shop (once these became established – before then the equipment was delivered to us [yes that was extravagant] and, sensibly, collected when the refuse was collected.)

In this* model the equipment was delivered TO the One Stop Shop by the Council Van – which goes to round to each One-Stop-Shop  ANYWAY.  We could arrange to pick it up on a day during the week preceding out litter-pick – to suit us – and return it the next week. This meant it was picked up and returned when someone was already going into the local town RESULT = NO EXTRA TRANSPORT REQUIRED = less impact on the environment + less expense for the volunteers!

The Council blame ‘CUTS’ ….  HOW can volunteers travelling 50+ miles be better? As I understand it, one other volunteer group has already cancelled their litter-pick… and were it not for the fact that ours has been advertised I doubt this one would go ahead. Will we feel inclined to organise it next year? I doubt it.

The council appears to assume - by asking the volunteers to collect and return at distance – that the volunteers have the TIME in their working week to do this, that they have the SPARE MONEY to afford the extra cost, that they care so little about the environment that driving unnecessary miles is fine with them.

“A VOLUNTEER IS WORTH TEN PRESSED MEN”

It isn’t enough that we give up a Saturday afternoon (when we could all find something more pleasurable to be doing) to clear the litter from the highways and byways of our parish – it seems we are now expected to ‘pay’ to do so. This is not to say that we are not grateful for the loan of the equipment, we are, it makes doing ‘the council’s job’ easier for us, encourages more people to get involved, which encourages more people to care for their environment. The enthusiasm with which people work at this task is wonderful – as the saying goes ‘a volunteer is truly worth ten pressed men’

INSULT TO INJURY
Cornwall Council choice of recycling-collection method even causes litter

Litter-picking also means we get to see the types and locations of litter. We can highlight the patterns of offenders, the ‘every-week stop for a snack and a smoke – drop it out the window’ the ‘regular buy a Costa Coffee – drop the empty cup out the window as they finish’ the ‘chuck the cigarette-packet as they drive into the parish’ types. Since the council have changed to a new recycling collection system, where the recycling is collected loose from kerb-side bags, we have also identified another type of litter. Domestic recycling that has ‘jumped’ out of the recycling wagon, or been ‘sucked out’ by the wind as they drive along. 

How do we know? Well, who would fold flat a Quaker-Oats box (to give a specific example) then drive a couple of hundred yards or so to throw it out? Or lids from cans of fruit of similar? Or washed, squashed milk-bottles? This litter is usually a long way from residences; where the lorry gets a bit of speed up. Indeed, litter being ‘sucked out and whirling into the air’ has been observed by one of our group when following a recycling lorry down a long stretch between houses.

Ironic, then, that they are causing more litter AND effectively dissuading people from helping clean it up!

Looking again at that HUGE pile of litter and rubbish and debris we collected last year from the highways and byways of our small Cornish parish … It seems Cornwall Council want that to stay blighting the countryside this year, and the same again added every year! No amount of advertising ‘Clean Cornwall week / fortnight’ will get this picked up without the Volunteers that they are turning against them.

Do you think the council are being blinkered by ‘the cuts!!’

Are they ‘cutting’ off their nose to spite their face?

Are they kicking the gift-horse in the head (to mix my metaphors?)

What do you think we should do next year if they do not change this policy?

Rant over …  normal service may return next week… though it depends what rubbish we find on the litter-pick :)


Famous friend and Fictional place

Have you been watching The Big Painting Challenge on BBC 1? (iplayer link HERE to first episode- runs out in 21 days) I have to say it has inspired me to think about my drawing and painting skills, long left to lie. Except when in meetings… I am an inveterate doodler – and when in meetings will doodle.

Some are of the opinion that doodling is akin to ignoring the meeting altogether. Not so! In fact it has been shown that those who doodle actually are taking in more than those who merely sit and listen. Even if I am chairing the meeting, I usually end up with a doodle or two – usually around the items on the agenda that cause most discussion. DSCF0133

Doodles, it is said, can also be interpreted, sharp angular ones indicating dissent, or difficulties, loose flowing ones indicating calm and non confrontational thought. I really can’t comment on this! Enough about doodles – on to some real Art!

If you have been watching The Big Painting Challenge you will, by now, be a little familiar with the contestants. Next time you watch please notice Anthea.  Anthea Lay exhibits her paintings at the same morning market that I mentioned last week, where I take my books as an opportunity to meet friends and the buying pubic, and has become a friend.

A long while ago I asked Anthea about painting a picture that I could use as a cover for my next book. At that time I had only just started writing but I knew my main protagonist was a woman who was very involved in art, and I felt a cover that was, and looked, like a painting, would be appropriate. Fast forward to this winter and I now know where my protagonist lives (in a fictional village near Kit Hill in the Tamar Valley) and much more about the story, so I commissioned Anthea to create this fictional scene.

To assist with the transition of my idea to her vision I gave her a photograph of a ‘wild’ sky I had taken over Caradon mast, another with Kit Hill in the background, saying the fictional village could be on the ridge by the valley full of trees you could see, a photograph of a converted chapel that I had in my mind’s eye for the home of the main character and a plan of the ‘village’ that I created to make sure my characters move around their landscape properly; and then asked if all the relevant details could be squished onto the right hand side of the painting as this would be the front cover. Tall order!? Not for Anthea!  ‘Landscapes’ are Anthea’s thing and she usually paints only from life but she had fun creating this new, imagined and ‘painterly’ landscape and I am delighted. IMG_1680 CroppedSo lucky to have such talented friends!

The sky is suitably ‘Turner-esque’ and though from a ‘real’ sky looks as if it could only exist in a painting, the salient points in the story-village are identifiable should you wish to do so, the whole countryside effect is perfect.

To be turned into a book cover it, obviously, has to have the title and author’s name across it.. and blurb and other info on the back – to give you all an idea I have just added the words to the front cover part (not done professionally – words will be better and properly spaced on the real thing) The whole painting will be used for the cover – running right through onto the back.

FRONT MOCK-UP  ARLWhat are your reactions to this book-cover idea?

Do you DOODLE?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you!

If you live in SE Cornwall or SW Devon you are lucky to be close enough to see some of Anthea’s work on exhibition and for sale at The Wharf, Tavistock; Compton Engine House cafe, Florence Road, Kelly Bray; Jane’s Florists and Art show room, the Pannier Market, Callington and The Public Rooms, Liskeard as well as the Wednesday morning Callington Country Market aforementioned, don’t miss your chance now that she is not only talented but also ‘famous’!


Which one did they win cabbages on?

So began an interlude when I turned up at the village shop the other day. ‘Was it Crackerjack?’ Mary asked.

‘Surely not, didn’t they win pencils on that?’ I replied, well and truly intrigued already (doesn’t take much – this is country-life after all)

Now, I have no idea how this conversation had started before I arrived, but I do know that Alan was already on the computer looking it up. ‘It was!’ he said, ‘but they didn’t win them they had to hold them.’  (he was referring to cabbages!)

Seems my memory was duff – they did win pencils with Crackerjack printed on them (certainly into BIG prizes back then!!) – and everyone shouted ‘Crackerjack’ … but the cabbages came in a part of the programme called ‘Double or Drop’ whereby for each right answer they were given a prize to hold and for each wrong answer the contestant was given a cabbage to hold. They were ‘out’ if they dropped anything … or were awarded their third cabbage!  (here follows a youtube clip – you need to be reading the original post rather than your email to see it) 

This began a trawling through of other ‘game shows of our childhood’ which drew in another customer who, despite having a few years on us, declared he wasn’t old enough to remember any of them!

I do recall Crackerjack, though I have to say it wasn’t something that I was desperate to watch. I was amazed to find out that it was on our screens  from 1956 through to 1984 with many incarnations of presenters and added sections to boost interest. As it was essentially aimed at children I suppose that my interest, such as it was, waned as I ‘grew out of it’.

The game show that left the biggest impression on me from the 60s would have to be ‘Opportunity Knocks’ a sort of talent show with (I always thought the slightly creepy) Hugie Green. This was soon displaced by The Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth when it arrived early in the 70s.

All in all I didn’t really like the ‘slap-stick’ and ‘crazy-fun’ sort of game shows. Anything that depended on people being made t0 look inadequate or silly I didn’t find funny then (or now). (here follows a youtube clip – you need to be reading the original post rather than your email to see it)

A game show I do recall and loved from the 60s and 70s was Call My Bluff – not aimed at children, but watched avidly in our house. I loved Frank Muir’s vocal antics as he describe the ‘true’ meaning of the words!  As an easy-to-put-on entertainment (not easy to prepare mind!) we had a session of Call My Bluff last month at our WI…. with ‘characters’ reading out the definitions and the audience choosing what they thought was the right answer – good fun was had by all… and we now refer to heavy rain here as ‘lumming it down’ :)

Perhaps this was my early and enduring love-affair with words.  It is hard as writer not to use any word in your own vocabulary as you write and I have sometimes been chastised for using words that I am told ‘many people’ would not understand. Now, as an author you really do not want anything to hold-up the flow of thought-transition, between words on the page and the imagination of the reader to form it into their personal ‘film-of-the-book’, but, as an educator, I rail against the ‘dumbing-down’ of language. So as an author I have to tread a fine-line between the two.

My OH tells me he uses his ‘dictionary’ function on his kindle fairly often. Such a great little tool, whereby you highlight the word and within seconds you have the full dictionary definition there before you, and great way to expand your own vocabulary!

Which brings me onto another conversation … with another book-aholic writer. She confessed to having been saying a word she had only ever read, never heard, in the way she thought it ought to be said .. for years.. until she was horrified to hear it used by someone who did know only to find she’d been saying the word incorrectly all the time. My confession followed, my faux-pas was the word hyperbole … which I had been rendering as hyper – bole in my head …. when I heard it and saw it at the same time to be hy-per-bo-le  I too was mortified   :o

Oh! Where a random conversation can lead you…

Do you have fond/cringing memories of the game shows of your youth?

What were the game shows of YOUR youth?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.


Running out of time – 6 at 60

Okay… so I suddenly realised that it is February and my next birthday – marking the end of being just 60 – is coming up rapidly. I had intended to try 6 new activities / experiences in my sixtieth year and so far I have only managed three. So I need to squeeze three into the remaining month and a half!

Luckily I have one lined up already – I am going to find out why I sing so badly and, with any luck, learn at least how to keep in tune.

Now don’t get me wrong – I LOVE singing …. it is just that other people around me do not love my singing very much… well, not at all. (The OH usually asks me if my stomach is hurting or something if he’s within earshot)

But it doesn’t stop me because I LOVE SINGING!  It makes me feel good! It keeps me cheerful!

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Good job this isn’t a sound recording!

I can be found upstairs singing familiar songs from the sixties and seventies, complete with hairbrush ‘mic’  :)

I can sometimes often be found dancing and singing around the kitchen, especially if I have radio 2 on and the songs they play are those I know well.

I even apologise in advance  to new people near me if at a church service because I will (and do) sing in church (My reasoning is that He made my voice so He must like it ;) )

And even at the Country Market I go to on a Wednesday morning with my Novels to meet friends and the buying public (My OH calls it my social-club)   I sing, though not too loudly, :) as I do not want to frighten-off the customers!

Strangely, though I can tell a duff note when other people sing to music – or even play music – I could not tune my own guitar when I had one, not being sure whether I was hearing the same note or not. I used to say I was tone deaf –  but have since been told that this is rare and so I am probably not.

A dear friend who  is not only a beautiful and talented singer but also a trained speech therapist is coming to my aid.  She, of the belief that everyone can sing, asked me to do a few simple singing exercises and as a result has become interested to discover why it is that I can hold a note sometimes – but at other times I cannot.

This exciting revelatory experience will begin next week .. so I have to think hard and plan quickly what my other two New Things will be.

On my original list I had both things I would LIKE to do and things I would not like to do – in fact things that SCARED me – but I thought I ought to try before it was too late.

So which would you choose, something you would just like to do … or something you are a little scared of doing but feel you ought to try before it is too late??

Answers in the comments please – you know I listen to You!


Natural Dyeing – a Novel way to research

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Dried natural dye plant material

Well, when you SAY it as opposed to READ it it does cause confusion (and a little consternation if not concern) however, this is all soon put right when I explain  (waving hands about) that I mean dyeing – with COLOURS from natural plants.

A good friend of mine runs workshops from her beautifully converted small barn at Nine Acres near Callington, Cornwall. Workshops on all sorts of crafts. This one was on DYEING USING NATURAL PLANTS .

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Preparing the Weld

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The colour begins to come out – looking a bit green at this stage

So on  a chilly morning we met and after a welcoming cuppa went out into the garden to see some of these plants in their natural state. Now, as this was early winter most were as as stalks of dried out flower stems, or low growing base leaves, but it gave us the idea about the ones that were native or could be grown easily in the UK

Back in the barn we were shown a range of plant material we could work with, some harvested from Jane’s garden, some bought in, some native, some not.

There were eight of us and four work-stations and it was suggested we pair up and each pair work on a different dye in the morning, and yet a different one in the afternoon. Some people had come together, easy pairing. I was there for a very specific reason.

Jane had been to our WI and demonstrated dyeing using Woad, a native plant, and I wanted to know about dyeing using other native plants.

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The resultant colour from using dried Weld plant

 

I said ‘I want to dye with WELD,’ and immediately another guest said, ‘yes, me too!’ This is how Sally and I started working together.

As we gathered the ingredients together I confessed I wasn’t so much interested in dyeing for the product – but that I was researching for a book I want to write one day. Her response was ‘Me too. I’m researching for a book.’

RESEARCH

We worked on the WELD, producing a yellow dye which we then coloured some prepared sheep-wool with. As we worked so I learned of her Trilogy about the real historical figure, Caradoc, set in AD 25 onwards and I told her of my idea to write the legend (that doesn’t exist) to explain the naming of our church after an obscure Irish nun from the late 600s.  Both of us wanting to absorb the sights and smells that may permeate the backgrounds of our stories.

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Dried Madder roots pieces put in together with the wool (before adding water)

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Picking out Madder roots bits from the dyed wool

Now when it comes to researching for novels it can often be done at a remove. You can find many things out now with a carefully worded internet search request and a few clicks of the button. I have also ‘flown’ myself to different parts of the world when researching as I mentioned  here  in another blog - where I wanted my main character Luke Adamson in  The Angel Bug to travel to a prison facility in the USA.

Then you can ‘pick the brains’ of people you know (policemen / doctors / engineers /whatever) for the bits that research cannot really tell you  – sounds, smells, pain-levels, consequences etc.

You can also ‘extrapolate’ from your own experiences. You take the feeling / physical experience from say, the scary experience when some idiot was overtaking and caused a near-miss situation … and develop that snap-shot gut-twist  into the feeling that your character has in a near-death situation.

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From top Weld, Madder and Weld mix) Madder (un-soaked – so pale) and Woad (winter leaves so pale)

And then you can do some first hand work and absorb these sights, textures and smells yourself.

In the afternoon we worked with the third native natural dye – Madder, though the dried root we used was un-soaked, so did not give the deep ‘Beef-Eater Uniform’ red it should. The scent of under-simmering madder (you mustn’t let it boil) seemed sweet in comparison to the ‘cabbage smell’ of the weld, especially noticeable as we compared them directly.  Then at a whim we mixed the remaining Weld Dye with the left-over Madder liquid to produce a pleasant peachy colour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek at Authors researching and the world of workshop experiences. I am happy to say that Sally’s trilogy will be published by my partnership publisher (Pendown Publishing) so we’ll get to see more of each other as our books go out together into the market.

Do you enjoy going on workshops?

What is the best thing you have ever done on one?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you.


Big this- Big that – But Bringing people together

I’d love to tell you about the great atmosphere, the laughter, the absolutely yummy food that was to be had at our village Big Breakfast last Saturday first-hand … but as I spent from half past nine to half past twelve cooking eggs and mushrooms non-stop, without time to even look up, I can only report second-hand on most of it.

Please imagine here a large plate, filled up with two rashers of bacon, two sausages, an egg,  then add mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans, to the side have a plate of toast and marmalade and a cup of tea – got that? Good – because I didn’t have time to take a photograph – despite remembering to take my camera!

It is true I could hear the buzz roar of convivial chatter and the laughter, and hear the diners who stuck their heads in the hatch to congratulate us on the tastiness of the food, and, when everyone was gone and we had a chance to eat, I could testify to that too. It was wonderful! However I can only remember one time when we were busier, and that time taught us a lesson in table management!

‘What is this Big Breakfast?’  You might ask, especially if you are not even from the UK (as I know some of you aren’t) or indeed, live in an urban environment where this feast has not caught on … yet.

Each year there is a National Big Breakfast week. Consisting of the traditional English Breakfast. This is partly to raise awareness of good quality British produced foods – bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms and more – and to raise money for whichever group are running it – traditionally here it has been the WI and Parish Hall funds

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Hedgerows of daffodils without litter!

Then in March we have our Big Tidy – which is a parish-wide litter pick of the highways and byways before our beautiful parish bursts into bloom with hedgerows decorated by daffodils and wild flowers. Again organised by us in the WI but participated in by anyone who likes to get involved.

The result is a HUGE (wish I could make the fonts go bigger on this blog) pile of bags of collected litter – and a really warm feeling of achievement! (though perhaps I should DSCF6776 cropwarn of the side-effect: of being able to spot the tiniest piece of litter at a hundred paces that doesn’t wear off for weeks!)

In reality both these are little events in the world scheme of things … but these little things make a difference – they bring people together, help build community, share in everyday things, feel good about their environment.

Big This – Big That – but these little things DO make a difference. Community, shared environment, shared lives.

What events are run in your area that bring people together?

Who is it that organises them?

Did you come along to the Big Breakfast? Are you going to join in the Big Tidy?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.


Bargain! BARGAIN!! – Or is it?

BOOK BARGAINThis special offer (absolutely genuine by the way – my photo taken on actual book cover) is not a bargain – obviously. However, not all fake  ‘bargains’ are as easy to spot. Many do not even scream ‘bargain’ at you. They just offer themselves in a way that we have been trained to assume is a ‘bargain’. Even this blatantly wrong bargain sticker would still draw the customer to look at the goods

Come on woman! I hear you say – what are you getting at?

Well, I am an inveterate checker of  ‘price per 100g / kilo’ at the supermarket, if I weren’t I would have frequently paid over the odds per weight by going automatically for the ‘multi-pack’ or the larger size – but it isn’t always the cheapest option! [And getting duped into paying more than I need, annoys me!]

‘Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’

Recently I have noticed ‘Family Value packs of Carrots’ at 6p/kg over loose carrots. Large packs of mushrooms marked ‘special’ at 15p /kg over loose mushrooms and broccoli (or calabrese) vacuum-sealed in plastic, also at a reduced price, that was still more than the loose per kg.

Away from the fresh produce and onto the packed goods: Multi-packs of fruit-juice, that you might reach for, suddenly 80p over the price of the individual ones – when they have a special on singles but not the multi-packs. Specials on small boxes of cereal / tea that make them cheaper per 100grams than the large boxes of the same, again, by having reductions on one size only. If the goods inside the package are being reduced – then be honest with it and reduce them across the range!

I have no problem with the supermarkets putting down the prices of the smaller packs – indeed I often feel that those who have to buy small-and-often due to finances or usage or space difficulties ought not be over-penalised for their need to buy smaller. (Whilst taking into account that packaging for small quantities probably costs almost as much as packaging for large – yet is frequently disproportionally charged for)

The question is – who is it that are being targeted by the supermarkets when they flag-up these ‘spurious’ special offers?

OK, so you might say it is those with an eye to a bargain, but you can look at  it another way, they may be someone who needs to watch their pennies.

However, if you combine that with someone who lacks the time, or the peace and quiet, to read the price per 100g / kg and compare – the ‘special price!!’Family value!!‘multi-pack!!‘ ‘larger box!!‘ – is mainly going to catch the harassed shopper for the family.

Someone squeezing in the shopping after work and before getting an evening meal together. Someone with children in tow. Someone who cannot spend too much time shopping as they have dependants to care for. Someone who has to get the shopping and be back to the bus-stop before the bus leaves*. (*Rural readers will understand this more than urban)

 ‘Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish’

There are other costs to consider when you head off  to shop at the supermarket too. Unless you are highly organised, or live within walking distance of the big supermarket, the trip to get something you need, but forgot, can cost you dear. Unless your one trip into town makes sure you really have everything –  when you nip back a couple of days later for the item you forgot you will  be paying well over the odds – fuel prices being what they are!

How useful, how nice if you could just pop along to the corner / village shop and pick it up there?  Well, you can if the little shop is still open, and to keep the little shop open we all need to make sure we do SOME of our weekly shop there, every week.  They can’t be expected to stock the esoteric and exotic (as everything has a use-by date now-a-days) but they usually have all the basics and staples that most of us buy on a regular basis anyway, and can supply other things if there are regular firm orders for them.

Do you know where my best bargains were to be found last week? In my local post-office stores! There, two of the items I buy every week were on special offer. Real special offers. Orange juice at two boxes for £2 (where they are usually £1.19  each) and sliced pineapple (to go with the delicious Cornish Bacon Company gammon I buy there too) at 2 cans for £1 instead of 62p each, plus I didn’t have to drive into town and back to get them (average fuel cost: 6miles = £1.00) and shopping locally helps to keep our local shop going and our village community alive – making it worthwhile even if I hadn’t saved extra. Win – Win! Much better than just doing the supermarkets!

Well, what do you think?

Where do you live? Do you have a local shop?

Do you love or loathe the supermarket ‘bargains’?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you :)

P.S.  It is one of our WI campaigns too – shop local!


January Magic – inedible to delicious

What fruit can you only buy in and around January? What? You want another clue. What fruit tastes bitter and inedible but makes a delicious breakfast accompaniment when turned into a preserve? Ah Yes! I’m sure you have got it!

In this day and age you seem to be able to buy any fruit at any time of the year, providing it has been shipped far enough, however, miss the Seville orange season and you are stuck! Unless, of course, you have some in the freezer. Which is what happened this week. OK, so I know it is January, but the husband pointed out a couple of weeks ago that he was opening the last jar of marmalade. Unbelieving, I looked. He ( for once) was right. Now I knew I had some Seville oranges in the freezer and, being a good girl and rotating the freezer stock, I decided to make the marmalade with these and then buy more to put in the freezer for when this batch of marmalade ran out.

To my surprise I hadn’t got my marmalade recipe on this blog yet.DSCF0109 Well, this may be because it isn’t, strictly, my recipe. It is, in fact, the traditionally-made recipe from a good friend, that I adapted to make in my microwave. However, unlike so many of the other recipes, I cannot make this into short-time short-cut recipe in the microwave as the fact is the segments of orange have to boil in sufficient water to cover them and then this must be reduced with a good rolling boil after the sugar is added.

However, there are the usual benefits of no sticking to the pan or constantly stirring a steaming pot. So here goes.

Ann & Fiona’s Microwave Marmalade recipe

For 5 one pound jars of the golden stuff  DSCF0096

2lb of  Seville oranges and 1 lemon
1.5 lb jam sugar
2lb granulated sugar
walnut-sized nub of butter
1 litre water

1.   Wash the fruit in very hot water to remove wax and dirt.
2,   Quarter the oranges, cutting down and then across
3,   Cut the lemon in to 8 pieces
4,   Place in very large pyrex or similar heat-proof glass dish (3litre size)
5,   Pour over 1 litre of water boiled in kettle.
6,   Heat on full power in MW until boiling. (About 10 mins)DSCF0102
7,   Simmer for another 10 mins – or until the inner peel looks translucentDSCF0105
8,   Strain through a colander saving all the liquid, squish all juice from fruit, then allow peel to cool.
9,   Using a knife skim-slice off the membranes and pith from the outer peel of the orange segments
10, Place the orange segments into a food-processor, add about a tea-cup-full of the juice and chop until the peel is of the desired fineness (if you want very little peel or thin strands of peel omit this stage, just select the nicest peels and slice very thinly with a sharp knife)
11, Place cut peel and all the juice back into the large glass heatproof dish and add the sugar – stirring well. DSCF0106
12, Heat on full power until bubbling – about 10 – 15 mins – stir well then add the nub of butter (this helps prevent ‘foaming’ and makes a clearer marmalade)
13, Heat on full power for 5 mins then for 5 at medium (half power) to prevent boiling over DSCF0112
14, Test for set (see here), teaspoon of marmalade onto a cold dish, put back into the fridge. Continue to simmer the marmalade while this cools.
15, If set is achieved (test portion  ‘wrinkles when pushed with finger and is sticky’) then prepare jars. If not – continue simmer until set achieved – test every 5 mins.
16, Prepare jars for potting up (see here) and fill. Cover with a jam-pot cover and elastic band. Label when cool and ENJOY!

I’ve now been out and bought enough Seville oranges, with accompanying lemons, for three more batches and dropped them into the freezer, each bag containing 2lbs of oranges and one lemon.

There’s no mass-produced alternative to beat home-made marmalade!

Do you make your own?

Do you have a favourite recipe – there are so many – some without Seville oranges at all!

Do share, you know I love to hear from you